Treating Plugged Ducts and Mastitis

April 17, 2012

Mastitis and plugged ducts are common concerns for breastfeeding moms. But by understanding the causes, you can treat and prevent these painful and uncomfortable conditions moving forward.

What causes a plugged duct?

It is possible for milk to back up in the milk ducts, if a mom is not emptying her breasts during feedings or when pumping breast milk. This can cause the tissue around the milk duct to swell and become inflamed, further limiting milk flow. This blockage is called a plugged duct. If you have a plugged duct, you may notice a tender bump on your breast that feels warm and swollen. If you begin to notice flu-like symptoms, your plugged duct may have become infected, leading to a condition like mastitis. If so, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider to begin treating the infection.

How can I treat plugged ducts?

Keep breastfeeding! Although it may be painful, it is the best way to loosen the blockage and reduce inflammation. If it’s not too uncomfortable, have your baby nurse from your affected breast first. Typically, babies suck most vigorously at the beginning of a feeding, which will help to unclog the plugged duct. Before nursing, apply a warm compress to your breasts and massage the inflamed area, starting on the outside of the breast, working toward the nipple. This will help to open the ducts and relieve some of the discomfort. If your little one notices a difference in the milk flow and becomes frustrated, try pumping to help treat the plugged duct.

How can I prevent a plugged duct?

The best ways to prevent a plugged duct is to breastfeed often and take care of your body. By breastfeeding often, you’re helping to ensure milk is expressed completely and not left in the ducts. We know moms have busy schedules, but try to eat well, drink lots of water and get your rest.

What causes mastitis?

Mastitis is an infection or inflammation of the breast tissue caused by a plugged duct that has become infected or cracked nipples that have allowed bacteria to enter your breast tissue. In some cases, over-supply, ineffective breastfeeding or pumping, missed feeds, restrictive clothing, or bruising can cause mastitis. Moms with mastitis typically notice swelling, redness and pain, accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as nausea, fever and sometimes vomiting. Often times, the stress and exhaustion of becoming a new mother can hinder your ability to fight infection, so despite the busy times, try your best to take care of yourself, too.

How can I treat mastitis?

If you suspect mastitis, it’s best to reach out to your healthcare provider to begin treatment. Although breastfeeding or pumping may be painful, don’t stop. It will help to relieve the pressure in your breast, and ultimately help you feel better. Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to help fight the infection, and typically within 48 hours, you will begin to feel relief. Be sure to take the antibiotic for the number of days prescribed – don’t stop taking the antibiotic even if you are feeling better. Throughout this time, try to rest and use warm compresses to relieve discomfort.

How can I prevent mastitis?

You can prevent mastitis by breastfeeding often, taking care of your body, and keeping cracked or bleeding nipples clean. Avoid engorgement by breastfeeding or pumping frequently. If your baby had a shorter than usual feeding session, consider pumping afterwards to fully empty your breast. If you are going to be away from your baby for an extended time, be sure to pump or manually express breast milk during the times you’d typically feed. Also, try to eat well and stay rested to give your body the strength to fight infection. Lastly, if you experience cracked or bloody nipples, consult with a lactation professional. Be sure to keep them clean and try to relieve the condition as soon as possible. For many moms, purified lanolin helps to soothe sore nipples and keep them moist

Did you experience plugged ducts or mastitis while breastfeeding? What treatment worked best for you? Share in the comments below.

17 thoughts on “Treating Plugged Ducts and Mastitis

  1. Hello, I am strictly pumping because I couldn’t get my baby to latch in the hospital or at home. I have developed mastitis and it is extremely painful the doctors prescribed me an antibiotic but I am afraid to continue to pump because I was told that excessive pumping can cause it. What should I do?

    • Hi Rachel,

      We’re so sorry to hear that you’re experiencing mastitis. Please follow up with your health care provider, as they would be best suited to guide you. You can also reach out to our Lactation Consultant for tips here: Hope you feel better soon!

  2. What if there is just pain in the morning obviously when it’s fuller! And a bumb in breast that is not painful could this still be mastitis

    • Hi, Sarah. Mastitis is usually accompanied by intense pain, fever, and flu-like symptoms. If you are unsure whether you have mastitis, it’s best to contact a healthcare professional immediately, and consider speaking to a Lactation Consultant to resolve the issues you’re experiencing.

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  5. Great post.
    The area around the milk duct becomes hard and can gently press the area around the hardened duct and feel a lump that gives rise to a tingling or burning sensation, especially soon after breastfeeding the child. Here are some effective and easy methods to deal with this issue…
    For more information visit at

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