The Difference Between Mastitis & A Clogged Milk Duct

by Olivia Youngs

Breastfeeding can be an amazing experience, allowing a baby to bond with its mother and receive the best nutrition possible. It can also be a very difficult and painful experience, especially if you're dealing with a painful clogged milk duct or mastitis. If you're experiencing pain but aren't sure what the culprit is, it's important to consider the difference between mastitis and a clogged milk duct, as knowing the symptoms of both can help you self-diagnose and better treat any discomfort you're experiencing in your breasts.

As it turns out, the two most common ailments for a breastfeeding mom are somewhat connected, but not exactly the same thing. In an interview with Romper, IBCLC Fayrouz Essawi defines a clogged duct as "an area of the breast where milk flow is obstructed." It can occur in the nipple pore, or further back in the ductal system. She says that clogged ducts usually come on slowly and may affect only one breast.

Baby Center noted that the common symptoms of a clogged duct are a small, hard lump in the breast, redness, or a hot, swelling sensation that may feel better after nursing.

Mastitis, on the other hand, is related to a clogged duct, but is more severe and not simply just a really bad clogged duct. Essawi defines mastitis as "an inflammation of the breast that can be caused by obstruction, infection and/or allergy." So, while a clogged duct may lead to mastitis, it isn't the only thing that can lead to inflammation.

According to La Leche League International, mastitis is frequently caused by a clogged milk duct that isn't cleared properly, however they aren't the same thing. The condition is marked by flu-like symptoms like chills and a fever. You will feel localized pain in your breast and it may hurt to nurse, but mothers should keep nursing through to keep the milk moving.

Luckily, although both ailments are painful, they're both treatable with proper nursing techniques, and in some cases, antibiotics. With proper treatment, a clogged milk duct and mastitis won't keep you down for long and you'll be nursing comfortably in no time.