Breastfeeding: Common Breastfeeding Challenges (cont.)

Plugged ducts

It is common for many women to have a plugged duct at some point breastfeeding. A plugged milk duct feels like a tender and sore lump in the breast. It is not accompanied by a fever or other symptoms. It happens when a milk duct does not properly drain and becomes inflamed. Then, pressure builds up behind the plug, and surrounding tissue becomes inflamed. A plugged duct usually only occurs in one breast at a time.

What you can do

  • Breastfeed often on the affected side, as often as every two hours. This helps loosen the plug, and keeps the milk moving freely.
  • Massage the area, starting behind the sore spot.
  • Use your fingers in a circular motion and massage toward the nipple. Use a warm compress on the sore area.
  • Get extra sleep or relax with your feet up to help speed healing. Often a plugged duct is the first sign that a mother is doing too much.
  • Wear a well-fitting supportive bra that is not too tight, since this can constrict milk ducts. Consider trying a bra without underwire.

Ask for help! If your plugged duct doesn't loosen up, ask for help from a lactation consultant. Plugged ducts can lead to a breast infection.

Breast infection (mastitis)

Even if you are taking medicine, continue to breastfeed during treatment. This is best for both you and your baby. Ask a lactation consultant for help if needed.

Mastitis (mast-EYE-tiss) is soreness or a lump in the breast that can be accompanied by a fever and/or flu-like symptoms, such as feeling run down or very achy. Some women with a breast infection also have nausea and vomiting. You also may have yellowish discharge from the nipple that looks like colostrum. Or, the breasts may feel warm or hot to the touch and appear pink or red. A breast infection can occur when other family members have a cold or the flu. It usually only occurs in one breast. It is not always easy to tell the difference between a breast infection and a plugged duct because both have similar symptoms and can improve within 24 to 48 hours. Most breast infections that do not improve on their own within this time period need to be treated with medicine given by a doctor.

What you can do

  1. Breastfeed often on the affected side, as often as every two hours. This keeps the milk moving freely, and keeps the breast from becoming overly full.
  2. Massage the area, starting behind the sore spot. Use your fingers in a circular motion and massage toward the nipple.
  3. Apply heat to the sore area with a warm compress.
  4. Get extra sleep or relax with your feet up to help speed healing. Often a breast infection is the first sign that a mother is doing too much and becoming overly tired.
  5. Wear a well-fitting supportive bra that is not too tight, since this can constrict milk ducts.

Ask for help! Ask your doctor for help if you do not feel better within 24 hours of trying these tips, if you have a fever, or if your symptoms worsen. You might need medicine. See your doctor right away if:

  • You have a breast infection in which both breasts look affected
  • There is pus or blood in the milk
  • You have red streaks near the area
  • Your symptoms came on severely and suddenly