Clogged Milk Duct

A clogged milk duct is when breast milk can’t flow through your breasts to your nipple because the duct transporting the milk is blocked or plugged. It causes a painful lump. You can treat a clogged milk duct at home.


What is a clogged milk duct?

A clogged milk duct (also called plugged ducts or blocked ducts) occurs during lactation when a milk duct becomes blocked or obstructed, preventing breast milk from flowing to your nipple.

Your breasts contain a network of milk ducts (mammary ducts). These tube-like ducts carry milk from your breast tissue to your nipples. Milk can back up in the duct if there’s anything compressing the ducts such as inflammation in the soft tissues and surrounding blood vessels.

A clogged milk duct causes a red, tender and painful lump in your breast. It can lead to infection, so it’s important to know the signs of a clogged duct and how to treat it at home.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the signs of a clogged milk duct?

One of the biggest signs of a blocked milk duct is a hard lump on your breast. It’ll be painful or sore when you touch it. It may be red or large enough to be visible if you look at your breast in a mirror. If you’ve ever dealt with engorgement, the lump from a clogged duct feels like that.

Other symptoms of a clogged milk duct are:

  • Pain during letdown (letdown is the initial flow of milk).
  • Pain or swelling near the lump (not your whole breast).
  • The lump moves or gets smaller after pumping or feeding.
  • Discomfort that subsides after pumping or feeding.

Some people also get a milk bleb (or milk blister) on their nipple when they have a clogged duct. It’s a small white dot on the nipple thought to be made up of “debris” from inflammation within the ducts.

What causes clogged milk ducts?

The main reason for a clogged milk duct is inflammation in the tissue and blood vessels surrounding the milk ducts, which can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Skipping feedings or pumping sessions or going too long between feedings.
  • Changing your baby’s feeding schedule (like during weaning or starting solid foods).
  • Your baby has a bad latch and isn’t draining your breast. Your lactation consultant can offer tips to help your baby latch correctly.


Can you get clogged milk ducts if you’re not lactating?

Yes, some conditions can cause clogged milk ducts. One of the most common is mammary duct ectasia. This is when a milk duct in the breast widens, and its walls thicken. This can cause the duct to become blocked and fluid to build up.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are clogged milk ducts diagnosed?

In most cases, you can treat a clogged duct at home and don’t need to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. If you experience the symptoms of a plugged milk duct and you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding) or exclusively pumping, the chances are good that you’re dealing with a clogged milk duct.

However, if you’re unsure or experience flu-like symptoms, severe pain or fever, call your healthcare provider to be seen as you may have mastitis. Your provider can examine the lump and let you know for sure.


Management and Treatment

How do you get rid of a clogged milk duct?

Most people can unclog a milk duct at home within two days. Continue to breastfeed (chestfeed) or pump as much as your baby needs. Don’t feed or pump more than usual as this can put more stress on the ducts and cause even more inflammation.

Some of the best ways to clear a clogged milk duct are easily remembered by the acronym B.A.I.T:

  • Breast rest: Don’t over massage or overfeed. Decrease production if you have an oversupply.
  • Advil: 800 milligrams (mg) every eight hours for 48 hours.
  • Ice: Apply for 10 minutes at a time while laying on your back. Repeat every 30 minutes.
  • Tylenol: 1,000 mg every 8 eight hours for 48 hours.

You can also lightly stroke your breasts (like you’re petting a cat) towards the lymph nodes above the clavicle and in the arm pits to help drain swelling into your lymphatic system.

How do I know when a milk duct is unclogged?

Not feeling a lump is the best way to tell if the clog is gone. If you are pumping or hand-expressing milk, you may see an extra thick or fatty glob of milk come out. This is likely the clog.

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How can I prevent getting clogged milk ducts?

It’s important to make sure your breasts get drained each time you pump or feed. Some signs of drained breasts are:

  • You don’t hear your baby swallowing.
  • Your breast feels lighter and empty.
  • You’re unable to pump any more milk from your breast.

Some people are more prone to getting clogged milk ducts, especially if you have an oversupply of breastmilk (you make more milk than your baby needs) or exclusively pump. Other than making sure your breast is completely drained, other ways you can prevent plugged milk ducts are:

  • Don’t skip nursing sessions. Pump anytime you’re away from your baby.
  • Breastfeed instead of pump if you’re able.

Some people use lecithin supplements to help thin their breastmilk and probiotics to help restore healthy bacterial growth in your ducts which can decrease inflammation. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplements that claim to help or alter your milk supply.

If you’re weaning your baby from your milk or your baby’s eating schedule changes, pump or hand-express just enough milk for relief. Doing this will teach your body to make less milk and prevent you from getting engorged or developing a clogged milk duct.

Outlook / Prognosis

Do clogged milk ducts come back?

Yes, clogged milk ducts can come back. They can also get smaller and lead you to believe they’re gone, only to come back hours later. Some people get clogged milk ducts more than others. Knowing how to treat yourself at home can be helpful for recurring clogged milk ducts.

What are the complications of clogged milk ducts?

Leaving a clogged milk duct untreated can lead to mastitis (an infection). Symptoms of mastitis usually come quickly and include the following:

  • Fever.
  • Body aches and chills.
  • Your entire breast is red, swollen and painful.
  • Severe pain while pumping or nursing

Call your obstetrician right away if you notice signs of mastitis since it needs to be treated with antibiotics.

Should you still breastfeed if you have a clogged duct?

Yes, you should continue to breastfeed just as much as your baby needs (not more and not less).

Living With

When should I call my doctor about a clogged milk duct?

Contact your healthcare provider if the lump doesn’t go away despite treating it at home for a few days. Watch for signs of mastitis like:

  • Chills.
  • Fever.
  • Swelling or redness at the lump.
  • Discharge from your nipple
  • Flu-like symptoms like muscle soreness and fatigue.
  • Severe pain and discomfort.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Clogged milk ducts are common during breastfeeding and can cause discomfort, pain and infection. It’s important to treat a plugged duct as soon as you feel it. Luckily, you can treat it at home most of the time. Continue to feed your baby or pump just as much as your baby needs to keep your milk moving. You can prevent getting a clogged duct in the future by making sure you don’t skip nursing or pumping sessions when you’re away from your baby.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 10/03/2022.

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