Duct Work: Unplugging a Block

I spent most of last weekend texting pictures of my side-boob to my friends. Is this a plugged duct or an insect bite? 

Thankfully, I have friends who support me through these sorts of messages. I recently became accredited as a peer breastfeeding counselor through Breastfeeding USA, which might explain why I have so many friends willing to look at pictures of my milk ducts.

In case you don’t, here’s what to look for in a clogged duct and how to treat it (before they lead to mastitis!)industrial duct work

Signs of a Clogged/Blocked/Plugged Duct

Your breast is filled with milk ducts that carry milk to your nipple, much like an air duct brings cool, fresh air throughout a building. If the duct gets clogged, you’ll get an uncomfortable backup. In this case, the backup will be made of milk and you’ll notice heat, a hard lump, swelling, redness. A plugged duct affects only one breast (although you might be extremely unlucky and have a clog on each side).

Usually, a plugged duct feels better after a nursing session, which makes sense because you’ve eased the backlog of milk pressing on the sore spot.

Treating a Blocked Duct

The best way to treat a clogged duct is to nurse. Nurse your baby. Then nurse him again! Some moms find it helpful to hover above the baby and dangle their breast into baby’s mouth.

Blocked ducts often appear when moms have missed a feeding, perhaps due to work or gradual weaning or any number of reasons why nursing sessions might get spread out. Did baby recently start sleeping longer? Is baby getting a tooth and slipping her latch? If you don’t have your baby on hand to relieve the clog, you can try hand expression or using a breast pump to relieve discomfort.


You’ll need to make sure you are getting adequate rest and hydration. Breast compression or massage during nursing/pumping can help to move things along as well.

You want to take a blocked duct very seriously, because it could progress to become mastitis. If you notice a fever, please contact your doctor right away.

Did you ever get a clogged duct? Leave us a comment to share your tried and true methods to relieve it!

Photo credit: Ishikawa Ken/Flickr

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