Published on 10th March 2023

This article was reviewed by lactation consultant Olivia Hinge on 03/05/24

A blocked nose. A plugged drain. A jammed highway. Obstructions of any kind are usually unwelcome, and often pretty aggravating. It’s no different when you’re breastfeeding, pumping, or both: a clogged milk duct is something all new moms could do without, but it’s unfortunately common while nursing.

Thankfully, while a clogged duct can be troublesome (not to mention a little painful at times), it’s rarely cause for too much concern. Plus, there are several straightforward ways to clear a clogged duct and resume your nursing journey free of undue pain or discomfort.

What is a plugged milk duct?

A plugged, clogged or blocked duct describes one of the milk ducts in your breasts becoming obstructed which in turn restricts the flow of milk to the nipple. Contrary to what the term might suggest, there isn't an actual 'plug' like a cork; the blockage is due to inflammation of the breast tissue. Milk ducts, also known as breast ducts, are slender tubes that transport milk from the glandular tissue (lobules) to the nipples. With about nine milk ducts in each nipple, a blockage in any one of them can lead to discomfort, pain, and inflammation for breastfeeding moms.

Plugged milk ducts are common, affecting up to 1 in 5 women during nursing — and while they’re not serious, if left untreated they can lead to other conditions such as mastitis, an inflammation of the breast which may cause redness, pain, a burning sensation, and general flu-like symptoms.

What causes a clogged milk duct?

The root cause of a blocked milk duct is internal inflammation within the breast, which can be triggered by over supply of milk. There may be several reasons for this oversupply, it may be because your baby is missing feeds, the period between feeding or pumping sessions is too long, or your little one is struggling to latch properly and therefore isn’t draining your breast of milk at each feed.

You may also experience blocked ducts when your baby’s feeding schedule is changing, such as when you start introducing solid foods and consequently reduce breastfeeding sessions during the weaning process. To best manage this transition, it's advisable to continue responsive breastfeeding alongside the introduction of solids. Even simple factors like wearing a bra that's too tight can contribute to this issue, as it may exert excessive pressure on the breasts, preventing full drainage.

An illustration of the milk ducts inside the breast Image: Alakina Mann

How can you tell if you have a clogged duct?

The typical sign of a clogged milk duct is a wedge-shaped, hard lump appearing on the breast, which may be red and inflamed and is often tender or painful to the touch. The symptoms of a clogged duct are often confused with engorgement or mastitis — and there are similarities and crossovers — but there are significant differences between these three conditions.

If you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from a blocked breast milk duct:

  • A wedge-shaped, hard hot lump of tissue within the breast.

  • Redness and swelling around the lump (though the redness may not be visible on darker skin tones.)

  • Pain or discomfort, which may be at its worst during feeding or pumping and subside afterwards

  • Small white or yellow blisters (known as milk bleb) on the nipple

How to unclog a milk duct

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to clear a clogged milk duct, and the problem will usually resolve itself within a couple of days as long as you’re following the right advice. You’ll rarely need medical intervention, as a few simple at-home remedies are normally sufficient to treat a plugged duct.

How do you treat a clogged milk duct at home?

The most effective way to treat a clogged duct is to ensure you regularly completely drain the affected breast without overstimulating it. This involves gentle milk expression, adhering to your usual feeding routine, using comfortable pump settings, and staying relaxed. In addition to these methods, there are also several steps you can take to alleviate the problem:

  • Changing breastfeeding positions. Experimenting with different breastfeeding positions can be an effective way to enhance drainage from the affected breast. Try positions where the baby’s nose or chin points toward the blocked duct.

  • Avoid overfeeding or pumping. Carry on as you would usually feed your baby to avoid overproducing milk and remaining in the cycle.

  • Avoid applying heat. Do not apply heat to the affected area, as it can increase congestion within the breast.

  • Using ice compressions. Using a cool compress can help ease painful symptoms and reduce inflammation.

  • Lymphatic massage techniques. Use gentle strokes towards your collarbone and armpit in the direction of your nipple as your baby is feeding.

  • Not skipping nursing sessions. If your baby does not want to feed at regular intervals, pump instead.

  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing. Tight-fitting clothing can put extra pressure on the breast and make it more difficult for a blocked duct to clear. Avoid wearing tight or underwired bras and opt for loose-fitting clothing where possible.

  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers. These can help with some of the painful symptoms, consider using anti-inflammatory painkillers to address the inflammation.

What is the fastest way to get rid of a clogged milk duct?

The quickest way to unclog a milk duct is to empty the breast of milk regularly, whether through consistent breastfeeding, pumping, or both. If your little one is not draining the breast during each feed — for example, because they have a poor latch — using a pump to express the remainder of your milk after each session will ensure your breast is fully drained and help to unclog a blocked duct. Additionally, addressing the underlying inflammation that leads to milk stasis is vital. Methods such as taking anti-inflammatory painkillers, incorporating lymphatic massage techniques into your feeding routine, and applying cool compresses can all effectively reduce inflammation.

How long does a clogged milk duct take to clear?

Providing you’re draining the breast regularly and working to reduce inflammation, a clogged duct should clear within 1 to 2 days without requiring any medical treatment. You should aim to carry on with your usual breastfeeding schedule and empty the breast fully each time you feed or pump. It may be tempting to increase your feeding or pumping sessions to speed up the healing process, but it is key to avoid this as it can lead to an oversupply of milk, which can prolong the symptoms of a clogged duct. If the blockage persists for longer than a few days, it can lead to mastitis — which can be more serious and may require antibiotics to treat.

Can a clogged milk duct heal without medical treatment?

If you continue with your regular feeding schedule, and employ some of the inflammation-reducing techniques mentioned above, a clogged milk duct should heal on its own within 1 to 2 days without requiring any medical treatment.

Should I stop breastfeeding if I have a clogged duct?

No, you shouldn’t. Regardless of whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding or pumping or doing a combination of the two, it’s important to continue draining the breast frequently — so you should stick to your normal feeding or pumping schedule. It is key to avoid overstimulation by adding additional feeds and aggressive massage techniques.

Additionally, you may want to experiment with different feeding positions, like positioning your baby’s nose or chin so that it points towards the clogged duct. Applying a cool compress and employing lymphatic massage techniques can address the inflammation causing the blockage.

How to clear a clogged milk duct while pumping

If you’re exclusively pumping and you develop a clogged duct, the trick is to continue with your usual pumping schedule, while incorporating lymphatic massage techniques while you pump.

A clogged milk duct can be both unwelcome and uncomfortable, especially during feeding or pumping sessions. However, by following these at-home treatment tips, you can prevent it from being a prolonged issue. The crucial factor is to ensure your breasts are fully emptied after each session while being mindful to avoid overstimulation. Alongside this, it's equally important to tackle the inflammation that's causing the clogged duct to ensure effective relief.


  1. Cleveland Clinic. Breast Anatomy [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from:

  2. Mayo Clinic Health System. Managing Plugged Ducts & Mastitis When Breastfeeding [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from:

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Breastfeeding Latch [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from:

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Milk Bleb [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from:

  5. Physician Guide to Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and Massage [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from:

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Medicines (NSAIDs) [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from:

  7. Medical News Today. Treatments and home remedies for mastitis [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from: