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Breastfeeding problems: blocked milk ducts

Blocked milk ducts are a common problem for women who are breastfeeding. Find out about the symptoms of blocked ducts and ideas for self-treatment here.

If you are breastfeeding and you feel you have a small lump in the breast which may be tender, this could be a blocked milk duct. 

This is the result of a collection of milk that for some reason has not made its way down the duct as usual. Milk collects behind the blockage, leading to swelling. 

This can lead to mastitis, which is an inflammation of the breast. 

Sometimes, blocked ducts clear on their own, without treatment, when the baby next feeds. If this doesn’t happen, or if you get repeated blocked ducts, then it’s a good idea to take some action.

Blocked milk duct treatment

The same self-help methods that can help with mastitis are useful for blocked ducts:

  • Gentle massage of the affected area.
  • Application of a warm compress before you feed can help with milk flow.
  • Applying a cold compress after feeding to help with any discomfort.
  • Expressing before or during feeds to relieve any fullness – be gentle, as your breast may bruise easily. You can also express after a feed, if the blocked duct is still there.
  • Changing the position in which you and your baby feed to enable more effective drainage of the affected area.
  • Being careful about clothing and bras by making sure nothing is pressing on your breast, between feeds or during a feed.

Your baby may be more likely to clear the blocked milk duct if they feed from the affected breast first, and is positioned so that their lower jaw is nearer the lump.

Milk blisters

Sometimes, you can see a white spot on the nipple, where milk appears to be blocking one of the exit points. The white spot may be dried milk, clogging up the opening, and causing a blocked duct further up the same duct.  The white spot is sometimes known as a bleb, or a milk blister, and it can be quite painful.

Some women have got rid of these by rubbing their breast with a towel after a shower, picking it off with a finger nail, or even ‘popping’ it with a clean sewing needle.

If you think you need to do more than this, because the white spot is underneath a layer or skin, then speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP. 

For more information about other possible problems you might encounter later on with breastfeeding, read our article here.

Last updated: August 2016

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021.

NHS information on mastitis.

Best Beginnings - Bump to Breastfeeding DVD Chapter 7 'Overcoming Challenges'.

Healthtalkonline.org: Managing Breastfeeding – dealing with difficult times.