- What causes itchy breasts in breastfeeding mothers?
- When to see a doctor for itchy breasts?
- How to treat itchy breasts when breastfeeding?
- How to manage and prevent itchy breasts at home?
New moms encounter several problems when they breastfeed, and an itchy breast or nipple is one of them. In most cases, it is not a problem, although sometimes it can interfere with breastfeeding. Since breast milk is necessary for the baby’ nourishment, any hindrance to it should be addressed immediately.
What Causes Itchy Breasts In Breastfeeding Mothers?
There are several reasons why your breasts can get itchy during lactation. Here are the common ones.
Thrush is a yeast infection of the nipples. The biological name of yeast is Candida, and it is a type of fungus. Candida is usually harmless and found in various parts of the body (1). But the fungus can multiply and cause infection in the moist parts of the body like those around the nipple. Thrush is often the common cause of itchy breasts and nipples among lactating mothers.
- Yeast primarily affects the nipple and the areola region, which tend to stay moist. Itchiness of the nipple is accompanied by a burning sensation or a pins-like pain, especially after you breastfeed the baby (2).
- You may also experience a throbbing pain, deep in the breast tissue.
In some cases of thrush, the baby’s tongue has a layer/coating of white material. They may also have a diaper rash. You may have gotten the infection from the baby or may have transmitted the disease unknowingly as you may have passed on vaginal yeast infection during vaginal delivery.
Mastitis is the engorgement of the breast due to the retention of the milk in the milk ducts (3). Bacteria can enter the milk ducts through a cracked or pierced nipple and infect the milk ducts and the fatty tissue, thus causing a breast infection (4).
- Difficulty in expressing milk; high-grade fever; flu-like symptoms that don’t resolve with ibuprofen are some of the other symptoms you notice along with itchiness.
- The breast tissue will also feel warm and reddened.
Eczema can affect the breast skin and nipples too. Eczema is a group of diseases that can cause inflammation, itchiness, and redness of the skin (5). One category of eczema, which is medically called dermatitis, is contact dermatitis (6). This type of dermatitis can affect the breasts, due to repeated friction caused by breastfeeding (7).
- Eczema causes the skin to become dry and sensitive. The itch is excruciating, and the more you itch, the worse the condition gets.
- If eczema is on the nipple and areola, then you will notice areas of dry and flaky skin.
- Eczema is non-contagious, so you need not worry about transmitting it to your baby.
4. Stretch marks
Your breasts are filled with milk during lactation, which can cause the skin around them to expand rapidly and form stretch marks that can get itchy (9).
- Fine pink lines on the breasts.
- The skin stretches and becomes dry and irritable. Moisturizing the skin helps alleviate the condition.
5. Skin infections
- Scabies can cause fine rashes with red lines that indicate the burrowing path of the scabies mite. These symptoms are most likely to be present on the skin adjacent to the nipple (12).
- Ringworm is a fungal infection and not caused by a worm. It leads to the formation of circular rashes in warm and moist places of the body. The skin under the breast is a common place for ringworm.
If the itchiness is due to any of the conditions mentioned here, treating them helps reduce the itchiness of the skin.
When To See A Doctor For Itchy Breasts?
Several cases of itchy breasts require no formal diagnosis or treatment. But in some scenarios you must get yourself check by the doctor:
- Itchiness interferes with your ability to breastfeed. You are unable to breastfeed properly to the extent that the baby has to miss some feeds and remain hungry.
- You have severe pain along with itchiness.
- There is blood, yellowish or clear liquid (different from milk) oozing from the nipple.
- You feel a hard lump on your breasts.
- The breasts have changed their shape. The nipple is extremely itchy, reddened, and has changed its shape.
How To Treat Itchy Breasts When Breastfeeding?
The treatment of itchy breasts depends on the fundamental cause of the condition. Most cases require minimal intervention and can resolve on their own. However, some severe cases will require medication. Treatment options for such conditions include:
- Remedial medication: Your doctor can prescribe antifungal medicines, which are safe for breastfeeding moms, for the treatment of thrush and ringworm. If you have scabies, then you will have to observe a treatment regime with medicines that kill the scabies mite. Your baby may also be checked for the symptoms since the scabies mite can transfer through skin-to-skin contact.
- Antibiotics: If you have a bacterial infection of the breast, then you will need an antibiotic course. The medicines will be compatible with breastfeeding and will have no impact on the baby’s health.
- Creams and lotions for dermatitis: If you have eczema, then the doctor can suggest creams and lotions that work at subduing the condition. Eczema can usually be managed without medications, and your doctor can give you tips for it. Since dermatitis is non-contagious, there is no need to check your baby.
Managing the underlying condition at home is also a good way of alleviating and also preventing itchy breasts.
How To Manage And Prevent Itchy Breasts At Home?
Here is how to contain and prevent itchiness of breasts.
- Keep your breasts dry: Place breast pads within your bra to soak any extra milk on the nipple or any milk leaks. You can also apply an over-the-counter antifungal powder under your breasts to keep the area dry and less prone to fungus.
- Wipe the nipple and breast after every feed or rub the milk: Use a soft cloth moistened with warm water to clean your breasts after every feed. It helps to remove the baby’s saliva, which can irritate the skin if left on it for long. It is also An excellent way to keep the nipple and breasts clean. You may also apply your breast milk.
- Use moisturizer if your nipple gets dry: If your nipple tends to dry and crack, then use a baby moisturizer, preferably at the end of your last feed of the day. Always wash the nipples before applying the moisturizer.
- Wear loose clothing: A tight fitting bra and apparel can trap a lot of moisture. It may also cause skin irritation if you have eczema. So choose clothing that is loose and comfortable. Choose a natural fabric such as cotton since it allows ventilation and also absorbs sweat.
- Maintain a fixed breastfeeding schedule: Make a breastfeeding schedule and stick to it. It allows you to drain your breasts in time and prevents the accumulation of milk and breast engorgement. Also, wean your baby gradually so that you do not have a sudden buildup of milk in your breasts.
These steps help minimize the risk of mastitis/breast infection, which is one of the causes of itchiness of breast. Moisturizing the skin helps minimize the irritation caused by stretch marks, which do not have a cure.
[ Read: What Causes Mastitis ]
Itchy breasts while breastfeeding can be a bother when the cause is a fungal or parasitic infection. But these conditions are treatable. Other reasons behind itchy breasts can be resolved with the right treatment. Once the itchiness is fixed, you can go back to feeding your baby as usual, giving them the best nourishment they can get through breast milk.
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2. Candida or thrush of the nipple and breast; Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation
3. Mastitis; NHS
4. Breast infection; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
5. What is Eczema?; National Eczema Association
6. Contact Dermatitis; National Eczema Association
7. Common Breast Problems; UMHS Breast Problems Guideline;(2013)
8. 10 Things That Might Surprise You About Being Pregnant; Brenner Children’s Hospital
9. Pregnancy and Skin Changes; University of Rochester Medical Center
10. M.F.Potter; Parasitic Mites of Humans; University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
11. Ringworm (Tinea); Harvard Health Publishing
12. Scabies; Indiana University Bloomington
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