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Itchy Breasts/ Nipples During Pregnancy: Causes And Relief Measures

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Itchy breasts during pregnancy could be due to skin sensitivity or hormonal changes. Usually, this itchiness tends to be temporary. But if the symptoms are not relieved and discomfort remains for longer duration then, you should check with your doctor.

In this post, MomJunction tells you about the causes of itching in breasts during pregnancy and ways to ease the discomfort.

Are Itchy Nipples An Early Sign Of Pregnancy?

Breast changes might begin as early as one to two weeks post-conception (1). The breasts may become tender, sore, enlarged, or tingle, while the nipples become tender, cracked, or swollen (2). However, this cannot be a standalone symptom of pregnancy. Only when you see this in association with other prominent pregnancy symptoms can you confirm your pregnancy.

When Are Pregnant Women Likely To Have Itchy Nipples? 

You are likely to experience itchy nipples as early as one to two weeks after conception (1). Itchy nipples due to Skin straie around the nipple are likely to develop after the 24th week of gestation (3).

Itchy breasts due to eczema (one of the common dermatoses during pregnancy) usually develop within the first two trimesters (4), whereas itchy breasts or nipples from PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques) might occur in the third trimester (5).

Causes Of Itchy Nipples During Pregnancy 

Your breasts and nipples may itch and irritate due to the different physiological changes that happen in pregnancy. Some of those changes are listed below:

  • Hormonal changes: Most skin changes during pregnancy are due to the surge in levels of progesterone and estrogen, besides other hormones affected by pregnancy (6). This is the reason you may experience itchiness along with the darkening of the skin on and around theareola of nipples (7).
  • Skin straie: As the baby grows, your skin stretches and the breasts become dry and uncomfortable. This is known as skin straie or skin gravidarum which leads to itching. (8).
  • PUPPP: You might experience itching at the tiny hives or bumps that develop on the skin. They are likely to appear on the abdomen and later spread to the extremities, including breasts, buttocks, and thighs (9).
  • Atopic eruption during pregnancy (AEP): Those with a history of atopy (atopic dermatitis) are likely to develop red, scaly, and itchy patches on their breasts, neck, and other dry skin areas. This usually leads to the eruption of red spots and raised skin bumps, along with itching (10).

Yeast infections, cholestasis of pregnancy (a liver problem causing severe itching of hands and feet) (11), and Paget’s disease of the breast (rare breast cancer) (12) could also cause itching of breasts and nipples.

How To Relieve Itchy Breasts/ Nipples During Pregnancy? 

Unless they are due to an underlying medical condition, itchy breasts and nipples could be managed with a few home remedies. Follow these tips regularly to keep your skin soft and supple during pregnancy, and to get relief from dry and itchy skin.

  1. Use a lotion: You can apply a good moisturizing lotion to your breasts and nipples. Lotions containing cocoa butter, vitamin E oil, aloe vera, lanolin or petroleum jelly, and calamine lotion could help deal with itchy skin (13). Do not use any lotions that contain fragrances or alcohol as they may make the skin drier. Take a patch test before trying any new cream.
  1. Choose the right clothes: Wear loose and breathable cotton as they do not trap the sweat unlike synthetic clothes. Invest in a good maternity bra that may not cause irritation or itching.
  1. Avoid harsh soaps and perfumes: Use mild and fragrance-free soaps and avoid scented perfumes or lotions that might make itchy nipples worse. Also, use fragrance-free detergents for washing your clothes.
  1. Avoid hot showers or baths: These might dry out your skin. You may instead take a lukewarm or cool shower. Do not shower for more than five to ten minutes as excess time in water may also dry out your skin.
  1. Humidifier or a damp cloth rub: Place a humidifier in your bedroom as it could help prevent your skin from drying and may lessen the irritation. You can also use a damp cloth on the affected nipple to ease the irritation.
  1. Drink more water: You should ideally have six to eight ounces of water every day to avoid issues such as constipation and dehydration (1). Hydration could also make your skin healthy by reducing its dryness, thereby itchiness.

If the above measures do not give any relief from itchy nipples, your doctor may suggest some topical medication. In some cases, itchy nipples and breasts may also be signs of chafing or yeast infections. It is, therefore, advisable to seek your doctor’s advice when home measures do not work.

Itchy breasts are discomforting and sometimes difficult to diagnose. Most causes are not likely to be dangerous, and the discomfort could be alleviated using home remedies and medications. Since the symptoms resemble other skin or breast-related health concerns as well, it is important to see a doctor for a thorough diagnosis and treatment.

References: 

1. Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy; SexInfo Online; University of California, Santa Barbara (2017)
2. My pregnancy Weeks 1 —20; UCLA Obstetrics and Gynecology
3. Hibah Osman et al.; Risk factors for the development of striae gravidarum; Am J Obstet Gynecol (2007)
4. Sophie Weatherhead et al.; Eczema in pregnancy; BMJ (2007)
5. Pruritic Urticarial Papules And Plaques Of Pregnancy; American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
6. Justyna Szczęch, Artur Wiatrowski, Lidia Hirnle, Adam Reich; Prevalence and Relevance of Pruritus in Pregnancy; Biomed Res Int. 2017
7. Skin Changes During Pregnancy; Health Sciences Library; Upstate Medical University (2008)
8. Stretch marks in pregnancy; NHS (2019)
9. Skin Conditions During Pregnancy; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2018)
10. Atopic Eruption of Pregnancy (AEP); European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (2013)
11. Cholestasis of Pregnancy; St. Louis Children’s Hospital
12. Cansu Karakas; Paget’s disease of the breast; J Carcinog (2011)
13. Caring for Yourself During Pregnancy and Beyond; UCSF Medical Center
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