Plugged Milk Ducts

Plugged or blocked milk ducts are caused by plugging, blockage or poor drainage of a milk duct or section of the breast. It often follows incomplete drainage, skipped feedings or stress.

One symptom of a plugged duct is a tender lump in one area of the breast that causes pain, but no fever. A blocked milk duct may also include a tiny white milk plug (bleb) seen in an opening on the nipple. Onset of the plugged or blocked milk ducts — and the pain that accompanies it — may be gradual but if the condition is not treated it can lead to breast mastitis, a more serious condition. 

Tips to prevent plugged milk ducts

  • Breastfeed or pump often, at least 8-12 times per day
  • Manually massage the breast during feeding or pumping to help milk drain
  • Avoid tight clothing, underwire bras or tight straps on a baby carrier
  • Avoid exhaustion and fatigue

What to do if you get plugged milk ducts

  • Continue frequent breastfeeding or pumping
  • Begin feeding on the affected side to help drain the breast
  • Massage before and during feeding to help milk flow
  • Apply firm pressure starting at the outside of the breast moving towards the plug
  • Massage the plug while in a hot shower or bath
  • Soak the breast by leaning over a bowl of warm water and massaging the breast
  • Change breastfeeding positions
  • Some women report that lecithin prevents recurrence of plugged ducts

Reviewed by Diane L. Spatz, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN on August 01, 2012