Breast feeding challenges: avoiding and managing plugged nipple pores
Some breast feeding mums get tiny blisters on their nipples when breast feeding. While they can be painful, they are usually easy to treat.
The pores on your nipples can become blocked when you’re breast feeding. Also known as milk blisters or blebs, these tiny spots can cause pain and discomfort – but the good news is that they are usually treatable at home.
Milk blebs look like pimples. These white (or clear or yellow) bumps appear on the nipple for a number of reasons.
Causes of milk blisters
Often, blocked milk ducts are the reason that you get milk blisters due to thickened strings of milk blocking the nipple pore. Sometimes, a small piece of skin can grow over the pore which can also cause a build up and blister.
As with blocked milk ducts, common causes include poor attachment when your baby feeds, infrequent feeding or abrupt weaning. Long periods of pressure on your breasts can also be a culprit.
Sometimes, an oversupply of milk can cause a milk blister as baby is unable to fully drain the breast. This is because you may be producing more milk than baby needs, so she is not fully draining each breast.
Finally, thrush can cause milk blisters. The tell-tale white rash associated with thrush can block your nipple pores, causing milk blisters.
Managing milk blisters
The most important thing to remember if you have a milk blister is to keep breast feeding. This will encourage milk flow and, while initially painful, will help relieve the problem.
You can often treat milk blisters at home by:
- Applying moist heat to the affected area
- Gently rubbing the blister with a warm washcloth
- Then, gently hand expressing to remove blocked milk before feeding
If this doesn’t work, you may need to visit your doctor, who will open the blister with a sterile needle.
Once you have unplugged the pore, a daily soak in a saline solution (half a teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water, just for a minute or so) followed by a quick rub with a washcloth may help keep further plugs at bay and aid in healing broken skin. Do this for a few weeks if you can.
Remember, try to look after yourself, too. Rest and proper nutrition are important to keep your milk flowing and ward off progression to mastitis.
How to avoid blisters
Try to empty your breasts of milk frequently and thoroughly by feeding your baby regularly or pumping milk if you know you will miss a feeding. If your little one isn’t latching on or feeding correctly, you may want to seek the help of a lactation consultant.
Also avoid putting pressure on your breasts. Don’t wear underwire feeding bras for the first 6-8 weeks (when your milk supply is establishing) and if you’re finding you’re having blockage issues, consider having no underwire bras at all. Avoid tight clothing, straps or activities like sleeping on your stomach.
Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any signs or symptoms of thrush infection: a white rash on your nipple (or baby's mouth), red dry flaky skin on your areola or nipples, itchy or burning nipples; or shooting or deep breast pain during or after feeding.