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When new mothers start breastfeeding for the first time, they may face certain problems. While issues like getting the right latch or finding a comfortable position are mostly common, itchy breasts or nipples are not that common. An itchy breast can interfere with feeding the baby. It is not a problem that goes away on its own and should be discussed with your doctor. Read on to know more about itchy breasts, and how to manage them.
Is It Normal to Have Itchy Breasts While Breastfeeding?
Itchy nipples or breasts occur most commonly during the initial period of breastfeeding, but it can develop at any point. Discomfort in the early weeks is a relatively common experience, and it should go away over time. However, if it persists for long, and is accompanied by pain that hinders the ability to feed, it should be checked up, as it could be a sign of an existing problem.
What Causes Itchy Breasts When Breastfeeding?
There are a number of causes as to why you may feel itchy. The likeliest causes are:
Thrush is a yeast infection that causes itchy nipples during nursing. It is caused by a fungus called Candida, which lives on our bodies. They are normally harmless but can multiply and grow out of control to cause an infection when any area of the body is left damp or moist for long periods of time. Since nipples and areolas of breastfeeding mothers are often moist, Candida is a common cause of infection and irritation.
Symptoms of Thrush
- Itchiness, often accompanied by a burning sensation, especially after a feed.
- Throbbing pain deep in the breast tissue.
Mastitis is inflammation and deep breast tissue pain, caused by a bacterial infection. It occurs as a result of the engorgement of the breast when the milk ducts retain excess milk. Cracked or pierced nipples can serve as an entry point for bacteria, which will then infect the milk ducts and the surrounding tissue.
Symptoms of Mastitis
- Swelling of the breasts, feeling full and sore, along with itchiness.
- Shooting pain
- Reddened breasts that are warm to touch.
- High fever in some cases.
Eczema is a range of skin conditions that can cause itchiness, inflammation, and redness of the skin. It can affect both the skin on the breast and the nipples. One type of eczema, which is the most common, is termed contact dermatitis. It is caused mainly due to constant friction on the skin, resulting from repeated breastfeeding.
Symptoms of Eczema
- Extremely dry and sensitive skin; the itch can become unbearable and worsen with scratching
- Itchy rash on breasts while breastfeeding.
- Areas of dry and flaky skin.
4. Stretchy Skin
Since breasts are frequently filling and emptying, there is always a change in the breast tissue. This can cause it to expand and contract, which results in stretched skin and itchy stretch marks. The effect is more prominent if the breast skin is not moisturised in the dry seasons.
Symptoms of Stretchy Skin
- Fine lines on the breast skin that is tender.
- Stretch lines becoming dry and irritable; moisturising alleviates this condition.
5. Skin Infections
There are various types of skin infections that can cause the skin to become irritable. The most common ones are fungal infections, such as ringworm and scabies.
Symptoms of Skin Infections
- Ringworm is a fungal infection that results in the formation of circular rashes on the skin. It occurs in warm moist regions of the body, such as under the breasts.
- Scabies is an infection caused by the scabies mite. It causes fine rashes with red lines.
Treatment for Itchy Breasts During Breastfeeding
Treating itchy breasts depends fundamentally on the cause of the condition. You should resolve it as soon as possible. Severe conditions require medication. Treatments for such cases are:
1. Remedial Medication
Depending on the condition, the doctor would prescribe anti-fungal medicines that are safe for nursing mothers, and are used to treat conditions such as ringworm and thrush. If the mother has scabies, a treatment regime will have to be observed to kill the scabies mites. In such cases, the baby is also checked for the mites and symptoms of the disease, as it is easily transferred from skin-to-skin contact.
Bacterial infections in the breast require the use of antibiotics to treat the infection. The medicines given in such instances are compatible with breastfeeding, and will not harm the baby’s health.
3. Creams and Lotions for Dermatitis
Conditions such as eczema are treated with lotions or creams that work by subduing the condition. Since eczema is also manageable without medications, the doctor might suggest remedial tips. Babies are unaffected by dermatitis. Therefore, there is no need to examine them.
Home Remedies to Manage Itchy Breasts While Nursing
Many of the conditions that lead to itchy breasts can be managed at home without medical intervention. Women who suffer from itchy, painful breasts while breastfeeding can try these home remedies to manage the problem:
1. Keep the breasts dry.
Breast pads placed inside the bra will soak up any extra milk on the nipples or from a leak. You can also try applying an over-the-counter anti-fungal powder under the breasts to keep the region dry and curb fungal growth. Drying the nipples after feeding sessions also help prevent cracking and infection.
2. Follow a regular hygiene routine.
While it can seem difficult to give yourself time when taking care of a newborn, you must follow your regular bathing and cleaning routine. Wash and clean your breasts with water. You may use a mild soap, but avoid anything with harsh chemicals. Dry yourself well, and make sure there are no moist or damp patches of skin.
3. Use moisturisers.
While being moist all the time is problematic, the opposite can be just as troublesome. If your nipples tend to dry and crack, apply a bit of baby moisturiser on them. You can do this after your bath, and even after the last feed of the day. Remember to wash and clean your nipples before applying the moisturiser.
4. Wear loose-fitting clothing.
Tight clothes and bras can trap moisture throughout the day. If you have eczema, tight-fitting clothes can worsen the condition by irritating your skin further. Therefore, pick clothes that fit comfortably and loosely. Clothes that are made of natural fabric such as cotton are ideal, since they absorb moisture and maintain good ventilation.
5. Pump excess milk.
If you experience a build-up of milk, or if you tend to have excess milk, you should pump or hand-express it. This lets you drain your breasts and avoid the accumulation of milk and breast engorgement. Also, the weaning of your baby must be done gradually, so you won’t experience a sudden build-up of milk in the breasts.
Some Useful Tips to Remember
- Improper latching can irritate or damage the nipples. A lactation consultant can help you resolve your issues through correct breastfeeding positions.
- Irritation and inflammation can be soothed by applying a cold pack to the breasts.
- Use an all-purpose nipple ointment (APNO). Its multi-functionality often comes with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Maintain a breastfeeding log to document when your itchiness occurs or peaks, and how you solved it. It acts as a good reference.
- Take good care of your breasts even when your baby isn’t feeding. There are many products that help with sore or itchy breasts.
When to See a Doctor for Itchy Breasts
For any new mom, it can be tricky to understand what is normal and what is not with breastfeeding. While there are home remedies that can help resolve the issue, doctor consultation is mandatory if the symptoms get worse or feel serious.
Consult your doctor if you are breastfeeding and experience any of the following:
- Red, swollen breasts and itchy nipples
- Breast pain and itching accompanied by fever
- Intense itching sensation that seems to emanate from deep in the breast tissue
- White mouth or tongue of your baby
- A lump in the breast that’s painful or feels like an abscess
Itchy breasts can feel like a major problem, but they can be taken care of through appropriate measures and remedies. Make sure to consult your doctor, and do your best to understand what causes this condition and how to prevent it.
Also Read: Breastfeeding Problems & Their Solutions