It is common for many women to have a plugged duct in the breast during the period she breastfeeds. A plugged milk duct feels tender, sore, or like a lump in the breast. It is not accompanied by a fever or other symptoms. Mastitis, however is soreness or a lump in the breast. Plugged duct happens when a milk duct does not properly drain, becomes inflamed, pressure builds up behind the plug, and surrounding tissue becomes inflamed. A plugged duct usually only occurs in one breast.
A breast infection (mastitis), on the other hand, is 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 feel warm or hot to the touch. A breast infection can occur when other family members have a cold or the flu, and like a plugged duct, it usually only occurs in one breast.
Treatment for plugged ducts and breast infections is similar.
- Soreness can be relieved by applying heat to increase circulation to the sore area and to speed its healing. You can use a heating pad or a small hot-water bottle. It also helps to massage the area, starting behind the sore spot. Use your fingers in a circular motion and massage toward the nipple.
- Breastfeed often on the affected side. This helps loosen the plug, keeps the milk moving freely, and the breast from becoming overly full. Nursing every two hours, both day and night on the affected side first can be helpful.
- Rest. Getting extra sleep or relaxing with your feet up can help speed healing. Often a plugged duct or breast infection is the first sign that a mother is doing too much and becoming overly tired.
- Wear a well-fitting supportive bra that is not too tight, since this can constrict milk ducts.
- IMPORTANT: If you do not feel better within 24 hours of trying these steps, and you still have a fever or your symptoms worsen, call your health care provider. You may need an antibiotic. Also, if you have a breast infection in which both breasts look affected, or there is pus or blood in the milk, red streaks near the area, or your symptoms came on severe and suddenly, see your health care provider right away.
- Even if you need an antibiotic, continuing to breastfeed during treatment is best for both you and your baby. Most antibiotics will not affect your baby through your breast milk. [ Question: Is it safe to take medications while breastfeeding? ]
For more on Breastfeeding Challenges. Please visit the page.