Blocked Ducts in Breasts

By Katharine Paljug  @kpaljug
January 18, 2018

What is mastitis? It’s when you have blocked ducts in your breasts. How do you treat mastitis? What causes this common breastfeeding complication? Should you keep breastfeeding?

Though breastfeeding is a natural bodily function, it does not always come easily. Many women experience trouble breastfeeding. There are many possible complications when nursing a baby, but one of the most common is mastitis, or blocked ducts in your breasts.


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Blocked ducts in your breasts

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast that results in pain from blocked ducts in your breasts, and can cause difficulty breastfeeding. It is usually accompanied by a bacterial infection, though not always. It can affect any woman who is lactating, with or without breastfeeding, and usually occurs in only one breast at a time.

According to the World Health Organization, mastitis is most common in the first few weeks after a baby is born, though it can occur at any time and is also common when a baby drops feedings or during weaning. Mastitis may affect as many as 33 percent of lactating women.

If it is left untreated, mastitis can cause breast abscesses. These are inflamed pockets of pus within the breast tissue and are painful and dangerous. Surgery is usually required to effectively drain abscesses in the breast.

What causes mastitis?

Mastitis is generally caused by either milk stasis or infection.

Milk stasis occurs when milk is not effectively removed from the breast, and this is the most frequent cause of mastitis. Common reasons for milk stasis are:

  • Plugged ducts
  • Infrequent or missed breastfeeding
  • Weaning
  • Engorgement or excessive milk supply
  • Trauma to the breast
  • Poor latch or attachment by baby

Mastitis due to infection can be caused by:

  • Bacteria entering through cracked or blistered nipples
  • Illness, stress, or fatigue
  • Yeast infection of the nipple or oral thrush in baby

Some women are more prone to milk stasis and mastitis than others, depending on their own health, stress levels, and milk supply.


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April 08, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN