How to know when it's a clogged duct vs. mastitis

June 10, 2017

How to know when it's a clogged duct vs. mastitis

There have been many inquiries on Facebook and through email about mastitis and clogged ducts.  I wanted to take the opportunity to help explain the difference and when you can address it yourself vs when you need to see your doctor.

Clogged Ducts

These are never fun but frequently part of a new mom's breastfeeding experience.  A clogged duct is usually caused by some sort of pressure that has been applied to an area of the breast.  This can be from wearing an ill fitting bra, an underwire bra, wearing a regular bra and pulling it up to nurse.  What happens when a duct becomes clogged is that the pressure causes a restriction of the flow which backs up the entire duct.  When the duct is not able to drain with nursing it becomes enflamed and painful.  The milk can either become thicker than usual or it can create a small calcified nugget.  Both of which are able to be moved along with work but are very painful in the process.  

The best solve for this is nursing your baby on the clogged boob as often as possible.  

Other methods or moving a stubborn clogged duct along are 

  • Hang your boobs in a bowl of very warm water and massage down your breast as gravity helps.
  • Use a vibrator (toothbrush, personal vibrator or massager) right on the clog followed massaging towards the nipple as your baby nurses.
  • Relax in a hot tub, soak your breast and massage toward the nipple.

Don't be alarmed if when the clog works it's way to the nipple it comes out thick and stringy or is similar to a piece of rice.  Once the clog is removed it may take a few days for the soreness to go away.


Mastitis is a clogged duct that has gone wild and is in need of medical attention.  The clogged duct has now caused an infection and your body is trying to fight it.  

Below are signs that a clogged duct has moved to mastitis

  • Red streaking on the breast
  • Fever and body aches very similar to the flu
  • Swollen around the clog and almost impossible to touch
  • The breast hot to the touch

If you feel that you have mastitis the best thing to do is contact your doctor to call in a prescription for treatment of the infection.  You don't want to wait it out and try to treat it on your own at this point.

I hope this helps as you work through your breastfeeding journey with your little one.  As always if you have any other issues or questions please feel free to contact us via email or Facebook.

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