Ouch That Hurts! A Nursing Mom’s Guide to Treating Plugged Ducts

by : Carrie Lauth

A plugged duct is a mass of milk or cells that cause the flow of milk to become "stuck". It often happens to women who have an abundant milk supply.

You may feel a hard bump on your breast, or have swelling and tenderness. You may see a red area on your breast, or it may look streaky. It may also feel warm to the touch. Plugged ducts usually affect only one breast at a time but there are exceptions.

Plugged ducts can be caused by several things including: pressure on the duct from ill fitting clothing or a bra (especially too tight or underwire bras) or even baby carriers that put pressure on the breast. Nursing schedule changes that contribute to baby nursing (or Mom pumping) irregularly, stressful times like holidays and vacations can cause it too.

A clogged duct is uncomfortable but thankfully, there are several things you can do at home to treat it.

The most important treatment is to keep nursing. Some Moms are told that they have to wean their babies when they experience a plugged milk duct, but this is false. Weaning would mean more pain and the simple plug could lead to a more serious infection or abscess. Keep nursing your baby and offer the breast with the plugged duct first. Baby sucks with more vigor at the beginning of the nursing.

This may require some contortion, but try to "aim" the baby's chin towards the plugged duct. Her suction will be strongest in the area of the clogged duct, helping clear it out.

Get lots of rest! Plugged ducts are often a symptom of Mom doing too much too fast after having a baby.

More tips:

? Use a warm compress and gentle massage on the breast with the clogged duct.

? Get in the shower and aim the shower head on your sore breast. Get the water as hot as you can comfortably stand, then massage your breast. Start from high up on the chest and rub down, towards the nipple. You may see milk shoot out, or a stringy looking ribbon, or even a crystallized, dried milk clump if the duct clears out. As soon as possible after doing this, nurse your baby to empty the breast further.

? Loosen clothing and bra so there is less constriction on breasts while nursing. If you use underwire bras, switch to a soft cup style for awhile, or permanently if plugged ducts are an ongoing problem.

Once the blockage is gone, the hard lump will disappear and tenderness will go away. If the pain or swelling becomes worse or you have flu-like symptoms, you may have mastitis. The remedies mentioned above can heal mastitis, but if it doesn’t respond to home care in two days, call your Lactation Consultant or a La Leche League leader for recommendations.