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Plugged Ducts…A Real Pain In The Breast

How can I tell if I have a plugged duct?

If you feel localized pain within the breast or a tender lump, you probably have a plugged duct. When milk sits in the breast for an extended period of time, it can thicken and create a hard or tender spot known as a plugged duct. The skin over the area may appear pink or red. You will feel well over all, i.e. no body aches, headache, chills, or fever. 

What causes a plugged duct to form?

Plugged ducts can occur for a variety of reasons. Milk oversupply, use of a nipple shield, improper latch, tight fitting bra, cross-body bag, and/or pressing your thumb or finger into the same position on the breast throughout a feeding, can all contribute to plugged ducts. Figuring out the cause of the plugged duct is key to preventing it from recurring.  

How can I resolve a plugged duct?

The key to clearing a plugged duct is to empty the breast frequently and thoroughly. Follow these steps to help resolve your plugged duct:

  • Apply heat prior to nursing. Place a warm compress over the affected breast for 10-15 minutes, massaging toward the nipple.  
  • Massage. The massage can help express milk and lossen up up the clogged duct.
  • Breastfeed your baby starting with the sore breast first and position the baby with his chin or nose pointed toward the plug. Nursing on all 4’s (AKA dangle feeding) can also help.
  • Pump or hand express extra milk after breastfeeding from the sore breast to ensure the breast is fully emptied.
  • Apply a cold compress after nursing to help alleviate the pain.
  • It’s not uncommon for babies to ingest the plugged duct during a breastfeeding session. The thickened milk is perfectly safe for a baby to ingest, so don’t be alarmed if you never see it. Many women experience breast tenderness for several days after the plug has been resolved.

    For chronic or recurrent plugged ducts:

    Some women have found lecithin to be helpful. The recommended dosage is 1 tablespoon 3-4 times daily or 1-2 capsules (1200 mg each) 3-4 times daily.

    Therapeutic ultrasound has also be found to help relieve persistent plugged ducts.

    What are the risks of not treating a plugged duct?

    An unresolved plugged duct can lead to a breast infection called mastitis or a decrease in milk supply.

    IF THE PLUGGED DUCT DOES NOT RESOLVE IN 12-48 HOURS AND/OR YOU DEVELOP A FEVER, PLEASE SEE YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FOR ADDITIONAL TREATMENT.