Page header image

Breast-Feeding Problems: Plugged Ducts

What is a plugged duct?

A plugged duct is when one or more of the milk ducts become blocked. It will feel like a hard, tender lump in your breast. Incomplete emptying of the breast usually causes plugged ducts. Stress, fatigue, or a tight bra can also cause a plugged duct. Plugged ducts are usually caused by incomplete emptying of the breast. A plugged duct can also be caused by stress, fatigue, or a tight bra. Some women are more prone to plugged ducts than others.

Because a plugged duct can lead to a breast infection, it needs to be unplugged as soon as possible.

How can I unplug the duct?

  • Nurse on the tender side first when the baby is hungriest and sucks more strongly. This will ensure complete emptying of that breast.
  • Massage the breast with the lump, expressing extra milk and trying to unplug the duct.
  • Between nursing sessions apply moist heat to the breast. (The best way is to soak in a hot bath while massaging your breast and expressing milk. A hot shower or a heating pad is also helpful.)
  • Be persistent! With a plugged duct you have to work with massage, expression, nursing, and moist heat until it clears.
  • Sleep on your side instead of your back to assist the flow of milk down the ducts in your breasts.
  • Since stress can be an important factor in plugged ducts, make sure you get plenty of rest and relaxation.
  • When the plugged duct unclogs, you may feel a burning or pinching.

WARNING: If you have redness, a painful lump, or a fever and flu-like feeling along with your plugged duct, you could have a breast infection. Call your health care provider immediately.

How can I prevent plugged ducts?

  • Nurse frequently.
  • Empty each breast at each nursing.
  • Avoid tight or poorly fitting bras.
  • Sleep on your side instead of back.
  • Get plenty of rest.
Written by Kate Capage.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2005-10-24
Last reviewed: 2006-08-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
Page footer image