Preventing breastfeeding infections and soreness

Asking for help and continuing to breastfeed are important steps to take to prevent breastfeeding problems.

If you feel pain in one or both breasts, this soreness may be caused by plugged milk ducts or breast infection (mastitis). Inside your breast, ducts transport milk to the opening in a woman’s nipple. One or more of the milk ducts may become plugged or clogged when milk stays in the breast too long. A plugged duct will cause a small lump that is usually red and painful.  A plugged duct can turn into a breast infection if not treated.

What is a breast infection?

A breast infection is called “mastitis”. A breast infection can happen when a milk duct is blocked or when germs get into a mild duct through a crack in the nipple. You may have a breast infection if:

  • Your breast is warm and tender to touch
  • You have a fever and feel sick
  • Your breast is sore and/or swollen
  • You feel a lump and see redness on your breast

Call your health care provider right away if you have any of these symptoms. You may need medicine to treat mastitis. You can continue breastfeeding while taking medicine for mastitis.

To prevent plugged ducts and mastitis:

  • Encourage baby to feed from both breast during each feeding
  • If you skip a feeding, pump or hand express milk until your breasts are less full
  • Avoid putting too much pressure on your breasts
    • Wear clothes (such as a bra) that are not too tight
    • Try not to sleep in the same position every night
    • Don’t hold your baby in the same position for every feeding

While under a doctor’s care for a plugged duct or mastitis, these tips may help:

  • Get plenty of rest and drink water
  • Nurse as often and for as long as you can
  • Put a moist, warm compress on the sore area before feedings
  • Gently massage around the sore area while feeding or pumping
  • Use hand expression or pump after feedings to better drain your breasts
  • Continue breastfeeding! Your milk wil not transfer these infections to your baby.  Breastfeeding will keep the problem from getting worse and may help speed your recovery.

Michigan State University Extension’s Breastfeeding Mother to Mother Program can answer your questions about breastfeeding. For additional information on breastfeeding your baby, go to and look under fact sheets or call a representative of the program.

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