Remember the milk ducts in your breasts? They're the ducts that carry milk down to the pores in your nipples and, ultimately, into your baby's mouth. Well, like a kitchen-sink pipe they can become plugged, causing a lump or hard area on your breast that feels sensitive.
If you have plugged milk ducts, don't panic. They're common in the early days of breastfeeding, as your milk supply adjusts itself, and they're easily treated. As a rule, there's no need to visit to your doctor for this condition.
Plugs occur when something makes milk to "sit" in your breast rather than move through the ducts. This can be caused by something as simple as sleeping on your stomach or wearing a tight bra or baby carrier. It can also occur if your baby isn't draining your breast enough at feedings or isn't feeding as often because he's sleeping longer stretches at night, has a cold or is becoming more alert.
If you think you have a plugged duct, the best cure is good drainage. Always offer the affected breast first at feedings, since your baby eats more vigorously at the beginning.
The plugged duct should resolve itself quickly if you treat it right away. However, if it isn't treated quickly or it's stubborn, it could turn into an infection called mastitis.
You'll know when a plugged duct has become infected: the area will become very tender and might hurt when your baby latches on; it might also look red and feel warm to the touch. The main sign of mastitis is flu-like symptoms, so you'll have aching bones, chills and a fever. If you think you've developed mastitis go see your doctor, who will probably give you a prescription for antibiotics.
This information is courtesy of Bravado Designs, the brand synonymous with women's breastfeeding success for 18 years.
Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)