If an area of your breast becomes inflamed, it can cause some narrowing in the milk ducts. This can make it difficult for the milk to flow freely. It is often called a blocked or narrowed duct or localised breast inflammation.
It is generally not caused by a 'plug' of milk blocking a milk duct.
Signs of a blocked or narrowed duct
Signs of a blocked or narrowed duct can include:
- a hard and tender lump when you press on your breast
- the skin on the affected area might look darker or red - depending on your skin tone
- expressed milk may appear thickened or stringy
- flu-like symptoms such as feeling achy and run down
- areas of the breast may feel warmer to touch
Causes of a blocked or narrowed duct
A blocked or narrowed duct can happen when:
- there are long gaps between feeds - for example, if your baby slept through a feed
- your breasts are engorged - this often happens in the early days when the volume of milk is increasing quickly
- your bra or clothing is too tight or there is pressure from a wired bra
- your baby is not positioned or attached well
- you apply too much pressure when massaging your breasts
What you can do for a blocked or narrowed duct
There are things you can do at home to help relieve a blocked duct.
Very gently massage your breasts in a circular motion. Apply a light touch when doing this and use the flat of your hand (as if you are petting a cat). Continue the gentle touch all the way towards your armpit.
Be careful not to apply too much pressure when massaging. This can cause damage and scarring to sensitive breast tissue. It can also increase the risk of more inflammation.
Use a cold pack or cool moist face cloth to reduce swelling and relieve pain - after a feed or in between feeds.
Breastfeed as normal
Breastfeed your baby as normal - in response to your baby’s feeding cues. While breastfeeding, gently compress your breast, just behind the sore area.
Overfeeding or expressing unnecessarily may make your symptoms worse. If you feel overly full or uncomfortable at times, you can offer to breastfeed or gently hand express to get some relief.
Ask your GP or pharmacist about using anti-inflammatory pain relief like ibuprofen. You can alternate this with paracetamol, unless there is a medical reason why you cannot take both types of medicine. Take it regularly for at least 2 days or until your symptoms are relieved. Always read and follow the medicine instructions.
Plenty of rest
Get as much rest as possible. Laid-back or lying down breastfeeding positions will allow you to rest. Sleep when your baby is sleeping. Ask your partner, family or friends to help out.
Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:
- you still have a blocked or narrowed duct after 48 hours
- you have a fever or flu-like symptoms that do not improve after 24 hours - you may need medicine for a mastitis infection
Antibiotics are not always needed to treat mastitis.