What is a milk bleb?
A milk bleb, or milk blister, occurs when your nipple pore gets blocked by a piece of skin or a small amount of hardened breast milk. It creates a blocked duct at your nipple, causing milk to back up behind it. It’s common in people who are breastfeeding (chestfeeding). Milk blebs restrict milk flow from your nipples, which can lead to clogged milk ducts or mastitis (a breast infection).
Milk blebs can be painful – both at the site of the blister (on your nipple) or further back on your breast. The pain intensifies during breastfeeding or pumping. Some people don’t feel pain but notice a raised area of skin on their nipple.
Milk blebs usually resolve on their own after at-home treatment. In rare cases, your healthcare provider may need to drain it.
What does a milk bleb look like?
A milk bleb looks like a small pimple. It can be white, yellow, clear or flesh colored. The skin around the blister or bleb can be red or swollen.
Can I nurse with a milk blister?
Yes, you can and should continue to nurse with a milk blister.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of a milk bleb?
- Pimple-like spots on your nipple.
- Painful nipples or pain when breastfeeding or pumping.
- Inflammation to the skin around your nipple.
Milk bleb spots can be confused for spots caused by thrush. Thrush is a fungal infection that causes a burning or stinging sensation in your breasts, along with itchy, red or pink nipples. Your nipples may also appear dry and cracked. Contact your healthcare provider if you suspect you or your baby has thrush.
What causes milk blisters?
The following factors cause milk blebs:
- Poor latch: When your baby isn’t latching properly, milk isn’t drained efficiently from your breast. A latch is the way your baby sucks on your breast. This causes milk to back up and plug your milk or nipple ducts.
- Improper fitting breast pump: Wearing a breast flange or shield that’s too small can create friction on your nipple and cause a milk blister. A flange or shield is the plastic attachment that covers your breast when you’re pumping breast milk.
- Oversupply of breast milk: If you’re making more milk than your baby can consume, milk can back up and cause a clogged duct or milk blister.
- Tight-fitting bras or pressure on your breast: Bras with underwire, straps on your purse or sleeping on your stomach can put pressure on your breasts and nipples. This pressure contributes to clogged milk ducts and milk blebs.
Can a milk bleb cause a clogged duct?
Yes, a milk bleb can cause a clogged milk duct if left untreated.
Diagnosis and Tests
How can you tell if it’s a milk bleb?
Your healthcare provider doesn’t need to diagnose a milk bleb because you can treat milk blebs at home. However, if you’re unsure if the bump on your nipple is a bleb, contact your provider for an evaluation.
Some telltale signs that you’re dealing with a milk bleb are:
- You have a pimple-like spot on your nipple.
- You have mild pain but no fever.
- The spot isn’t surrounded by a rash or dry patches.
- The bleb bulges outward when you press down on your breast.
Management and Treatment
How do I get rid of a milk bleb?
Milk blebs tend to resolve themselves within 24 to 48 hours. This isn’t always the case — some people experience pain from a bleb for several days or weeks until the skin peels off the pore. If a blocked nipple pore is causing pain, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for relief.
There are things you can do to help speed up the healing process:
- Nurse or pump frequently: As painful as it feels, don’t stop pumping or nursing. This can help open the nipple pore. Some people find relief by placing their baby’s chin against the duct to better drain the clogged area.
- Apply heat: Place a warm washcloth or heating pad on the milk bleb several times a day. It’s best to do it right before feeding, if possible.
- Use saline soaks: Soak your nipple in Epsom salt several times. Mix 1 cup of hot water with two tablespoons of Epsom salt. Epsom salt can help dry up the bleb, making it more likely to slough off.
- Soften your nipple with oil: Put olive oil on the milk bleb to soften the hardened skin. Apply it with a cotton ball and let the oil sit for 20 or 30 minutes. Oil will stain your clothes, so place a towel or breast pad between your nipple and shirt. When time is up, use a clean washcloth to exfoliate the milk bleb.
- Exfoliate: Gently rub a clean, warm washcloth over the area (in a circular motion) to help remove any skin causing the blocked pore. This should be done after you’ve applied heat and softened your skin.
You may need to repeat these steps several times to loosen or soften the milk bleb.
How do I know a milk bleb is gone?
You may notice a thick, stringy piece of milk come out of the blocked pore once the skin is loosened. If this happens, you can pull it out with clean hands. You may also notice the white pimple is gone, and you don’t feel pain anymore. You may need to apply antibiotic ointment or keep the area clean and dry for several days to let the pore heal.
Contact your healthcare provider if none of the above at-home treatments work to clear the milk bleb. If left alone, it could progress to mastitis. Mastitis is a breast infection caused by a blocked milk duct. It requires antibiotics.
Can I pop a milk blister?
No, you shouldn’t pop a milk blister. In rare cases, your healthcare provider may recommend draining a milk blister. This should be done by your provider using a sterile needle in an office setting. Don’t attempt to drain or pop it on your own, as it can lead to infection.
Can milk blebs heal themselves?
Yes, milk blebs can heal themselves. When your baby keeps nursing from the nipple with the bleb, the layer of skin can sometimes come off. This frequent nursing releases the milk and unclogs the pore. Using the other at-home treatment methods outlined above can also help.
How long does it take for a milk bleb to go away?
Most milk blebs are gone within 48 hours. If you have a milk bleb, you’ll want to clear it up before it causes a clogged milk duct. If the milk duct gets clogged, it can lead to mastitis.
How can I prevent milk blebs?
The best way to prevent milk blebs is to make sure your breasts are fully drained. Letting milk sit or get backed up in your ducts can cause them to get clogged or cause blisters to form. Some other ways to prevent milk blebs are:
- Check your baby’s latch: Your baby should be positioned to allow them to take your entire areola (the skin around your nipple) in their mouth. They should form a tight seal with their mouth and should not suck on just your nipple.
- Switch up breastfeeding positions: Changing to a football hold (baby at your side) or a cradle hold (baby across your front) during feedings can reduce pressure on your breast.
- Hand express or pump milk: If you have an oversupply or don’t think your breasts are draining, you could try removing extra milk after your baby is done nursing. Pumping at night (once your baby is sleeping longer stretches) can also help relieve overly full breasts. Overly full breasts are prone to clogged ducts and blebs.
- Clean your nipples: Wash your nipples with a washcloth to prevent clogged pores.
- Supplement with lecithin: Lecithin may help thin breast milk and make it less sticky. This makes it easier for milk to flow through the ducts.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking water while breastfeeding or pumping can help prevent blocked ducts.
- Eat a balanced diet: Diets high in saturated fats, like processed or fast food, can contribute to blebs.
If you keep getting milk blebs or clogged ducts, it may help to talk to a lactation consultant.
How do I recover from a milk bleb?
If the milk bleb has gone away, your nipple pore is still susceptible to infection because the skin may be broken. Keeping your nipple clean and dry or using saline on the area for a few days should help.
You can take steps to prevent recurring milk blebs, like making sure your breast is fully drained and avoiding direct pressure on your breasts.
Most people who unclog a blocked nipple pore feel relief almost immediately and don’t need to take any further action.
When should I call my healthcare provider about milk blebs?
Call your healthcare provider if a milk blister:
- Causes extreme pain and discomfort (and makes you want to stop breastfeeding).
- Lasts longer than a few days.
- Isn’t responding to at-home treatment.
A milk bleb can lead to a clogged duct. A clogged duct can cause mastitis. Mastitis is an infection that causes flu-like symptoms.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s very common to struggle with breastfeeding, even if you’ve done it before. A milk blister is one common struggle that may cause you pain and frustration during your breastfeeding journey. Luckily, you can treat most milk blebs at home with warm compresses and frequent nursing or pumping sessions. If unsuccessful, your healthcare provider may need to open the blister for you. You can prevent future milk blebs from forming by changing your baby’s position on your breast, keeping your nipples clean and ensuring your breasts don’t become too full.