Milk Bleb: Causes, Symptoms, Pain, Treatment and Prevention

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

There are mothers who choose to breastfeed their children, despite it being a difficult task. Although difficulties like breast engorgement and unpleasant odors are commonly mentioned, there are also less discussed problems such as milk blebs.

What is a milk blister? A milk blister, otherwise known as a milk bleb, is a blocked nipple pore that occurs during breastfeeding. Milk blebs occur when a piece of skin or hardened milk blocks the opening at the nipple and prevents milk from exiting. They appear swollen and can be white, yellow, red, or flesh-colored. 

Keep reading to learn more about milk bleb prevention, identification, and treatment. 

Milk Blebs vs. Blisters

The terms milk bleb and milk blisters are commonly used interchangeably. They both refer to the small bumps that occur when the opening at the nipple becomes clogged.

However, they’re different in composition. Blebs are noticeable irregularly shaped, flat spots on the skin. Blisters are painful fluid-filled raised pockets of skin. 

It should be noted that milk blisters, or blebs, differ from blood blisters. Blood blisters are typically caused by friction, whereas milk blisters are caused by backed-up milk. 

Is a Milk Bleb a Clogged Duct? 

A milk bleb is not a clogged duct, but it is an indication that one may be present. A milk bleb can also cause a clogged duct if skin happens to grow over it, preventing the flow of milk from the nipple. 

Milk Bleb Causes

Milk blebs can stem from a handful of things, such as: 

  • Improper latch while breastfeeding. 
  • An oversupply of breastmilk. 
  • Pressure from tight-fitting bras. 
  • The incorrect flange size that sucks the areola in.
  • Poor diet and hydration, which leads to thicker, stickier breast milk. 

Where Do Milk Blebs Occur? 

Milk blebs occur directly on the nipple or areola. The location of these blebs is usually determined by their cause. You may notice that some blebs are larger, more irritated, or more noticeable around areas where friction can worsen them. 

Milk Blebs on the Areola

Milk blebs on the areola typically appear as a result of a poor latch or improperly fitted pump. However, these are not exclusive causes. 

Milk Bleb Symptoms

Milk blebs are noticeable yellow, white, or flesh-colored spots on the skin that will flatten when pressure is applied. However, they’re usually not painful and are not accompanied by additional symptoms.

On the other hand, milk blisters look the same, but they will not flatten with pressure. They’re also usually more tender than blebs due to the irritation from the fluids backed up behind the skin. 

If any of the following symptoms occur, please contact your doctor: 

  • Development of a fever or rash
  • Lasts longer than a few days
  • Does not respond to intervention
  • Causes severe pain or discomfort 

What Does a Milk Blister Look Like? 

A milk blister will look like a tiny pimple. It will be a yellow, clear, or flesh-colored spot. The skin surrounding the milk blister will be red, swollen, and irritated.

What Do Milk Blisters Feel Like? 

Milk blisters can be painful depending on their severity, cause, and location. They typically give the same sensation as a pimple – warm, irritated, and tender to the touch. 

A woman hesitant to feed her baby due to breast pain or tenderness.

Milk Bleb Pain

Milk blebs can range from no pain to being extremely tender. How a milk bleb feels depends on the location and severity of the clog.

There are many things that can irritate a milk bleb including friction from clothing, the continuance of the clog, breastfeeding with an improper latch, or pumping. 

Will Milk Blisters Go Away? 

Yes, sometimes milk blisters go away on their own. Other times, intervention is needed to treat the underlying cause. However, these interventions are not difficult or costly and can be managed at home. 

How Long Do Milk Blebs Last?

Milk blebs typically only last a couple of days, but they can be a recurring issue. If you notice your milk blebs not resolving within 48 hours or they’re worsening, speak with your doctor. 

Will a Milk Bleb Heal on Its Own?

Most often, a milk bleb will heal on its own when the underlying cause of the bleb is resolved.

Milk Bleb for Months

Milk blebs or blisters lasting longer than 48 hours after interventions should be referred to medical professionals.

Though it is likely not an indication of a serious condition, your doctor may be able to help determine and resolve the underlying cause if it’s not immediately noticeable. 

Recurring Milk Bleb on Same Spot

If you have recurring milk blebs, lecithin may be a good option for you. Lecithin is a natural substance found in many foods such as egg yolks, milks, meats, nuts, and whole grains.

It works to prevent clogged ducts by increasing the polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast milk. This thins out the milk and makes it less sticky.

Keep in mind that lecithin is a preventative measure, not a treatment for already engorged or plugged breasts. This is a generally accepted, but not proven, method of relief for breastfeeding women. 

Milk Blister Treatment

There are many methods of treatment for milk blisters. We’ve listed the most common and effective ones below.

  • Warm Compress: Place a heating pad or warm towel on your breast prior to feeding. The warmth relaxes the milk ducts and allows for an easier letdown.
  • Breastfeeding: Ensure that the baby has a proper latch. A good latch makes for a comfortable feeding session with deeper retrieval. 
  • Moisturizer: Moisture helps keep the skin on and around the nipple softer. This makes it easier to remove hardened milk or overgrown skin. Olive oil is great as it’s also a natural anti-inflammatory. 
  • Salt Bath: This method also loosens the skin around the nipple while simultaneously exfoliating. 
  • Hand Expression: Targeted pressure from hand expression can unclog milk ducts in the breast. This method, unlike a pump, won’t pull milk from deep in the breast triggering more production. 

Should You Pop A Milk Bleb?

No, you shouldn’t pop a milk bleb. Doing so substantially increases your risk of infection, especially when done at home. There are safer and more effective methods of relieving milk blebs. 

What Happens if You Don’t Treat a Milk Bleb? 

Sometimes milk blebs can resolve themselves within days or weeks. This usually occurs when the underlying cause of the milk blebs has been resolved.

Other times, milk blebs can lead to painful infections like mastitis when left untreated. For this reason, milk blebs should always be treated. 

Can a Milk Bleb Cause Mastitis? 

Yes, milk blebs can lead to mastitis. Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue. Symptoms include breast pain, swelling, warmth, tenderness, fever, and chills.

How To Prevent Milk Blebs

There are many ways to prevent milk blebs from developing. The best way is to ensure that your milk ducts are fully emptied at each feeding.

Backed-up milk is the number one cause of milk blebs. Other ways to prevent milk blebs include:

  • Thorough Cleaning: Just like washing your face, keeping your nipples clean will lessen the likelihood of clogged nipple pores. 
  • Hand Expressing: Hand expressing when you begin to feel a milk buildup can help loosen what’s there and prevent it from getting worse. 
  • Hydration: Water intake plays a huge role in breast milk supply and consistency. 
  • Proper Latching: A proper latch allows your baby to pull milk from further back in the breasts without discomfort to the nipple. 
  • Full Feedings: Allow your baby to eat until full. If you still feel heavy following a feeding, you can hand express or use the expression setting in your pump if available. 

Closing Thoughts

Milk blebs are the result of dried milk or overgrown skin clogging milk ducts at the opening of the nipple. Milk blebs are preventable and easily treated once the underlying cause has been identified.

Untreated milk blisters can lead to more serious symptoms. Remember to consult your doctor if you start experiencing a rash, fever, or chills.