Nearly half of all breastfeeding parents decided to stop nursing due to breastfeeding complications, such as clogged milk ducts, according to a 2022 survey. That is a real shame, especially since there are proven ways to not only treat clogged milk ducts, but to prevent getting clogged milk ducts in the first place. Learn everything you need to know about preventing and treating this very common breastfeeding hurdle.

What are milk ducts?

Hidden inside your breasts is a network of tube-like mammary ducts (aka milk ducts) designed to transport milk from your breast tissue to your nipples. While experts used to think that each breast contained between 15 and 20 milk ducts, recent research suggests that there are actually only about nine milk ducts in each breast doing all of the heavy lifting to ensure your baby gets the nutrients they need. And there is no correlation between the number (or size) of milk ducts in your breasts and milk you produce, according to the Journal of Anatomy.

What causes blocked ducts in breasts?

A blocked milk duct occurs when there is an obstruction either at the nipple or further along the ductal system. Contrary to popular belief, milk duct “clogs” are not due to stuck milk! Instead, the passageway becomes inflamed, which restricts milk flow. While you can get a blocked milk duct at any time on your breastfeeding journey due to factors like stress, fatigue, or anemia, experts report that blocked ducts most often happen during your first six to eight weeks postpartum. That said, these are the main culprits behind clogged milk ducts:

  • Your baby’s latch needs adjusting. When a baby’s latch is less than ideal, they often ineffectively drain your breast, which builds pressure behind the duct and the surrounding breast tissue becomes irritated.

  • There is too much time between feeds. Skipping a nursing or pumping sessions can cause severe engorgement, which, in turn, can clog your milk ducts.

  • There is pressure on your breasts. If your nursing bra is too tight or your diaper bag strap or seat belt presses across your chest, that can clog milk ducts, too.

  • There is a change in your feeding schedule. For example, if you are weaning your baby from the breast or starting them on solid foods, a clog could occur.

What does a clogged milk duct feel like?

If you are a breastfeeding newbie, it might not be obvious to you that you have a blocked milk duct. After all, when you are getting the hang of nursing, it can be uncomfortable, blocked duct or not! It is important to know that plugged duct symptoms usually progress gradually. Here are some signs that you are dealing with a clogged milk duct:

  • There is a hard lump on your breast.

  • The lump moves or gets smaller after nursing.

  • There may be swelling near the lump.

  • The lump may be red and/or warm.

  • It is painful or sore to touch the lump.

  • You experience discomfort during letdown.

  • Pain subsides after feeding.

  • You may have small milk blister on your nipple, called a nipple bleb.

How to Get Rid of a Clogged Milk Duct

If you believe you have a clogged milk duct, do not wait to take action! It is important to begin treating your blocked duct immediately, since a clogged duct can lead to a breast infection. Here is how to help relieve your discomfort and to get that liquid gold flowing again:

  • Massage your breasts. Gently massaging your breasts—almost like you are patting a cat—may help reduce inflammation. Deep massage, however, is not recommended, as this can exacerbate the issue. (Follow this illustrated guide.)

  • Try a cold compress. While breastfeeding veterans may tell you to use a warm compress on your clogged duct, updated guidelines from The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) advise against this. Instead, they recommend applying ice every hour (or more often if desired) to help reduce inflammation and pain. But do not put ice directly on your skin, instead wrap in a light towel. Lay on your back while icing and keep the compress in on for about 10 minutes.

  • Take a pain reliever. Talk to your healthcare provider taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to help reduce swelling and pain. They will likely suggest 1,000 milligrams of Tylenol or 800 milligrams of Advil every eight hours for 48 hours.

  • Keep your regular nursing schedule. Do not breastfeed or pump more than usual! This can put even more stress on your clogged ducts, worsening inflammation, and it may create an oversupply of milk…which can lead right back to clogged ducts.

  • Reach out to a lactation consultant. They can help your baby get the ideal latch and fully drain your breasts.

  • Consider supplements. Sunflower or soya lecithin capsules (5 to 10 grams daily) may help reduce inflammation in your milk ducts, according to ABM. Oral lecithin may also help clear up nipple blebs.

  • Do not soak your breasts! ABM also urges breastfeeding parents to avoid soaking their breasts with saline, castor oil, or any other topical products to relieve a clogged milk duct.

How long does it take for a clogged milk duct to resolve?

Most of the time, a blocked duct can be cleared at home within two days, without the added help of your healthcare provider. If you have no relief in that timeframe—or experience symptoms like, fever, fatigue, severe pain, nipple discharge, and/or flu-like symptoms—it is important to reach out to your healthcare provider immediately.

Clogged Milk Ducts vs. Mastitis

Leaving a clogged milk duct untreated can lead to mastitis, which is marked by inflammation of breast tissue that can involve an infection. Mastitis symptoms usually come on quickly, and include…

  • Fever

  • Chills and body aches and chills

  • Red, swollen, and painful breasts

  • Severe pain while nursing or pumping

  • Nipple discharge

If these symptoms sound familiar, swiftly contact your healthcare provider and find out if you require immediate antibiotic treatment.

How to Prevent Clogged Milk Ducts

There are few things you can do to help reduce your chances of getting clogged milk ducts, like…

  • Drain your breasts during each feed. When you have successfully drained your breasts, they will feel lighter and empty post-feed or post-pump.

  • Do not skip breastfeeding sessions. And if you are away from your baby—pump.

  • Wear the right bra. According to the La Leche League (LLL), wearing an appropriately fitting, supportive bra (not a tight-fitting one or an underwire) can help avoid clogged milk ducts.

  • Seek the help of a lactation consultant. They are specially trained to check your breastfeeding positioning and your baby’s latch to help ensure your bub is effectively removing milk, which will help prevent blocked milk ducts.

  • Prioritize rest. If you nourish yourself with plenty of water, healthy food, and extra rest, you will be better equipped to stave off breast soreness, reports the LLL. To help with rest, consider SNOO, which has been shown to add an hour of sleep each night on average thanks to its safe, constant, and calming womb-like motion and sound.


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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.