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It’s not uncommon for new mothers to face several problems when they start breastfeeding. An itchy breast or nipple is one of the most common among those. In the majority of women who have itchy breast, the issue resolves on its own. It’s a problem when it persists and interferes with feeding the baby. Continue reading to understand why some nursing women have an itchy breast.
Is it Normal to have Itchy Breasts while Breastfeeding?
Itchy nipples or breasts occur most commonly during the initial period of breastfeeding but 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 accompanied by pain that hinders the ability to feed, it’s a sign of an existing problem.
What causes Itchy Breasts when Breastfeeding?
There are a number of causes to why you may feel itchy. The likeliest causes are as follow:
Thrush is a yeast infection that causes itchy nipples during nursing. It is caused by a fungus called Candida that 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 of breastfeeding mothers are often moist, Candida is a common cause of infection and irritation.
Symptoms of Thrush
- The fungus mainly affects the nipple and the areola of the breast which tend to stay moist. Itchiness is often accompanied by a burning sensation, especially after a feed.
- A throbbing pain deep in the breast tissue
Mastitis is inflammation and deep breast tissue pain caused by bacterial infection. It occurs as a result of the engorgement of the breast when the milk ducts retain excess milk. Cracked or pierced nipple can give an entry point for bacteria and infect the milk ducts and the surrounding tissue.
Symptoms of Mastitis
- Swelling of the breasts, feeling full and soreness along with itchiness
- Some women also feel a painful shooting sensation
- The breasts are reddened and feel 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 result in stretched skin and itchy stretch marks. The effect is more prominent if the breast skin is un-moisturised in the dry seasons.
Symptoms of stretchy skin
- Fine lines on the breast skin that is tender
- Stretch lines become dry and irritable. Moisturizing 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. Most of the time, the conditions resolve on its own with little intervention, severe conditions require medication. Treatments for such cases include
1. Remedial Medication
Depending on the condition, the doctor would prescribe antifungal medicines that are safe for nursing mothers 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 Breast while Nursing
Many of the conditions that lead to itchy breasts can be managed at home without medical intervention. Women who suffer from the itchy painful breast while breastfeeding can try these home remedies to manage it.
1. Keeping 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 antifungal 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. Wiping the breast and nipple clean after every feed
A soft cloth moistened with warm water can be used to clean the breasts after every feed. It removes the baby’s saliva which can irritate your skin when left on it for a long time. It is also the best way to keep your breasts and nipples clean.
3. Using moisturisers to prevent dry nipples
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 it. Preferably after the last feed of your day, wash your nipples and apply the moisturiser.
4. Wearing loose-fitting clothing
Tight fitting clothes such as a bra can trap moisture throughout the day. If you have eczema, it can worsen the condition by irritating your skin. Therefore pick clothes that fit comfortably. Clothes that are made of natural fabric such as cotton are ideal since they absorb moisture and maintain good ventilation.
5. Sticking to a breastfeeding schedule
Maintaining a regular breastfeeding schedule is a good way to establish a cycle. It lets you drain your breasts in time and avoid accumulation of milk and engorgement. Weaning of your baby must also be done gradually so you won’t experience a sudden build-up of milk in the breasts.
6. Some useful tips to remember
- Improper latching can irritate or damage the nipples. A lactation consultant can help you resolve your issues with breastfeeding positions.
- Irritation and inflammation can be soothed by applying a heat pack to the breasts.
- Use an all-purpose nipple ointment (APNO). Their multi-functionality often comes with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Take good care of your breasts even when your baby isn’t feeding. There are many products that help with sore or itchy breasts.
- Maintain a breastfeeding log to document when your itchiness occurs or peaks and how you solved it. It acts as a good reference.
When to See a Doctor for Itchy Breast?
For any new mom, it can be tricky to understand what is normal and what is not with breastfeeding. While home remedies are the first step to try and resolve the issue, doctor consultation is mandatory if the symptoms get progressively worse and do not improve. 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
- Your baby’s tongue or mouth is white
- A lump in the breast that’s painful or feels like an abscess
Preventing itchy breasts is mostly a matter of a little extra care every day. You can do it right from your home by understanding what causes it and taking steps early on to prevent it.
Also Read: Breastfeeding Problems & Their Solutions