Milk blebs (also called milk blisters) can make nursing painful. But what exactly are they, and how to know if you have one? What causes them, and how can you treat them? Plus, how can you reduce the likelihood of future milk blisters? We have all the answers here.
What is a milk bleb (milk blister)?
A milk bleb, or milk blister, is a blocked nipple pore that occurs while you are breastfeeding. It’s often caused by a clogged milk duct, which causes breastmilk to harden and back up the flow of milk. It can also be caused by a piece of skin.
Milk blisters can be painful. You might feel pain at the site of the bleb, or further back into your breast. And you’ll likely feel more pain while you’re nursing or pumping.
Milk blebs aren’t exactly the same as blocked milk ducts – they’re clogged pores at the nipple. But they can cause, or be caused by, clogged milk ducts.
And since milk blebs interfere with your milk flow, they could lead to a totally blocked milk duct or mastitis (a breast infection) if they aren’t treated.
What do milk blebs look like?
Milk blebs look like white spots on the nipple – they look very similar to small pimples in size, shape, and color. Usually, they’re white, but they can sometimes be yellow or the color of your skin. You might also notice that the skin around your nipple looks or feels inflamed when you have a milk blister.
Milk blisters are fairly common – many breastfeeding parents experience them, so you’re not alone if you notice you’ve developed one.
What causes milk blisters?
There are several possible causes of milk blisters. You may get a milk bleb because baby isn’t latching onto your breast properly. An improper latch means that milk won’t drain from your breasts as efficiently as it should, meaning that milk gets backed up in your breast. This can lead to a clogged duct.
You might also end up with a milk bleb if you have an oversupply (you produce more milk than baby can drink, or milk flows out too quickly for baby to handle). If baby can’t drain enough milk from your breasts to properly empty them, you could end up with a milk bleb and a backed up duct.
A too-tight bra or an underwire bra may also cause a bleb, as these bras can put pressure on your nipples and irritate them.
How to treat a milk blister?
You’ll need to treat milk blisters as soon as you see them to help prevent blockages and mastitis. Fortunately, it’s simple to treat milk blebs at home. And often, milk blebs will go away on their own within 24-48 hours.
There are many ways that you can help the milk blister go away more quickly, and help soothe your breasts if you’re in pain.
- Nurse or pump! Yes, this may be painful, but the sucking from your baby or the pump can help loosen and remove the bleb. So, keep up your regular nursing or pumping routine. Some moms recommend placing baby’s chin right near the clogged area, so they can loosen and drain out the clog more easily.
- Try an Epsom soak. Soak your nipple in a mixture of 1 cup hot water and 2 tablespoons Epsom salt. The Epsom salt may dry up the bleb so it falls off. Even though Epsom salts aren’t harmful to your little one, you should still rinse your breasts off before feeding baby.
- Apply heat. Place a warm wet washcloth, or a heating pad, at the site of the bleb for 10 minutes. Do this several times a day, preferably right before a nursing or pumping session.
- Apply olive oil. Olive oil can help soften your skin and loosen the blister. Place some olive oil on a cotton ball. Then, you can use the cotton ball to gently apply the olive oil. Or, leave the cotton ball in your bra for 20-30 minutes near the bleb site, with a nursing pad in between to help prevent clothing stains. Make sure the cotton ball isn’t too tight against the skin, as a tight cotton ball can make things worse just like a tight bra can.
- Wait things out (with help). As most milk blebs loosen after 24-48 hours, time may be just what you need. If things are painful in the meantime, you can call your doctor and ask if it’s ok to take ibuprofen.
What if the milk bleb doesn’t loosen within 48 hours, or things get more painful after a few days? It’s time to see a doctor. This way, you can reduce your risk of an infection. Your doctor may drain the bleb in their office, using a sterile needle. After the bleb is drained, clean the area daily with mild cleanser, and put ointment on the area if your doctor recommends it. And be sure to keep breastfeeding regularly!
Never pop a milk bleb yourself, as this can increase the risk of future blebs and painful infections. Only try to loosen the bleb at home.
Reducing the risk of future milk blisters
After you’ve dealt with the milk blister, take these steps to help reduce the likelihood that you’ll develop another:
- Make sure baby gets a good latch. A proper latch is deep, where baby forms a tight seal around the whole nipple and almost all of the areola (area around the nipple). If baby is struggling to get a deep latch, you may need to try different breastfeeding positions.
- Try different positions so there isn’t as much pressure on your nipple. The cradle hold and football hold are good “low pressure” positions.
- Add pumping sessions during the day, after nursing, if you think your breasts aren’t emptied enough.
- Add a night pumping if needed. Sometimes, a milk bleb will show up after baby has just started to sleep through the night. If baby doesn’t need to nurse at night, this will give you much-needed sleep. But it can also cause your breasts to fill up too quickly overnight. If you notice this, pump at least once after baby is asleep. Even pumping right before bed can help – and this will let you maximize sleep.
- Gently clean your nipples with a wet washcloth after nursing or pumping.
- Drink plenty of water. Hydration is key to maintaining your milk supply, and it’s also key to reducing your chances of clogged milk ducts (which can lead to milk blisters).
Milk blebs vs. nipple irritation blisters
Milk blebs aren’t the same as blisters that happen when a breast pump or nipple shield irritates your nipple. These types of blisters look bigger than milk blebs and don’t cause pain. Once you’ve figured out and corrected the problem, this type of blister will heal.
Milk blebs vs. thrush
Milk blebs also look different than nipple thrush, which is a fungal infection on the nipple. Thrush usually creates several white patches on the nipple and makes the nipple look shiny. It also makes your nipple feel burny while nursing, something milk blebs don’t do.
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