Breastfeeding isn’t always plain sailing.
Pain and discomfort are one of the main reasons women decide to stop exclusively breastfeeding and a huge 92 per cent of mothers experience some kind of breastfeeding issue, so believe us when we tell you, you’re not alone.
One common breastfeeding issue is something called milk blebs, which is caused by a blocked nipple pore. Milk blebs are essentially white spots on the nipple that cause pain and discomfort when breastfeeding.
Doesn’t sound too fun, does it? Well, it’s not. The good news is that experiencing milk blebs is extremely common and there are plenty of ways you can alleviate the pain and also prevent milk blebs from occurring again.
In this article, we’ll explore exactly what a milk bleb is (and the many names for it), how to treat and prevent milk blebs, and when to seek advice from your doctor.
What is a milk bleb?
Before diving into treatments and prevention, let’s start with what exactly a blocked nipple pore is. A milk bleb (sometimes known as nipple bleb, milk blister, or blocked milk pore) is a tiny white spot on the nipple, often the size of a pinhead.
They might appear small, but they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Although they’re typically referenced as being white, they can also present as light pink or yellow in colour, too.
These blebs can be entirely painless for some but incredibly painful for others and can occur on one or both nipples and appear alone or as a cluster.
Milk blebs are sometimes referred to as nipple blisters, but these are, in fact, different — more on that later.
What causes milk blebs?
There are two main causes of milk blisters. The first is when the skin grows over the milk duct, which causes it to become blocked.
This is why milk blebs are also sometimes simply referred to as “milk under the skin”. The second is that a small amount of thickened milk is causing a blockage in the milk duct.
If your baby isn't latching properly, it might be contributing to this as they may not be fully emptying your breasts when feeding; leading to hardened milk. On the same note, an oversupply of breast milk (if you’re producing more milk than your baby can consume) may lead to a clogged milk duct.
What are the symptoms of milk blebs?
The first symptom you’re likely to experience is nipple discomfort and pain, followed by noticing a white spot (or more than one) on your nipple.
In summary, symptoms of milk blisters include:
- White, clear, or yellow pimples on the nipples
- Hard to the touch
- Red or inflamed skin
- Warm to the touch
- Feeling tender
It’s unlikely that you’ll experience a milk blister within the first few days of breastfeeding, however, if your baby is having latching issues, it is possible.
What's the difference between a milk bleb and a nipple blister?
Milk bleb and nipple blisters are often used as interchangeable terms, however, the two are different. Milk blebs (which can also be called milk blisters; this is where it gets confused) refer to a tiny white-coloured spot on your nipple that is painful.
A nipple blister, however, is caused by friction, often from nipple shields, your breast pump, or improper latching. Milk blisters can also be caused by thrush, which can occur on the nipples presenting with white spots, as well as redness (appearing as a deeper pink hue on darker skin tones) and inflammation.
If you think this might be the case for you, contact your GP who will help create a treatment plan for you.
How to treat milk blebs
In a lot of cases, milk blebs can actually clear themselves, often whilst breastfeeding.
However, others may need some extra encouragement and there are things you can do at home to help clear the ducts faster, as well as provide some relief.
The first step in treating milk blisters is to continue breastfeeding as best you can since breastfeeding helps keep milk ducts clear and prevent clogged pores.
Apply a warm compress
Applying a warm, moist washcloth for about three to five minutes prior to breastfeeding can help to open up the duct and clear the blockage.
Another way to help encourage the blockage to disperse is gently massaging the area prior to breastfeeding.
Keeping your nipples well-moisturised can help immensely, which is exactly why Kin created the Nipple Balm — an ointment formulated with avocado oil, lanolin, and shea butter (among many other nourishing ingredients) to soothe and restore sore nipples.
The best part is that it’s safe to leave on for feeds, so no need to worry about causing extra friction by removing the balm every time your baby is hungry.
Epsom salt soak
A lot of parents swear by soaking the affected area in a few teaspoons of Epsom salt diluted in warm water and doing this a few times a day until the milk blister has cleared.
The magnesium found in Epsom salt is said to help reduce inflammation and encourage the duct to empty.
To help give some relief and keep the nipple area moist, you can apply a cotton ball soaked in olive oil and place it in your bra. Keeping the area moist can help reduce pain.
To provide relief and calm inflammation after your nursing session, you can apply a cool compress or ice pack (wrapped in a muslin cloth) to the affected area.
Can you prevent milk blebs from occurring?
Of course, like a lot of health problems that crop up when pregnant, postpartum or breastfeeding, it’s difficult to prevent these things entirely.
But there are certain things you can do at home to help to prevent milk blisters.
Just like treating milk blebs, one of the best ways to prevent them is to breastfeed often and pump if your baby has missed a feed to prevent milk oversupply.
If your baby isn’t latching correctly (meaning a deep latch or good attachment), it may mean that your baby isn’t emptying your breasts fully, which can lead to milk supply buildup and clogged nipple ducts.
If you are having difficulties, don’t put off seeking help from your GP or visiting a lactation consultant. This can not only help with things like milk bleb, engorgement, and mastitis but also make breastfeeding a more enjoyable experience overall.
It's important to wear comfortable bras that fit your bust and body correctly.
Underwire bras that are too tight and made from synthetic materials have the potential to irritate your nipples.
When should you visit a doctor?
For most people, milk blebs are not a cause for concern and go away or burst on their own whilst breastfeeding. With at-home remedies, they should clear in a few days.
If the blockage is left untreated and doesn’t go away, you should seek help from your GP, who might clear the blockage using a sterile needle. This is something you shouldn’t try at home for obvious reasons.
The last thing you want to do is cause an unnecessary infection! If you're finding breastfeeding to be painful, you should also contact your doctor.
It’s especially important to seek medical attention if you start to feel unwell, (body aches, prolonged nipple pain, chills, or fatigue) as this might be a sign of infection. Your doctor may recommend applying an antibiotic ointment to the affected nipple.
In some people, blocked milk pores can lead to mastitis, a painful inflammation of breast tissue that sometimes includes an infection.
Mastitis is also a common occurrence with around one in five breastfeeding mums experiencing it in the first six months. It’s important to seek help if you need it.
If you're experiencing recurrent milk blisters, it's definitely time to speak to both your GP and a lactation consultant as this is most likely due to latching, sucking or tongue problems when breastfeeding.
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