Breastfeeding can feel like the most natural thing in the world but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some bumps (and blisters) along the way. In some ways, it’s a lot like driving a car; you need to learn the rules of the road and ultimately, find your rhythm.
Blocked ducts, milk blisters and nipple blebs are three of the most common challenges moms experience during their first month of breastfeeding. Scroll below for tips and best practices for alleviating pain and establishing a good milk supply for your little one.
Blocked Milk Ducts
Our breasts contain a series of ducts that carry milk from the mammary glands to the nipples during breastfeeding. If your ducts become clogged, it can cause pain, itchiness and swelling and can be all around uncomfortable.
According to a 2011 study, about 4.5-percent moms experience clogged ducts at least once during their first year of breastfeeding. Persistent clogged ducts can cause mastitis, which is a painful infection of the breasts.
Clogged ducts are fairly common and can be caused by a number of reasons, including poor latch, irregular breastfeeding schedule, skipped breastfeeding sessions and even tight-fitting clothes that irritate or put pressure on the breasts.
How to spot them
Here are a few symptoms that might indicate that your ducts are clogged:
- Tender or swollen lump in the breast
- Milk flow is slower on one side
- Skin appears lumpy in a certain area
- There’s pain in a specific location in the breast
- Your breast feels hot or swollen
- There’s a milk bleb (a small white dot on the nipple)
How to treat it
The good news about clogged milk ducts is that while unpleasant, it’s very treatable. Below are a few home remedies that can help:
- Wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid bras with underwire to minimize pain
- Massage the clog, starting above it and pushing down in the direction of the nipple
- Apply a heat pad to warm up the breasts for about 20-minute intervals, or take a hot shower and allow the water to pour over your breasts.
- Switch up your breastfeeding positions, taking gravity into account. For example, breastfeeding your baby in a position that places your baby under your breasts can help loosen or remove the clog
Keep in mind that sometimes clogged ducts can cause a low-grade fever which could lead to an infection. Make sure to consult your doctor if pain persists.
Milk blisters or blebs (also called friction blisters) is a blocked nipple pore. Usually, this happens when a milk duct is clogged and as a result, the milk gets backed up and can’t really go anywhere. Breast milk becomes hard and thick and this blocks milk from flowing near your nipple opening.
Milk blisters look like tiny white or yellow spots, are located on your nipple and are about the size of a pin-head. If you’ve experienced whiteheads before (haven’t we all), then you’ll spot these right away. The surrounding skin may also be red, inflamed and irritated.
How to treat it
In most cases, milk blebs disappear on their own, usually in a few days. Of course, these three tips can help in the interim:
- Make sure you’re emptying your breasts fully after each feeding. Poor latch can be a culprit of milk blebs because it can stop your baby from drinking all the available milk.
- When there’s milk left over after a feeding, it can build up and plug the nipple ducts. If you think that you’re producing more milk than your baby can drain, this too, can cause milk blebs to form.
- Avoid tight-fitting areas and bras with an underwire. Similar to blocked milk ducts, this can irritate your nipples.
Nipple blisters (or blebs) can develop for many different reasons, ranging from irritation from a breast pump or nipple shield to blockages at the end of a milk duct and allergic reactions. They also tend to be larger in size than milk blebs.
How to treat it
Fortunately, nipple blisters usually resolve on their own and you just need to wait it out. Here are a few tips to ease the pain:
- If you don’t already have a lactation consultant or counselor that you work with, consider contacting one in your area (many do virtual sessions now, as well). They can recommend alternative breastfeeding positions and spot other possible causes, like a shallow latch.
- Take ibuprofen (avoid aspirin) about an hour before you breastfeed your baby. This will alleviate some of the pain you have while feeding.
- Wear breast shells to ease irritation you might have from clothing irritating the blister. Cooling hydrogel pads are great too, and encourage healing.
- Apply warm wet packs to help relieve pain, and/or a cotton ball soaked in olive oil
- Switch to pumping; just make sure that you have the right size breast shield so your nipple isn’t aggravated.
While it may be tempting, resist the urge to pop the blister. It might give immediate relief, but it’s short lived. Popping blisters can lead to an infection.
Once the bleb opens, you can apply Lanolin after breastfeeding for a week. This keeps the bleb from closing again. Polysporin can also be used to prevent infection.