How do I avoid and manage blocked nipple pores?

Mom breastfeeding baby

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 an obstruction 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. Contributing factors 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 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 tell-tale red, shiny and/or flaky, cracked skin associated with thrush can block your nipple pores, causing plugs.

Need help with baby’s latch? Check out some latching tips here: Learning an Effective Latch

How can I manage plugged nipple pores?

You can usually treat a plugged nipple pore at home while continuing with your usual feeding or pumping routine.

Applying moist heat to the affected area, soaking the breast in warm water with Epsom salts or gently rubbing the blister with a clean, warm washcloth to remove any skin obstructing the milk duct may provide some relief. This method may work well if the plugged nipple pore is caused by a blister.

If this doesn’t work, speak with your health care provider. Some plugged pores have to be opened with sterile needles, much like other blisters. Your health care provider may do this in a doctor’s office or they may provide you with instructions to do the deed yourself.2

Rest and proper nutrition are also important to keep your milk flowing. 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 will help you heal and ward off progression to mastitis (an infection of the breast).

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

Our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants is available to chat for free! They’re here to help on our live chat from Monday through Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday and Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat now!

What can I do about blocked nipple pores?

How can I avoid situations that can cause blisters and milk stasis?

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 underwire bras while you are lactating, and be mindful of any clothing, straps or activities that may be putting pressure on your 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 red rash on your nipple or in baby’s mouth; itchy or burning nipples; or shooting or deep breast pain during or after feeding.

Read more: What You Need To Know About Pumping

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.

All of our Happy Baby Experts are breastfeeding specialists, lactation counselors, or lactation consultants. They can help with many of these issues and help you find local lactation support if you need in-person assessment. Chat now.

How can I treat a plugged nipple quickly?

Before the next feeding, use moist heat to soften the skin on your nipple (try soaking the breast in warm water with Epsom salt). Then apply a very hot compress to the affected area (but not so hot that you burn yourself). Next, gently rub the blister with a clean, moist washcloth, which should remove any skin obstructing the milk duct.

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)!

Need a little help with hand expressing? Here are some great tips: How and When to Hand Express

Don’t be shy about contacting your lactation consultant or healthcare provider for additional support. Even if you successfully open the blister, you may want to ask about appropriate antibacterial creams to apply to the broken skin.

How can I relieve pain and discomfort between feedings?

Try cold compresses between feedings to minimize discomfort. Wearing breast shells can protect sensitive nipples from clothing and taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen may also help. Always chat with your doctor before taking any new medications.

How can I prevent plugged nipple pores from recurring?

If you’re recovering from a milk blister, a daily soak in normal saline (half a teaspoon salt in 1 cup of water, just for a minute or so) followed by a quick rub with a washcloth for a few weeks may help keep further plugs at bay. Plus, the saline soak can aid in healing broken skin.

Let’s Chat!

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 dietitians 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 through Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday and Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Sources

You may also like