How do I Avoid and Manage Blocked Nipple Pores while Breastfeeding?
Read time: 5 minutes
What should I know about plugged nipple pores?
The causes of plugged or blocked nipple pores
Your options for treatment
How to manage discomfort associated with plugged nipple pores
Plugged nipple pores, milk blisters and blebs are closely related issues with the same manifestation – a painful white (or clear or yellow) bump on the nipple that looks a lot like a pimple.1 Timely treatment will allow you to resolve the plug and minimize the duration of your discomfort.
You can (and should!) continue to breastfeed with a plugged nipple pore.
What are causes of plugged or blocked nipple pores?
An obstruction within the milk duct close to the surface of the nipple (which can cause milk stasis, literally, milk standing still), or a blockage on the surface of the nipple can cause blisters and plugged pores. Often a bit of skin grows over the pore, further preventing milk flow.
Factors that may lead to a blocked nipple pore include:
Inadequate removal of milk. A sub-optimal latch, weak suck, or tongue tie can affect your baby’s ability to remove milk from your breast efficiently. Infrequent feeding, a poor latch (which can create friction), long separations (without pumping), or abrupt weaning can also cause a back-up.
Friction or trauma on the nipple. A poor latch, which allows baby’s tongue to rub against the nipple, or an ill-fitting pump flange may cause a milk blister or bleb.
Pressure on the breast. External pressure, from a tight bra, diaper bag strap, or seat belt, for example, can restrict milk flow. Lying on your stomach for extended periods may also cause unwanted pressure.
Oversupply. Producing more milk than baby needs can create an imbalance in milk removal from each breast.
Thrush. The inflammation associated with thrush on and within the nipple may cause a pore to close and block off milk flow.
Blocked milk duct. While not all plugged nipple pores are associated with a blocked duct, some do in fact indicate a block deeper in the breast.34568
Need help with baby's latch? Check out some latching tips here: Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips
How can I manage plugged nipple pores?
You can usually manage plugged nipple pore at home while continuing with your usual feeding or pumping routine.
The most important thing to do is continue to breastfeed your little one.7 Continuing to remove the milk from your breast will help prevent additional blockages from occurring and will help avoid a reduction in milk supply.
Start with moist heat
Applying moist heat to the affected nipple can help to soften the area and allow the pore to open while baby feeds. You may do this by taking a shower, soaking a wash cloth in warm water and holding it over the affected nipple, or soaking the breast in warm water with Epsom salts.347
If that doesn’t work, you may try gently rubbing the blister with a clean, warm washcloth to remove any skin obstructing the milk duct.4 This method may work well if the plugged nipple pore is caused by a blister. If you attempt this, it is wise to chat with your healthcare provider first and to work in a very clean and sterile environment to help avoid infection.
Don’t forget to rest and nourish yourself
Rest and proper nutrition are also important to keep your milk flowing.3 Easier said than done right now, we know. But maternal stress and fatigue are risk factors for developing a clogged duct while good nutrition can support your immune system, which can help you heal.
Note that the remedy for blocked nipple pore is a bit different than how to unclog a blocked milk duct.
Read more about unclogging a milk duct here: Avoiding and Managing Blocked Ducts while Breastfeeding
Our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants is available to chat for free. They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat now!
Tips to manage and prevent blocked nipple pores
How can I manage a plugged nipple quickly?
1. Moist heat
Before the next feeding, soak your breast in warm water or use a warm, moist compress for a few minutes. This will soften the area and help your baby (or pump) open it up during feeding.
2. Hand express
Try hand expressing a bit – you may notice some stringy or pasty milk come out. That’s good news, as it was likely the offending blockage. Now, feed that baby or pump away (with a hospital grade pump if you can get one)!
3. Contact your health care provider about other treatments
If the pain continues for longer than a week without any progress, chat with your healthcare provider. Sometimes use of a topical steroid cream or anti-bacterial is needed.48
You may also chat with a lactation consultant about the use of a lecithin supplement, which has been found to be helpful in breaking up and helping prevent plugged nipples and blocked ducts.48
Read more: How and When to Hand Express Breastmilk
Allow breastmilk to flow
Consistently empty the breast
Emptying your breasts frequently and thoroughly is the best way to prevent and treat blocks and plugs. Feed your baby regularly and make plans to pump or hand express if you know you will miss a feeding. Take care to correct any feeding issues promptly by speaking with a lactation consultant.
Avoid putting pressure on the nipple
Avoid underwire bras while you are lactating, and be mindful of any clothing, straps or activities that may be putting pressure on your nipple and breast repeatedly or for prolonged periods of time (like sleeping on your stomach).
Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any signs or symptoms of thrush infection: a white rash on your nipple or in baby’s mouth; itchy or burning nipples; or shooting or deep breast pain during or after feeding.
Top Tips for Pumping Breastmilk
How and When to Express Breastmilk
How can I relieve pain and discomfort between feedings?
Try cold compresses between feedings to minimize discomfort. Wear lose-fitting clothing. Using breast shells can protect sensitive nipples from clothing. Chat with your health care provider about taking a pain reliever.
How can I prevent plugged nipple pores from recurring?
Adjust baby’s latch
If your baby has a shallow latch, they may be causing nipple trauma and making you more prone to plugged nipple pores and blocked milk ducts. Work on getting back into a deeper latch to help prevent more pain and discomfort.
If you need help, contact a lactation consultant for individual guidance.
Read more: Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips
Adjust how you use a breast pump
Using a breast pump incorrectly can also be a factor in plugged nipple pores. Make sure you are using the flange size and suction that’s right for you and your body.
Top Tips for Pumping Breastmilk
How to Choose the Right Breast Pump
Breastfeed On Demand
Feeding your baby frequently throughout the day, whenever they ask, is the best way to keep your supply adequately meeting their needs, as well as to help prevent any milk stasis and plugged nipple pores.
Most breastfed babies will feed at the breast an average of 8 to 12 times per 24 hours.910
Read more: Should I Breastfeed On Demand or on a Schedule?
Contact a lactation consultant
Lactation consultants can help you correct any issues with positioning or latch that may be causing friction, or affecting your baby’s ability to empty your breast efficiently. They can also make suggestions to manage oversupply.
If you already have a clogged pore, they can provide support so that a pesky blister does not have to mean the end of your breastfeeding relationship.
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!
Read more about the experts that help write our content!
For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
6 Breastfeeding Positions for You and Your Baby
What to do about Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding
Causes and Symptoms of Mastitis during Breastfeeding