For some new moms, breast-feeding is not without its discomforts.
This can be the case when you experience milk blebs or blisters. While some may use these terms interchangeably, they have different causes and symptoms. Of the two, milk blisters can be the more painful condition.
However, there are treatments for both that can help a mother breast-feed her baby more comfortably.
What Causes Milk Blebs or Blisters?
Milk blebs are typically due to an improper latch. A baby’s sucking may be too shallow, causing excess pressure on a point of the breast. Feeding at an unusual angle can also cause milk blebs.
The term “blister” when referred to milk blisters can be misleading. While most blisters are the results of friction, milk blisters are due to skin that grows over a milk duct. A small amount of breast milk typically builds up behind the milk blister, which can give it the appearance of a blister due to friction. Causes of the blister itself can vary and include:
- baby latching, tongue, or sucking problems
- excess milk supply
- excess pressure on a particular area of the breast
- thrush, a type of yeast that typically causes multiple blisters instead of a single blister
The milk blister usually doesn’t, but can, block or clog the milk duct.
Symptoms of Milk Blebs or Blisters
Milk blebs are irregular in shape and will flatten when pressure is applied. While milk blebs may be noticeable in appearance, they aren’t usually painful. However, some women do report some discomfort when breast-feeding.
Milk blisters are raised, fluid-filled areas of skin. They appear much like a blister a person experiences on a hand or foot, except the blistered area has visible, trapped fluid present. When pressure is placed around a milk blister, the blister’s skin will bulge. This is slightly different from a bleb, where the skin would remain flat.
The color of the milk blister may be white, yellow, or clear. Unlike milk blebs, milk blisters are often painful.
What Treatments Can I Use at Home?
Ideally, at-home treatments should help you clear up a milk blister or bleb.
Frequent nursing can also reduce the occurrence of these conditions. However, before you begin nursing, apply a warm, moist compress over your nipple for two to three minutes. This heat can help to “open up” the duct. Place your baby at your breast following the compress. Your baby’s feeding can help to release the plug.
You can also keep the nipple area moist, which helps to reduce pain and discomfort while you are treating a bleb or blister. Examples of how to do this include the following:
- Place olive oil on a cotton ball and place over your nipple inside your bra.
- Apply vinegar to a breast pad and place over your nipple(s).
- Soak your breast in 2 teaspoons of Epsom salts mixed with 1 cup of water, four times daily.
Keeping your breasts soft and nursing frequently can help to reduce milk blebs and blisters.
When to Call Your Doctor
If milk blebs or blisters will not go away with home care, or they are causing breast-feeding to be so painful that you cannot breast-feed, call your doctor.
A doctor can open the milk blister using clean techniques and a sterile needle to reduce infection risk. This should allow milk to flow out from the affected area. Your doctor may recommend applying an antibiotic ointment compatible with nursing (like bacitracin) to your breast.
Applying lanolin ointment regularly can also keep the area from drying out, which could cause the blister to recur.
Milk Blister and Bleb Prevention
Switching up the position in which you nurse can help reduce milk blisters and blebs because different positions will reduce friction and pressure on the nipple. You could try switching between a football hold (baby at your side) and a cradle hold (baby across your front) during feedings to reduce pressure.
If your baby’s latch doesn’t seem deep enough or you have consistent difficulty with latching on, reach out to a lactation consultant. Many hospitals provide this service. You could also reach out to your local La Leche League or obstetrician for referrals.
Drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding wearing too-tight bras or bras with underwire can also encourage improved milk flow.
Milk blebs and blisters can happen to even the most seasoned breast-feeding mom. Breast-feeding should not be painful.
If they happen to you and don’t resolve with at-home treatments, see your doctor or call your local La Leche League International representative.