Breastfeeding And Clogged Milk Ducts

  • Inês DiasMaster's Degree, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon
  • Ellie Kerrod BSc Neuroscience, The University of Manchester, England


Breastfeeding is a natural and essential process that can provide numerous benefits for both infants and mothers. However, it can sometimes be accompanied by challenges, one of which is the occurrence of clogged milk ducts. Clogged milk ducts are blockages within the milk ducts of the breast that can impede the flow of breast milk. When a milk duct becomes clogged, it can lead to discomfort, swelling, and a decrease in milk supply.1

Those who are breastfeeding must be aware of this potential problem and take precautions. Milk duct obstructions can be cleared up and difficulties can be avoided with quick action and the right management. By knowing and resolving this issue, it is possible to give newborns the vital benefits of breast milk while also maintaining their comfort and well-being.1

Breast anatomy and milk production

To better understand the problem of clogged milk ducts, it is helpful to have some basic knowledge of the structure and function of the breasts and how they produce milk. The breast is a complex organ that consists of different types of tissues, such as the mammary glands, the fatty tissue, and the areola and nipple. The mammary glands are the parts of the breast that are responsible for making milk. They are composed of clusters of cells called alveoli.

Alveoli secrete milk into small tubes called milk ducts or lactiferous ducts. The fatty tissue surrounds the mammary glands and gives the breast its shape and size. The areola is the pigmented area around the nipple that contains small bumps called montgomery glands that secrete a lubricating fluid. The nipple is the protruding part of the breast that has 15 to 25 tiny openings where the milk ducts end and release milk during breastfeeding.2

The milk ducts are the tubes responsible for the transport of breast milk from the glandular tissue of the breast to the nipple. Each nipple has 15 to 25 microscopic openings called pores, but only around 6 or 7 are open to release milk during breastfeeding. The breast undergoes modifications both during pregnancy and while the mother is nursing to produce the milk needed to nourish the baby.

These modifications are brought on by hormonal changes, particularly those brought on by oestrogen, progesterone, and human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG). The pituitary gland's activity has increased as a result of these hormonal alterations. As a result, prolactin is stimulated together with the development of lactotroph cells.

The latter hormone is in charge of "preparing the breast" for milk production, however, breast milk production only occurs once oestrogen and progesterone levels are stabilised following childbirth. Subsequently, during the first few days after birth, the breasts of the infant produce colostrum, a fluid that is rich in antibodies from the mother. Later, the colostrum diminishes, and we are left with breast milk.2,3,4

Causes and symptoms of clogged milk ducts

While breastfeeding has many benefits, according to the World Health Organization and numerous scientific studies, it can also sometimes result in problems like clogged milk ducts. Clogged milk ducts are a very common problem when breastfeeding.5,6

When the duct that transports breast milk is obstructed or stopped, breast milk cannot pass through your breasts to reach the nipple region. The breast develops an uncomfortable lump as a result Additionally, you can experience other symptoms including:

  • Tenderness of the area with sometimes a palpable lump
  • Soreness and redness on the breast
  • Swelling
  • Irritation on the nipple region7,8

Once milk flow is restricted, pressure builds behind the duct, irritating the tissue around it and leading to an inflammation that blocks the milk ducts, which makes breastfeeding difficult putting the baby's nutrition in danger.9,10

Many breastfeeding mothers may wonder what can cause clogged breast ducts, which are painful lumps in the breast that prevent the milk from flowing to the nipple. The main factor is milk stasis however several factors can contribute to this condition, such as:

  • Excessive amount of milk in the breast or inadequate emptying
  • Go for extended periods without pumping or nursing
  • Not pumping when there is occasionally more breast milk being produced than what the baby needs
  • Wearing thigh-length clothing or bras that push relentlessly against the same breast tissue
  • Sleeping on your side or stomach9,11

Management and treatment of clogged milk ducts

Many breastfeeding mothers may encounter the problem of clogged milk ducts, which can cause pain, inflammation, and infection. To avoid or treat this issue, several methods have been proven to be effective, such as:

  • Breastfeed or pump milk frequently and regularly, especially if you have an abundance of milk
  • Ensure that each time your baby feeds, they latch on securely and empty your breasts
  • Change your breastfeeding positions to assist in emptying various regions of your breasts
  • Wearing anything that is excessively tight or constraining for your breasts should be avoided
  • To encourage the flow of milk during nursing or pumping, gently massage the breasts before and throughout the process
  • Apply warm compresses or take a warm shower to remove any blockages5,11

Additionally, to the methods mentioned above, eating a well-balanced diet and drinking lots of water can aid in recovery. To prevent further complications such as infection or the formation of abscesses, you might need to contact a doctor if the pain is severe. In these situations, they may also prescribe medical treatment.11


Recurrent milk duct obstructions during the breastfeeding phase can have adverse consequences including an increase in the risk of complications like mastitis or abscesses, a decrease in milk production, and a change in the composition of the milk, as well as frustration and anxiety for the mother and the baby.8 Usually, clogged milk ducts can be resolved quickly by following when followed some recommendations that help in the resolution of this condition. However, if clogged ducts are left untreated, they can lead to more serious complications.

One of these complications is mastitis, which is a breast infection that causes inflammation, redness, fever, and flu-like symptoms. Mastitis can occur when the clogged duct is not cleared, and bacteria enter the breast tissue. Mastitis should always be diagnosed by a doctor and may require antibiotics to treat the infection. Another possible complication of untreated clogged ducts or mastitis is an abscess, which is a collection of pus that forms in the breast tissue. An abscess can be very painful and may need surgical drainage as part of medical treatment.5,10,11


How can I prevent clogged milk ducts?

One of the ways to prevent or treat clogged milk ducts is to follow some approaches that can help your breasts drain well and avoid any blockages, including breastfeeding or pumping frequently, changing breastfeeding positions, stimulating the milk flow through massages, and applying warm compresses or take a warm shower previous breastfeeding.5,11

How common is it to have clogged milk ducts

Clogged milk ducts are a common problem that can affect breastfeeding mothers and can be more prevalent during the first six months of breastfeeding.5,6

When should I see a doctor?

You might need to see a doctor if experiencing severe pain or symptoms of infection to avoid complications such as mastitis or the formation of abscesses.11


Clogged milk ducts are a common challenge for breastfeeding mothers. They occur when the tubes that carry milk from the breast tissue to the nipple become blocked, causing a painful lump and other symptoms. Clogged ducts can interfere with breastfeeding and the baby’s nutrition. The main cause of clogged ducts is milk stasis, which happens when the breast is not emptied well or often enough.

Other factors that can contribute to clogged ducts are skipping or missing feedings, having an oversupply of milk, wearing tight clothing or bras, or sleeping on the stomach or side. Clogged ducts can be prevented and treated by following some simple strategies, such as breastfeeding or pumping frequently and regularly, making sure the baby has a good latch, changing nursing positions, massaging the breasts, and applying warm compresses.

Clogged milk ducts are when the tubes that carry milk to the nipples become blocked, causing pain and inflammation. They can be prevented and treated by breastfeeding or pumping regularly, changing positions, massaging the breasts, and applying warm compresses. If left untreated, they can lead to infection or abscess, which may require antibiotics or surgery. You should see a doctor if you have severe pain or signs of infection. Clogged ducts are common in breastfeeding mothers, especially in the first six months.


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  2. Alex A, Bhandary E, McGuire KP. Anatomy and Physiology of the Breast during Pregnancy and Lactation. In: Alipour S, Omranipour R, editors. Diseases of the Breast during Pregnancy and Lactation. Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2020. p. 3–7. (Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology). Available from:
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  5. Munsittikul N, Tantaobharse S, Siripattanapipong P, Wutthigate P, Ngerncham S, Yangthara B. Integrated breast massage versus traditional breast massage for treatment of plugged milk duct in lactating women: a randomized controlled trial. International Breastfeeding Journal. 2022 Jun 2;17(1):43.  Available from:
  6. Murphy S, Carter L, Al Shizawi T, Queally M, Brennan S, O’Neill S. Exploring the relationship between breastfeeding and the incidence of infant illnesses in Ireland: evidence from a nationally representative prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health. 2023 Jan 20;23(1):140. Available from:
  7. Prachniak GK. Common breastfeeding problems. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. 2002 Mar 1;29(1):77–88. Available from:
  8. Lavigne V, Gleberzon BJ. Ultrasound as a treatment of mammary blocked duct among 25 postpartum lactating women: a retrospective case series. J Chiropr Med. 2012 Sep;11(3):170–8. Available from:
  9. Yao Y, Long T, Pan Y, Li Y, Wu L, Fu B, et al. A Five-step Systematic Therapy for Treating Plugged Ducts and Mastitis in Breastfeeding Women: A Case–Control Study. Asian Nursing Research. 2021 Aug 1;15(3):197–202. Available from:
  10. Jacobs A, Abou-Dakn M, Becker K, Both D, Gatermann S, Gresens R, et al. S3-Guidelines for the Treatment of Inflammatory Breast Disease during the Lactation Period. Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2013 Dec;73(12):1202–8. Available from:
  11. Pevzner M, Dahan A. Mastitis While Breastfeeding: Prevention, the Importance of Proper Treatment, and Potential Complications. J Clin Med. 2020 Jul 22;9(8):2328. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Inês Dias

Master's Degree, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon

Inês is a scientist in the field of Biomedical Sciences, with a wealth of experience in various laboratory procedures. Her expertise is evident in her work as clinical analysis technician, performing puncture procedures for the collection of biological samples. She has also played a key role in COVID-19 sample processing in a laboratory setting. Recently obtained her master’s in Molecular Biology and Genetics from the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon.

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