9 Steps to Treating a Clogged Milk Duct

We love our friends over at Tinyhood, an app that connects parents with experts via chat and online classes. We loved this post from one of their experts and wanted to share!

Recently, a Tinyhood Mom wrote into one of our breastfeeding experts, Dana Czuczka, IBCLC, with this message:

All of a sudden, I realized I have a hard lump in my breast.  It actually hurts when I touch it!  Help! What is this and what should I do?

Fortunately, Dana was pretty sure she knew exactly what this was: a clogged duct in the breast. Here she shares her steps for dealing with this common breastfeeding issue.

  1. Don’t panic! Clogged ducts are a pretty common problem for breastfeeding moms—and there are ways to resolve the problem fairly quickly.  

  2. Review all the signs of a plugged duct—just to be sure that’s what it is. Signs of a clogged duct include:

  • A hard lump in the breast that is still there even after nursing

  • Sometimes (but not always) a “milk blister” on the end of the nipple

  • Sometimes, your breast may feel warm to the touch

  • You may notice a pink or red spot by the lump that may be tender

  • You may have a temporary dip in milk production from that breast

IMPORTANT: If you have a fever or start feeling like you have the flu, call your OB or midwife. This could mean the clogged duct has already developed into mastitis (a breast infection) and that’s something you cannot treat on your own.

  1. Begin treatment as soon as possible. If what you have is indeed a clogged duct, address it right away. As noted above, if left untreated, clogged ducts can lead to mastitis. You don’t want to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own.  

  2. Take a warm shower. Get in the shower as soon as you can and run warm water over the tender breast. If a shower is not possible, use a warm compress. (Lactation Consultant trick: a diaper filled with hot water works well!)

  3. Massage the breast. While still in the shower, or while you still have the warm compress handy, massage the tender breast firmly (but not so firmly that you hurt yourself). Think about clearing the path ahead of the spot. Start at the nipple and slowly move backwards towards the tender spot, and then work on the lump itself with a kneading motion.

  4. Nurse or pump. Right after your shower or compress, nurse your baby. Nursing is more effective than pumping, but if nursing is too painful or if you are separated from your baby, pumping is a good backup option. Continue with the breast massage while you are nursing or pumping.

  5. Treat your pain. Some moms find relief from ice packs after nursing or pumping. You can also take ibuprofen to help ease the discomfort.

  6. Don’t neglect the other breast. Make sure you’re still using both breasts to feed! You don’t want to end up with a clog on the other side, too.

  7. Do your best to prevent another clogged duct. Moving forward, try and catch plugs early by:

    • Frequently checking for lumps and tender spots while nursing, pumping, or showering.

    • Avoid wearing bras that are too tight or bras with underwire.  

    • Keep your breasts comfortable. Don’t skip a nursing or pumping session if you can help it. Remember, you can always hand express if you need relief and you can’t nurse or pump for whatever reason.