Last updated on Jun 11th, 2021 at 11:44 am

What is a milk blister?

You’ve heard your doctor say that breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful, yet you’re in agony. You look down and notice a white, yellowish spot on your nipple, just beneath the skin. It appears to be hard and the area just around it is a little swollen. This is more than likely a milk blister.

ALSO SEE: How to get a good breastfeeding latch 

The difference between milk blisters and thrush

If you have more than one milk blister at a time, it could be thrush explains Johannesburg-based midwife, Cavim Knight from the Bryanston Baby and Family Clinic. A yeast infection will often be accompanied by a painful, burning sensation too. If you suspect you have thrush, see your doctor or midwife who will be able to treat it accordingly.

ALSO SEE: Dealing with oral thrush

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Can a milk blister cause mastitis?

Although milk blisters are painful and do trigger an inflammatory response (due to the milk duct being blocked), milk blisters themselves don’t always lead to mastitis. However, in a recent report on breastfeeding published by Dr Jeanne Spencer from the Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in the US, blocked milk ducts can lead to mastitis if left untreated.

ALSO SEE: How to treat mastitis

Natural ways to treat a milk blister

If you’re in a lot of pain while breastfeeding, your first thought might be to relieve the pain and pop the blister yourself, but this isn’t always the best option, especially since milk blisters can recur and popping it yourself raises the risk of infection.

Advisors from La Leche League, an international breastfeeding advocacy group, suggest the following ways to treat a milk blister:

Nursing options:

  • If possible, breastfeed more frequently to stimulate milk flow. Cavim agrees, “Feeding often is really the best way to get rid of milk blisters because the baby’s jaw and mouth is most effective at sucking and stimulating milk flow. Aim your baby’s chin and mouth directly over the blister if possible because that’s the area where the baby sucks the best.”
  • Lay your baby down and lean over on elbows and knees while breastfeeding. The extra gravity will help to boost milk flow.

Manual options:

  • After bathing or showering, gently rub the surface of the nipple to release the milk blister. If this doesn’t work, don’t persist.
  • Apply pressure behind the nipple, along with gentle massage and manipulation.
  • If none of these methods release the milk blister, make an appointment with your GP who might decide to use a sterilised needle to gently remove the layer of skin over the milk duct and release the milk blister. However, Cavim says that even after the milk is released from the duct, it can refill again so it’s important to keep feeding frequently over that area again to avoid the build-up of milk within the ducts.
  • Topical antibiotics might also be recommended for 5-7 days, but you’ll need to chat to your doctor about nursing at this time. Applying some expressed breast milk over the area is also a good option as it has antibiotic properties too, adds Cavim.

General breast ideas:

  • It’s important to keep the nipples moist throughout the day. You can do this by soaking a cotton wool pad in olive oil and placing it inside your bra over your nipple.
  • Soak your breasts in Epsom salts (which have a detoxifying effect) three to four times a day. Use 2 teaspoons in a cup of warm water.
  • Stop wearing a bra or underwire.
  • See a physiotherapist for ultrasound treatment of the breast.

Long-term ideas:

  • Increase your fluid intake (this is critical for breastfeeding success in general).
  • Avoid dairy, sugar, caffeine, peanuts, chocolate and too much saturated fat.
  • Consider boosting your immune system with vitamin C and D. Speak to your doctor about the dosage before you take these supplements as they can have an effect on your baby while breastfeeding.