You've given birth and now, you're navigating the ways of breastfeeding.
Being a new parent can be daunting and it can feel like there's a lot of information to learn, and there might be some bumps along the way. The breastfeeding journey is often filled with challenges — from latching to breast milk supply and clogged milk ducts, there is a lot to contend with.
There is also something called a nipple blister, which is commonly associated with breastfeeding and can be annoying.
Here is a quick guide to help you get to know how to prevent and resolve nipple blisters.
What are nipple blisters?
Sometimes referred to as a milk blister or a nipple blister, it refers to a spot on the nipple that can be filled with fluid. A milk blister is a blocked nipple pore. Breast milk can become trapped when a bit of skin grows over the milk ducts, preventing milk flow and causing a small blister.
It can also be the result of tight clothing causing friction on the skin, which leads to a nipple blister. The blister will usually look pink or light yellow and has a thin wall. It can cause you to have sore nipples and affect breastfeeding.
Recurrent milk blisters can be a big frustration for breastfeeding mothers.
Are milk blebs and blisters the same thing?
Milk blebs and blisters can both be caused by an incorrect latch and if your baby is feeding at a strange angle or putting pressure on just one part of the breast, you might notice a bleb or a blister pop up.
The main difference is that blebs aren't typically painful and they don't have a build-up of fluid in them. You can prevent milk blisters and milk blebs the same way, so it's easy to refer to them as a whole, rather than as two separate symptoms.
When breastfeeding, the formation of milk blisters can cause concern, especially if they are painful for you.
It's best to reach out to a doctor or lactation consultant who will be able to help you with correcting the latch of your baby to prevent recurring milk blisters going forward.
What causes nipple blisters?
Nipple blisters usually form when the skin grows over your milk ducts or nipple pores and breast milk becomes trapped. This thickened milk can lead to a milk blister.
Other common causes of a milk blister include:
- Thrush infection
- Milk oversupply
- Baby's latch, tongue or problems with sucking
- Too much pressure on just one area of the breast
- Wearing an uncomfortable bra that causes friction on the nipples
What are the symptoms of nipple blisters?
Milk blebs are different to milk blisters. If you press your hand on a milk bleb, your skin will remain flat but if you press on a milk blister, your skin will swell.
Most of the time, milk blebs aren't painful but they can be irritating to look at whereas milk blisters can be painful. A plugged duct generally feels uncomfortable as there is some pressure underneath it.
You can also experience nipple pain with milk blisters.
Can nipple blisters cause mastitis?
The inflammation of breast tissue can include an infection — this is what is called mastitis. A milk blister can lead to a clogged duct and in turn, lead to mastitis.
Common mastitis symptoms include:
- Breast pain
- Red/pink colour
- Fever and chills
Mastitis is not to be confused with thrush. Thrush of the nipple occasionally appears when you are breastfeeding and is caused by the same bacteria that is found in vaginal thrush.
It occurs when bacteria enter the breast via cracked nipples and also needs to be treated with prescription medication.
Can you prevent nipple blisters?
It's good to be aware of milk blisters so that you know how to avoid them.
There are a few things to try:
- Changing your position when you're breastfeeding your baby (different positions will mean there is less friction on one specific spot on the nipple)
- Try holding your baby different, such as at your side or on your front (this will reduce pressure)
We understand that sometimes you're too busy focusing on your baby latching on that you can't coordinate certain positions as and when you please.
As long as you're getting a good milk flow and keeping an eye out for any breast infection or irritation, you shouldn't worry too much about a blocked duct.
How to treat a nipple blister
If you are having difficulties with breastfeeding and the recurrence of milk blisters, try talking to a lactation consultant.
There are also a few home remedies out there for nursing mothers with friction blisters.
- Use olive oil on your nipples. Olive oil can be a preventative measure and also can soothe painful and recurrent plugged ducts. Olive oil is also very moisturising but remember to wipe your breast before you feed your baby.
- Warm water or a wet compress can help ease the pain. Moist heat in general will soothe your nipples.
- Wear protective devices like breast shells and breast pads and use a breast pump to give your nipples a break from breastfeeding.
- Keep the area moisturised and protected. Kin's Nipple Balm soothes sore and tender nipples and can act as a protective barrier.
- Mix Epsom salts with warm water, soak a cotton ball with the solution and hold it on the area to help release the blocked nipple pore. A saline soak prior to breastfeeding is good practice if you notice a friction blister.
- If you express some milk from the affected nipple, you might be able to relieve some pressure to unclog the milk duct.
- Massage the breast and encourage movement. This can stimulate milk flow, and push through the clogged duct.
- Mild soap with grapefruit seed extract or citrus seed extract can also help cleanse the area without being harsh on the nipple. Using a few drops with a warm compress will soothe you.
Saline soak, a damp washcloth or applying moist heat to your nipple will help unclog a blocked milk duct opening, provide some pain relief and help heal recurrent milk blisters.
It can feel like a lot to take in but these are just preventative and soothing measures to help when you notice an infected nipple pore, milk bleb or blister. By keeping your nipple area moist and making sure your baby is latching on correctly, you can prevent clogged pores.
Lanolin on its own or in a combined ointment can soothe your nipple, especially if you are experiencing cracked nipples or blisters.
Kin's nourishing Nipple Balm is enriched with lanolin to relieve nipple pain, chafing and cracking and is perfect for helping to prevent blisters on the nipples. You can even start using the balm before you begin breastfeeding to build skin elasticity and prevent dryness so your experience with feeding is more enjoyable.
Photo credit: Timothy Meinberg via Unsplash