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Plugged Ducts and Breast Infections: Frequently Asked Questions

My breasts hurt -- how do I know if there's a problem?

If your breasts are sore and tender even between nursing sessions, you may have a plugged milk duct. There may be redness or a hard spot in the area of the breast that's most sore.

Will plugged ducts heal on their own?

You need to take care of a plugged duct right away, or it can lead to infection. The best thing to do is to nurse frequently -- it's the surest way to unclog the duct. You might try different nursing holds, as one may reach the problem area better than another. You can also try applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to help drain the breast.

What does an infection feel like?

Mastitis, which is a breast infection, makes your breasts tender and sore and also makes you feel run down. You might have a fever, body aches, and/or chills, as if you have a cold.

How are infections treated?

The sooner you see a doctor the better -- you'll probably need antibiotics to clear the infection. In the meantime, it's critical to keep nursing. The infection can't be passed to your baby, and breastfeeding can help heal you. You'll also need to rest a lot, and take the entire antibiotic prescription, even if you start to feel better right away.

How can such problems be avoided?

You need to keep to a relatively predictable nursing schedule, not going long hours between feedings except perhaps at night once your baby is older than about 2 months. Underwire bras or poorly fitting bras can also cause trouble, as can carrying anything that chafes your breasts, such as a wide-strapped backpack or purse. Finally, as always, it's important to eat healthy foods, rest, and avoid stress as much as possible.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; La Leche League

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.