Some women may experience itchy breasts during pregnancy. This could either result from hormonal fluctuations or sensitivity in the skin, both of which are common in pregnant women. Although the condition is temporary, the symptoms may sometimes persist for longer periods. Under such circumstances, you need to consult your healthcare provider.
Read on to know about itchiness in breasts while pregnant, including measures to deal with it.
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 the areola of nipples (7).
Dr. Alan Lindemann, MD, an obstetrician, maternal mortality expert, and former clinical associate professor at the University of North Dakota, says, “Itching breasts can be hormonal because there’s a lot of activity in breasts during pregnancy. There is a proliferation of breast tissue which causes the breasts to enlarge. This may cause the skin to stretch and itch. You might also expect stretch marks on your breasts during pregnancy. Stretch marks itch.”
- Skin striae: According to the National Institutes of Health, skin striae or striae distensae, commonly known as stretch marks, are experienced by about 43% to 88% of all pregnant women, 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. (9).
- 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 (10).
- 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 (11).
Yeast infections, cholestasis of pregnancy (a liver problem causing severe itching of hands and feet) (12), Paget’s disease of the breast (rare breast cancer) (13) , and mastitis (breast tissue inflammation) 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.
- 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 (15). 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.
- 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 skin irritation or itching.
“I believe that certain kinds of bras could cause breast itching. Skin is generally sensitive during pregnancy, so avoid artificial fabrics, particularly those made from petroleum. Instead, I would recommend getting a cotton bra to decrease the potential for itching,” Dr. Lindemann suggests.
- 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.
- Avoid hot showers or baths: These might dry out your skin and cause a rash. 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.
- 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 and allergies.
- 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What do itchy breasts mean during pregnancy?
Itchy breasts in pregnancy can be due to physiological reasons in most women. During pregnancy, hormonal changes, increased blood supply, and breast expansion can result in itchy nipples. Pregnant women can also experience nipple soreness, tingling, and breast heaviness. These symptoms are rarely caused by serious conditions in pregnancy (17).
2. When do itchy breasts start in pregnancy?
Itchy nipples and other breast changes in pregnancy can be seen during the early weeks of conception. These symptoms may become more prominent as the pregnancy advances and the breasts enlarge.
3. How to treat itchy nipples during pregnancy?
You may use lotions without chemicals such as cocoa butter, lanolin, or vitamin E to hydrate the nipples. Liquid petroleum jelly may help to prevent dryness and itching after showers. Using mild fragrant detergents and soaps helps avoid harsh chemicals that can trigger nipple itching. Some pregnant women feel relief with maternity bras since it provides better air circulation and support (17).
4. Can I be pregnant without having itchy nipples?
Some women report that they have not experienced pregnancy symptoms in the first few weeks. So you may be pregnant without itchy nipples. However, you may have other pregnancy symptoms such as missed periods, nausea, fatigue, and breast tenderness (18).
Breast changes such as itchy breasts during pregnancy could be caused by hormonal fluctuations, infections, and other skin conditions. The itchy breast may be difficult to diagnose as it resembles other skin or breast-related conditions. Though the underlying cause is not usually serious, it is certainly annoying to have an itchy breast while pregnant. You may try alleviating the symptoms with home care tips and remedies. However, if the symptoms do not resolve, it is best to contact your doctor to have a detailed investigation and initiate appropriate treatment.
Infographic: How To Relieve Itchy Breasts/Nipples During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy brings about many changes in a woman’s body, itchy breasts/nipples being a common one. While mild itchiness is normal, severe itchiness can cause irritation and pain and even pain. This infographic presents simple yet effective ways to manage the condition. Read on!
- Itchy breasts are a common symptom during pregnancy, caused by hormonal changes.
- Pregnant women should avoid wearing tight clothes and choose breathable fabrics to prevent skin friction.
- Applying lotion or taking a cool shower can alleviate the itchiness.
- It is highly recommended to consult a doctor if the symptoms persist.
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)
9. Stretch marks in pregnancy; NHS (2019)
10. Skin Conditions During Pregnancy; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2018)
11. Atopic Eruption of Pregnancy (AEP); European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (2013)
12. Cholestasis of Pregnancy; St. Louis Children’s Hospital
13. Cansu Karakas; Paget’s disease of the breast; J Carcinog (2011)
15. Caring for Yourself During Pregnancy and Beyond; UCSF Medical Center
17 Nipple Itching Symptoms: Causes, Types, Treatments and Home Remedies; Medicover Hospitals
18 Early Signs of Pregnancy; American Pregnancy Association