What is a Plugged Milk Duct?
Plugged milk ducts, also called clogged milk ducts or blocked milk ducts, are hard, tender lumps that form in the narrow milk ducts and block the flow of milk. They can cause redness, swelling and pain in the area that is blocked.
An Ineffective Latch: If your baby is not latching onto your breast correctly, he may not be able to draw very much milk from the breast, leaving milk behind in the ducts.
Engorgement: Milk builds up in your breasts and can clog the milk ducts if you don't nurse often enough, miss feedings, wait too long between feedings, or supplement with formula. This can also occur when your baby begins sleeping through the night.
Blebs: Blebs can plug up the opening to the milk duct and cause the milk to back up in the duct and get stuck.
An Overabundant Milk Supply: Too much milk can lead to engorgement and plugged ducts.
Pressure on Your Breasts: A bra that has an underwire, or one that is too tight, can put pressure on the breast tissue and lead to clogged ducts. Pressure on the breasts can also be caused from the straps of an infant carrier or a heavy diaper bag.
Hydration and Fatigue: Lack of rest and not drinking enough fluids can put you at a greater risk for developing plugged ducts.
Exercise: Plugged ducts can result from vigorous exercise, especially of the upper body.
Things You Can Do
- Make sure your baby is latched on correctly. Seek the advice of a lactation consultant if you need help with your baby's latch.
- Continue to breastfeed, and do it very often—every 1-3 hours or on demand—to keep the milk flowing through the ducts.
- Use hand expression or a breast pump after nursing to remove more milk and try to free the blockage.
- Nurse from the breast with the plugged duct first.
- Apply heat to the area before each feeding to help with the let-down reflex and the flow of milk.
- Gently massage the affected area while applying heat, and while your baby is nursing, to help relieve the obstruction.
- Ask your doctor about taking a lecithin supplement. Lecithin is a healthy nutritional supplement that is safe to take while breastfeeding, and is believed to help resolve and prevent plugged ducts. A typical dose is 1 tablespoon of granulated or liquid lecithin daily or one capsule (1200 mg) 3 or 4 times a day.
- Get enough rest, and stay hydrated.
- Wean your baby gradually, if possible.
Preventing Recurrent Plugged Ducts
See a lactation consultant to evaluate your breastfeeding technique.
Breastfeed often. Breast milk needs to be removed and kept flowing to prevent it from becoming backed up.
Do not skip feedings or wait too long between feedings.
Change breastfeeding positions with each feeding to allow the baby to drain different areas of your breast.
Try to avoid saturated fats in your diet. Plugs tend to be fatty, so a low-fat diet may help prevent them from forming.
Avoid restrictive clothing and bras that are too tight or have an underwire.
Do not sleep on your stomach. It puts pressure on your breasts.
Talk to your doctor about taking a daily lecithin supplement.
Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
When treated right away, a plugged duct will usually begin to get smaller or resolve within a few days. But on occasion they can lead to mastitis or a breast abcess.
Call your doctor if:
- The lump does not go away within 3 days.
- The lump gets bigger.
- The area of redness gets larger.
- You develop a fever.
American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition. Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.
Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.