Blisters on the Breasts and Nipples

Types, Causes, Treatments, and Safety

Close up of newborn girl with mom at bed in hospital
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Blisters are tender, raised, red or white areas on the skin with a collection of fluid underneath. The fluid in a blister may be clear and watery or made up of blood or pus. If you get a blister on your breast or nipple, it can be painful and interfere with breastfeeding. Depending on the type of blister, you may even have to stop breastfeeding for a while. Here is what you need to know about the types of blisters that can show up on your nipples, areola, and the skin around the breasts.

Causes

Blisters on the breast can develop for many reasons. Some blisters are from breastfeeding, and others have nothing to do breastfeeding at all. The common causes of breast blisters are:

  • irritation from rubbing or pressure against your skin
  • a blockage at the end of a milk duct
  • an allergic reaction
  • a virus

Friction Blisters

Friction blisters are a common problem for breastfeeding moms. A friction blister forms when there is constant rubbing or pressure on the same spot on the skin. When you're breastfeeding, friction blisters can pop up on your breasts, nipples, or areola. Clear fluid or blood can fill a friction blister. If the fluid is bloody, it is sometimes called a blood blister. The causes of friction blisters are:

  • A Poor Latch: When your baby is not latched on to your breast correctly, it can cause damage to your breast tissue, areola, and nipple. A poor latch can also cause friction blisters to appear on your baby's lips.
  • Breast Pumps: The improper use of a breast pump can cause irritation and damage to your breasts. When the pump flanges (shields) do not fit you well, or the suction of the pump is set too high, blisters can form.
  • Nipple Shields and Breast Shells: You can get blisters if you wear breast shells or use nipple shields that constantly rub against your nipple, areola, or the skin on your breast.
  • A Nursing Bra That Doesn't Fit: If your bra is too big it could rub against your skin. If it's too tight, it could put excessive pressure on your breast tissue. Both of these situations can lead to blisters.

If you have a friction blister on your breast, you can continue to breastfeed. It may be painful for you, but a friction blister will not cause harm to your baby. However, if the blister breaks open and the fluid leaks out while you're nursing, it could change the flavor of your breast milk. Your baby may stop breastfeeding if he doesn't like the taste.  

Milk Blister 

A milk blister or nipple bleb is a small white or yellow spot on the nipple that blocks the end of the milk duct. It looks like a whitehead pimple. Some women are not bothered by the small blister, but for others, it can be very painful.

Milk blisters often go away on their own. If you have a milk blister, you can:

  • continue to breastfeed very frequently to keep the milk flowing
  • try to use a breast pump to help remove the blockage
  • try to loosen the bleb by soaking it, applying heat, or massaging the area
  • talk to your doctor if you are in pain and it doesn't go away on its own

Poison Ivy, Oak, Sumac

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are plants that can cause an allergic reaction on your skin if you touch them. The reaction can lead to an itchy, red rash with raised fluid-filled blisters.

If you get this type of blistery rash on your breasts:

  • You should not breastfeed
  • You can pump and give the baby your breast milk in a bottle while you have the rash
  • You can begin breastfeeding again once the blisters have healed

Herpes Simplex Virus

Active herpes lesions on your breasts can look like small red bumps, fluid-filled blisters, or open sores. They may be itchy or painful. The herpes virus can pass to your child through contact with the blisters or sores.

  • Since herpes is dangerous, and even deadly, to infants, you should not breastfeed with active herpes lesions on your breasts.
  • You should see your doctor and receive treatment.
  • In the meantime, you can pump and dump your breast milk to keep up your milk supply.
  • Once the lesions dry up and heal, you may be able to resume breastfeeding with your doctor's OK.

Chickenpox

Chickenpox (Varicella) is a very contagious illness that can be spread through the air or by contact. Due to vaccinations and previous childhood immunity, adults in the United States do not often suffer from chickenpox infections. If, however, you do come down with chickenpox while you're breastfeeding, you can usually continue to nurse your child. By the time you notice the blistery rash, your child would have already been exposed to the virus. If your health care team determines that you need to stay away from your child while you're contagious, you should still be able to pump your breast milk for your baby.

A Word From Verywell

If you get a blister when you're breastfeeding, it can be painful. It can also make you worry about whether or not it's safe to continue to breastfeed. Breast and nipple blisters from breastfeeding are usually friction blisters or a milk blisters, and not something to worry over. But, sometimes a virus or skin reaction can lead to blisters that you have to be more careful about with breastfeeding.

When you have a better understanding of the causes and treatment of different types of blisters, you can try to prevent them. Then, if you do get one, you'll know what to do. If you have any questions about blisters, call or see your doctor. Your doctor can help you identify and treat the blister so you can get back to breastfeeding in safety and comfort.

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