What is a milk bleb?
A milk blister or milk bleb can be painful and frustrating. This small lump on your areola is actually a blocked nipple pore. A tiny bit of skin grows over the pore, and milk gets caught behind it and starts to solidify.
This triggers an inflammatory response—your body thinks it needs to attack a foreign object in your body.
The result? A yellow, white, or clear dot on your nipple that hurts most of the time and may be excruciating when breastfeeding. You can check whether it’s a plugged duct by squeezing your breast downward (as if you were expressing milk), which puts pressure behind the lump and forces it to bulge.
It may be painful to breastfeed, but the blister usually feels better after a breastfeeding session, because as the milk flows out, it lowers the pressure from inside your breast.
This lump may last for days or weeks—if you don’t do anything about it. But you can treat it.
Treating milk blebs and clogged milk duct popping
Sad news—it’s not safe to pop a clogged milk duct at home. It could easily get infected. But your doctor can pop the milk blister for you, if needed.
But first, try steps 1-9.
- Epsom salt bath.
Try taking a bath in an Epsom salt solution (check the Epsom salt bag for instructions). Keep your bleb covered by water for 15 minutes.
But you probably can’t take a full bath 4 times a day, and that’s how often you should use Epsom salts. So soak a washcloth in hot Epsom water and rest it against the blister.
- Olive oil.
Olive oil can soften your skin, preparing it for letting go of the bit that grew over the pore. (You can use a cotton ball to apply it if you don't want to get all oily.)
- Grapefruit seed extract.
Put a few drops of GSE into the olive oil to ramp things up a notch. This is particularly helpful for blisters that keep coming back.
- A HOT water compress.
Rinse out your washcloth and get it wet again, using the hottest water that’s comfortable. Don’t burn yourself! A hot shower also helps, or even a heating pad. If too much heat is uncomfortable, stick with a warm compress made by wetting a washcloth with warm water.
However you do it, heat helps open up the pore.
- Actually removing the skin.
Rub the blister using the hot water compress. Sometimes this will do the trick and pop the blister.
If not, carefully pull on the milk bleb or gently scrape it with your nail. Make sure your fingernails are super clean so you don’t get an infection.
- A dietary supplement.
Try sunflower lecithin, thyme, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, probiotics, or evening primrose oil. All these home remedies can help with blocked milk ducts. Better yet, try a breastfeeding supplement that takes those ingredients and makes them delicious.
- Hand-express some breastmilk.
This is especially useful if your breasts are engorged.
- Use a vibrator.
This suggestion is a bit off the beaten path, but some moms swear by it. Use a personal vibrator (or even an electric toothbrush) on the affected area. It may help loosen up the blocked poor.
- Talking to your IBCLC lactation consultant.
She'll give you great advice for finding a solution that works for you.
- For medical advice, talk to your doctor.
If you just can’t get rid of it and it’s driving you crazy, ask your healthcare provider to pop the blocked duct. She may use a sterile needle, tweezers, and scissors.
Again, if you pop it yourself, you’re taking a huge risk that your blister will get infected—and then it will hurt much, much worse. It will also take longer to heal. You may even need antibiotics. Talk to your doctor now so that you don’t have to talk to her about a worse problem later.
How to alleviate the pain of a milk bleb
- Ice packs
- Put cold cabbage leaves in your bra
- Wearing a breast shell over the affected breast
- An over-the-counter pain reliever like Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen)
Milk duct obstruction and clogged milk duct popping
Sometimes, a clump of hard or semi-solid milk clogs up the duct, but there’s no skin capping it off. This looks similar and is equally painful, but it’s easier to treat.
Try to pop the blockage by gently scraping it with your (very clean) fingernail. If that doesn’t work, try manually expressing some milk.
If you get these obstructions a lot, unfortunately, you’re at a greater risk of recurrent mastitis.
What causes milk blebs when breastfeeding?
If your baby has a bad latch (or even if you’re wearing a really bad bra), the pressure can cause a milk blister. Sleeping on your stomach can also be a problem, sadly. So can a breast pump that doesn't fit you properly.
If you have too much breastmilk, the oversupply causes engorgement, which puts extra pressure on your nipple pores.
Don’t confuse a milk bleb with other lumps and spots
If your baby's latch is poor, then the pressure is on the wrong spots, and that causes friction, which can create a blister. The same thing happens if you use a nipple shield or a pump that doesn’t fit you properly.
A friction blister is often red or brown, because it’s a blood buildup underneath the skin, not a milk buildup under a pore.
Herpes can cause sores on the breasts that are sometimes confused with milk blisters. They are tiny lumps, but filled with fluid rather than partially solidified milk, and they have a red base.
If you have herpetic lesions on one of your breasts, do not breastfeed on that side. Don’t even use expressed milk from that side. Carefully cover that breast, and carefully wash your bands before nursing. Herpes can be fatal to a newborn.
Thrush, a strain of yeast, can show up as tiny white spots that are similar to milk blisters. But they can also appear as bigger spots—sometimes blocking two or more ducts with one spot.
It’s unlikely that you’ll have more than one normal milk blister at a time. If you have a few spots, it’s probably thrush.
The pain is also different. With thrush, it feels like burning, rather than sharp—and it feels worse after a feeding, rather than better.
When to call your doctor
Call your doctor if you suspect you have thrush, or if you experience these signs of infection:
- You get a fever
- The bleb oozes
- The affected area turns red (inflammation)
- The area swells
Take care of yourself!