It came out of nowhere, 11 months into my nursing journey. I picked my son up from his morning nap, and when he snuggled against my chest, the side of my breast was sore, like a bruise. I felt it and it was tender and hard; when he nursed, I could feel that the side of my breast was like it had a rock inside it. Sure enough: it was a clogged milk duct.

Clogged or blocked ducts can occur when the breast isn’t being emptied of milk regularly. This could be from sudden weaning, a breast pump that is too weak, feeding issues like poor latch, or damage to ducts from sleeping on your stomach or a poorly-fitting nursing bra, including underwires, which can compress ducts. Stress or illness can also increase your risk of a blocked duct. Oxytocin production is negatively affected by stress, and oxytocin is the hormone that signals your breasts to release milk.

Although blocked ducts can be painful, they’re fairly easy to treat. Read on for signs and symptoms, as well as remedies.

What are the symptoms of a clogged milk duct?

Some women have a milk blister on the nipple pore, while for others, the blockage is further back in the duct. There is usually a hard lump or wedge of engorgement near the blocked area, and the area might feel hot to the touch, or tender. Nursing can also be painful, although there is typically some relief after a feeding. Though less common, you might also feel slightly run down or achy, if the duct has become infected. It’s important to take note of these symptoms because blocked ducts can turn into mastitis.

Treatment for a blocked duct

Keep nursing! Nursing can help dislodge the clog. You can also use a breast pump or hand express. Try to nurse on the affected side first, since the suction from your baby will be strongest at the beginning of a feed.

Massaging the sore area, although it’s sensitive, can help work the clog out. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moist heat to help with pain from a blocked duct, as well as helping to release the clog. Massaging your breast in a warm shower or after using warm compresses can help open the ducts.

Rest. As much as you can, try to rest so your body can repair itself. Stay hydrated and eat nutrient-dense foods to help build your immune system.

If, after 24 hours, the duct is still blocked, call your healthcare provider. If you develop a fever at all, call your provider immediately, as this can signal infection.

How can I prevent clogged ducts?

While there’s no way to definitively prevent clogged ducts, you can certainly decrease your risk of developing a blockage. Here are some ways you can minimize your chances.

Nurse often. If your baby isn’t eating, make sure you pump. If your breast is not empty when the feeding is over, either hand express or pump, so that there is no more milk left. When nursing, change up your position and latch to encourage the drainage of milk from all over the breast.

Avoid sleeping on your stomach, since this can compress milk ducts.

Steer clear of tight, restrictive shirts or bras that are too small or have underwires. If possible, try going bra-less sometimes. Anything that pushes against the breasts can increase the risk of a clogged duct.

If you find yourself getting multiple clogged ducts, talk with your midwife about seeing a lactation consultant. They can help determine if there’s an issue with the mechanics of feeding.

What worked for you, to release a clogged milk duct?