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Many women experience milk blisters, also known as milk blebs, during breast-feeding. These small white spots, which look like milk-filled blisters, occur when nipple pores become blocked.
Milk blisters are often caused by:
- an improper latch
- shallow sucking
- breast-feeding at the wrong angle
Other causes include too much milk supply, or a yeast or bacterial infection. Wearing a bra that is too tight or that rubs uncomfortably on the nipple can also be a cause.
There are home remedies and medical treatments available to cure and prevent milk blisters.
Milk blisters can be treated at home or by a doctor. Popular treatments include:
1. Saline solution
To remove the blockage, soak the nipples in a solution of salt and warm water. Mix 2 teaspoons of Epsom salts in a cup of hot water and allow to cool slightly. Finally, soak the nipple three or four times daily until the duct becomes unblocked.
2. Nipple massage
Gently massage the nipple to release the blister. Also, try applying pressure behind the nipple.
This treatment works best when carried out after a bath, shower, or saline soak, as the skin will be very soft. Do not apply so much pressure to the nipple that it causes pain.
3. Warm compress
Use a warm compress on the nipple before breast-feeding. To make a compress, soak a cloth in warm water and wring out any excess liquid. Then, apply the compress to the nipple for up to 15 minutes. Gently pat the skin dry before nursing.
4. Olive oil
Keep the nipple soft and moist throughout the day with olive oil. Place an oil-soaked cotton pad inside the bra so that it covers the nipple.
Gently wipe off the nipple before nursing. Change the cotton pad twice daily.
5. Expressed milk
Breast milk has antimicrobial properties, which is why breast-feeding is such an effective way to boost a baby’s immune system. Some people claim these properties stop milk blisters from becoming infected.
There is no scientific evidence for this, but it cannot hurt to apply some expressed milk over the nipple to see if it alleviates discomfort.
6. Frequent breast-feeding
More regular feeding can stimulate the flow of milk through the milk ducts. The action of the baby’s jaw and mouth is the most effective way to encourage this type of movement.
Keep the baby in the correct position while feeding for milk blister relief. Place the baby’s chin and mouth directly over the blister so that the baby can suck as forcibly as possible around that area.
More frequent breast-feeding both removes and prevents blockages.
7. Hospital-grade breast pump
The milk in clogged pores sometimes has the consistency of toothpaste, and it requires more suction to express than regular milk.
It may be necessary to use a pump to remove thick milk from the ducts if milk blisters persist after using the remedies listed above.
Use a hospital-grade pump, and gradually increase the pump strength until the hardened milk comes out.
8. Soothing ointment
Soothing ointments for sore nipples are available online or in stores. Creams containing chamomile or calendula may be especially comforting.
They keep the nipple area moist and reduce itching and pain.
Many of these ointments are specially formulated for safe use while breast-feeding.
9. Lecithin supplements
Lecithin is a natural substance added to many foods as an emulsifier. Some people believe that lecithin can prevent blocked ducts by increasing the polyunsaturated fatty acid content of breast milk and decreasing “sticky” milk. Many lecithin supplements are available online.
Lecithin is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but there are no scientific studies on its efficacy in treating milk blisters.
10. Dietary changes
Eating a healthful, balanced diet may boost the immune system and help fight off some of the fungal infections that cause milk blisters. In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, nursing mothers should continue taking any prenatal multivitamins in the postpartum period as well.
It is essential to discuss the use of supplements during breast-feeding with a doctor.
11. Pain relievers
It can be helpful to apply ice packs to reduce swelling and discomfort if milk blisters are causing significant pain between feedings.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medications are also suitable for women who are breast-feeding when taken according to the instructions.
People who have concerns about these medications should speak with their doctor or pharmacist about alternatives.
12. A sterile needle
A doctor can clear the blockage from the duct using a sterile needle if other home remedies do not alleviate milk blisters.
Do not attempt to carry out this treatment at home, as it increases the risk of infection and mastitis.
The duct can fill again if milk builds up in the area, so it is important to address the underlying cause of the blisters.
13. Prescription medications
Milk blisters caused by thrush or a bacterial infection may require medication. A doctor may prescribe an antifungal treatment for thrush for both mother and baby.
A doctor may prescribe topical antibiotics for other types of infection.
Milk blisters can happen again unless a person addresses the underlying cause.
Ways to prevent blocked milk ducts include the following:
- Holding the baby in a proper position when feeding: Some positions cause more friction and pressure on the nipple than others. Try holding the baby at the side of the body (a football hold) or across the front of the body (a cradle hold) to minimize pressure.
- Cleaning the nipples after feeding: Wipe the nipple with a moist cloth to remove milk from the breast and prevent clogged pores.
- Speaking with a lactation consultant: It may be necessary to reach out to a professional if a baby seems unable to latch onto the nipple correctly. Hospitals and other organizations provide breast-feeding advice.
- Staying hydrated: Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to encourage milk flow and prevent dehydration.
- Wearing comfortable bras: Tight-fitting bras, or ones made from synthetic materials, can irritate the nipple and contribute to milk blister formation. Some sleepwear or breast pads may also irritate.
- Addressing milk oversupply: An oversupply of milk occurs when a baby is not latching effectively, or when a mother switches sides before the first breast is drained. Routine or frequent pumping also causes oversupply. A lactation consultant can help with milk supply issues.
- Treating thrush quickly: Seek medical treatment for breast infections before they can cause milk blisters and other complications.
Milk blisters usually resolve with home remedies. If they do not get better, it is advisable to see a doctor, especially if the milk blisters are very painful, interfere with breast-feeding, or show signs of infection. Signs of infection to watch for are fevers, chills, body aches, fatigue, localized breast pain, warmth, or swelling.
Nursing mothers should also let their doctor know if they wish to use supplements or OTC medications. People should always consult their doctor before starting supplements, since even medications available without a prescription may not be safe for everyone to take.
Milk blisters affect many women who are breast-feeding. Several treatments can ease symptoms and prevent future milk blisters from forming.
If milk blisters do not resolve with home remedies, contact a lactation consultant or doctor.