Is this cause for concern?

White spots on your nipples may look unusual, but they usually aren’t cause for concern. Oftentimes, they’re caused by a blocked pore (bleb), a harmless condition caused by a backup of dried milk in your nipple.

Keep reading to learn more about what may be causing white spots to appear on your nipple and when you should see your doctor.

1. It’s usually a blocked pore or duct

When you breastfeed your baby, milk flows out of your nipples through openings called pores. Sometimes a clump of hardened milk can clog up a nipple pore. This is called a milk bleb or blocked nipple pore. If your skin closes over the pore, it forms a milk blister.

The channels behind the nipple can also become clogged. These are called blocked or plugged milk ducts.

A bleb or blister can create the white spot you see on your nipple. Sometimes the spot is light yellow or pink in color, and the skin around it turns red.

Blebs and blisters can be very painful. The pain might feel like stabbing or stinging.

The pressure of your baby sucking at your nipple during a feeding will usually dislodge the blockage. A blockage that doesn’t go away can lead to a breast infection called mastitis.

What you can do

If the bleb or blister doesn’t go away when you breastfeed, you can gently loosen the plug with a warm, wet compress before feedings.

Under your doctor’s supervision, you can use a sterile needle to prod the pore open. After the pore has opened, squeeze your breast to help the pore drain. Find out how to safely treat and prevent milk blisters in the future.

2. Milk drainage

Not fully draining your breasts during feedings can also lead to blocked nipple pores. If you often switch your baby to the second breast before they’ve finished feeding from the first one, you may develop a plug.

Skipped feedings and poor latching on by the baby can also cause this problem.

Women who produce a large amount of milk are more likely to have blocked pores than those who make less milk.

What you can do

Breastfeeding more often can help prevent blocked milk pores. Start your baby on the affected breast first. If you aren’t able to breastfeed for a few hours — for example, while you’re at work — pump your breast milk. These blockages should stop after you’ve been breastfeeding for a few weeks.

3. Pressure on the breast

Wearing a tight bra puts pressure on your breast, which could cause a blockage in milk flow. Underwire bras are more likely to cause blocked pores than bras without a wire.

Wearing a very tight baby carrier or seatbelt around your chest can also cause this problem.

What you can do

Avoid tight bras and other clothing to prevent blocked pores. Check out our tips on finding the perfect fitting bra.

4. Pregnancy

The nipples undergo several changes during pregnancy. You might notice small bumps around your areola, which is the colored part of your nipple. Those bumps are Montgomery tubercles — glands that release substances to lubricate your nipples and alert your baby when it’s time to eat.

Hormone changes during pregnancy can cause these glands to enlarge. They’re nothing to worry about, and will go away once your hormone levels are back to normal.

5. Thrush

Thrush is an infection with the fungus Candida albicans. You can develop thrush on your nipples if you or your baby has recently taken antibiotics, or you have vaginal thrush.

In addition to the white spots, your nipples will be red and very painful. Thrush is highly contagious, so you can pass it to your baby and vice versa. It will show up as white, cheesy spots along the inside of your baby’s mouth. Infants with thrush may cry out in pain when they try to latch onto the breast.

What you can do

If you suspect that you have thrush, see your doctor. They can prescribe antifungal cream and oral medicine to treat your thrush. Your baby will also need treatment with an antifungal gel or drops.

Wash your bras often and keep your breasts dry while you’re being treated. The fungus that causes thrush thrives in moist environments.

6. Herpes

Although the herpes simplex virus typically infects the mouth and genitals, it can also affect the breasts. Usually, herpes in the breast passes to the mother from her infected newborn during breastfeeding.

Herpes looks like little fluid-filled bumps and redness on the nipple. When the bumps heal, they form scabs. Your baby might have the same bumps on their skin.

What you can do

If you think you have herpes, see your doctor. You’ll need to take antiviral medication for about a week to clear up the infection. Pump your breast milk until the sores have healed.

Is it cancer?

White spots on your nipples are usually nothing to worry about. But rarely, they could signal cancer. The blocked pore could be caused by a tumor pressing on the milk duct.

Bumps and other nipple changes can also be a sign of Paget disease, which affects 1 to 4 percent of women with breast cancer.

In Paget disease, cancer cells form in the milk ducts and areola. Symptoms include:

  • redness, scaling, and itching in the nipple and areola
  • flaking or crusting of the nipple skin
  • flattened nipple
  • yellow or blood-tinged discharge from the nipple

If your symptoms don’t go away after a week or two, see your doctor for an exam.

Doctors diagnose Paget disease with a biopsy. A small sample of cells is removed from the nipple, and sent to a lab to be examined under a microscope. The main treatment for Paget disease is surgery to remove the affected tissue.

When to see your doctor

White spots on your nipple are usually tied to breastfeeding and will typically clear up when your baby feeds. If this condition doesn’t improve, you can treat it with home remedies — such as by feeding your baby more often or regularly massaging your nipples in the shower with a wet washcloth.

If the spots don’t go away within a week or so — or if you’re in a lot of pain — see your doctor.

You should also see your doctor if:

  • you have discharge from your nipple that isn’t breast milk
  • your nipple is turned inward (inverted) or flattened
  • you feel a lump in your breast
  • you’re running a fever
  • your nipple looks scaly or crusted