What to Know About 'Pitties,' Rare Armpit Swelling During Breastfeeding

The human body goes through some surprising changes postpartum. Here's what happens when milk ducts in your armpits swell during breastfeeding.

Close-Up Of Woman With Arms Raised and a milk bottle emoji overlayed on top
Photo: Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty Images (2)

The human body is amazing. The changes that come with pregnancy and breastfeeding are both inspiring and unbelievable, and anyone who has experienced them deserves a serious round of applause. Many of these changes are well-known—breast milk changing to meet the needs of the baby, ligaments loosening and bones spreading to allow for passage of the baby through the birth canal, a body that's able to nurture a human from conception into toddlerhood and beyond.

And then there are some lesser-known changes that may surprise or even horrify the unprepared. Case in point: "pitties," a rare side effect of breastfeeding that results in armpits swollen with breast milk. The term was coined by a viral 2020 Twitter post (since deleted), which showed an image of a person with their arm raised, with two large, milk-filled lumps in their armpit. Since then, more brave parents have stepped up to share their own pitties on social media, with some going so far as to demonstrate their ability to shoot milk out of their armpits.

What Are Pitties?

Although enlarged milk ducts in the armpit may seem odd, it's not unusual, and there's a sound reason behind it. Mammary tissue is not only found in the breasts. There's a structure called the Tail of Spence that extends beyond the breast itself and into the armpit. Since it's connected to the main milk-producing tissues in the breast, it can become engorged.

Engorgement in the armpits most frequently occurs early in breastfeeding, while milk supply is being established. "It is breast tissue that doesn't drain well and for that reason, the engorgement is primarily experienced when the milk first comes in. Because of the poor drainage in that area, those milk-producing cells stop producing," explains Colorado-based Andrea Tran, RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC, and expert behind the Breastfeeding Confidential website.

What Do Enlarged Milk Ducts in the Armpit Look Like?

Unlike engorgement of the breasts, in which the breast itself swells and becomes tight, engorgement in the armpit is a bit different. "The engorgement that occurs looks like egg-shaped lumps under the armpits," Tran says. These may vary in size and number based on your genetics.

Will Pitties Go Away?

Armpit engorgement can be treated the same way as engorged breasts; cool compresses, hot showers, gentle massage, and cabbage leaves can all be soothing. Symptoms will typically resolve within 24 to 48 hours, but talk to your health care provider if you experience a fever, persistent pain, or red streaks, which are common signs of infection. Engorgement can lead to mastitis or a blocked duct, so you may need medical attention if time and home remedies don't ease your discomfort.

The Bottom Line

All things considered, milk being created in your armpit is just another strange thing that can happen during breastfeeding. But if you're not expecting it? Talk about an unwelcome surprise. Luckily, pitties are harmless and usually resolve easily, so try to stay calm if you wake up one morning with bulging pits.

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