If you have experienced a nipple blister while breastfeeding, you’ll understand why so many mothers will be scouring the web for a remedy to this painful condition.
Nipples blisters can be excruciating, and sore nipples can lead to early weaning.
Blisters on nipples while breastfeeding can happen for a few different reasons.
Read on to find out what could be causing a nipple blister, and what you can do to treat or prevent it.
What is a milk blister?
A milk blister is a blocked nipple pore that looks like a small white dot on the nipple or areola.
There are tiny holes on the surface of your nipple where your breast milk come out. These are your nipple pores.
A milk blister occurs when a small amount of skin grows over the opening of the nipple pore and the milk behind it has nowhere to go.
If there are blockages of breast milk deeper in the breast tissue, this can lead to breast infection, or mastitis.
For more information on mastitis, you can read BellyBelly’s article Mastitis- Breastfeeding, Symptoms and Treatment.
Thrush can sometimes appear as small white dots on the nipple. It’s best to seek medical advice if you aren’t completely sure what condition you might have.
Milk blebs or milk blisters?
You might have heard of the term ‘milk bleb’. Milk blebs and milk blisters are essentially the same thing.
Whether you hear it called a bleb or a blister, both terms refer to a blocked nipple pore.
The blockage can turn into a blister or bleb when skin grows over the milk duct opening and the milk is backed up in the duct behind it.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to it as a milk blister.
What causes milk blisters?
Milk blisters are most often caused by insufficient emptying of the breasts.
Insufficient emptying of the breasts can be due to a number of different reasons.
Some of these reasons are:
- An oversupply of breast milk
- Scheduling or timing of breastfeeds
- A premature or sick baby
- A baby with a tongue tie.
How to prevent milk blisters
The best way to prevent a milk blister forming is to avoid getting blocked or plugged ducts.
Blocked milk ducts can occur if your baby is not latching and draining your breast effectively, or if you have an oversupply of breastmilk. Most women who have a milk oversupply find that after a few weeks of breast feeding their supply regulates.
If you have a breast milk oversupply, read BellyBelly’s article Too Much Milk? Managing Oversupply of Breastmilk for some helpful tips.
If you are having trouble attaching your baby to your breast, or are experiencing recurrent plugged ducts, seek help from a lactation consultant.
Lactation consultants will check inside the baby’s mouth to rule out any oral restrictions that could be contributing to an ineffective latch. They will also be able to help with positioning techniques that allow the baby to get a deeper latch.
A lactation consultant will also teach you about breastfeeding to your baby’s needs, and how timing or scheduling feeds can affect your milk supply.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Feeding Schedules: 6 Ways They Harm Breastfeeding.
How to treat a milk blister
In some cases you will be able to treat a milk blister at home.
Sometimes a milk blister will burst from the pressure of nursing or manual expression. If you are expressing your breast milk, you will be able to see the hardened milk being released from the milk duct.
Don’t worry if your milk blister bursts while you are breastfeeding your baby. You do not need to discard the thickened milk. This milk is perfectly safe for your baby to drink.
You can encourage your blister to release by doing a saline soak prior to breastfeeding, by hand expressing, or expressing using a breast pump. You can make your own saline soak by combining epsom salts with warm water.
Applying heat to the area for a few minutes helps to aid milk flow. In order to use heat to help encourage the release of a milk blister, take the following steps:
- Run a washcloth under very hot water
- Apply moist heat to the area by pressing the moist washcloth to the blister, prior to breastfeeding.
Sometimes, it will be best to call your doctor to treat a milk blister. If you have tried a wet compress and it hasn’t made any difference, you should seek medical advice.
For a stubborn blockage, a doctor will use a sterile needle to break the overgrown skin and hand expression to release the thickened milk from the duct.
You might find that wearing breast shells or breast pads helps stops your bra from rubbing uncomfortably against your breasts or nipples during or after treatment of a blister. A daily saline soak after the blockage has been released can help prevent infection.
How breast milk can help a milk blister
Regardless of whether your milk blister has popped on its own or was treated by a medical professional, breast milk can aid the healing process.
Once the blocked duct has been released, wash with a mild soap and hand express a few drops of breast milk onto the affected area. Repeat this a few times per day and allow the area to air dry whenever possible.
Breastmilk contains anti infective properties that can help aid healing and avoid bacterial infection.
If your doctor has prescribed an antibiotic ointment, you can use this in conjunction with your expressed milk.
Other types of blisters
Nipple blisters are not always caused by blocked milk ducts.
Just like a blister anywhere else on the body, there are several causes for blisters.
Blisters can be caused by viral or fungal skin infections, allergies, sunburn, or friction.
Think about a time you have worn ill fitting shoes for a long period and ended up with a blister on your foot. This is an example of a friction blister.
It is possible to get friction blisters on your nipples. They can be related to breastfeeding, and might be caused by a baby with a shallow latch. If you are regularly expressing, a friction blister might also be the result of using the wrong sized flange on your breast pump.
A lactation consultant can give you the best advice about how to adjust your baby’s latch and can measure you to make sure you are using the correct pump flange size.
Natural remedies to treat a nipple blister
There is information to suggest the use of olive oil or citrus seed extract – grapefruit seed extract in particular – can be effective in treating a nipple blister.
Using grapefruit seed extract daily can help heal recurrent milk blisters; prevention, however, is always better than treatment.
Seek help from your relevant health care professional for the best advice about preventing a nipple blister from occurring or reoccurring.
If you are experiencing recurrent milk blisters, it’s best to get help from a certified lactation consultant.