5 Causes Of Itchy Nipples While Breastfeeding

5 Causes Of Itchy Nipples While Breastfeeding

So, you’re breastfeeding and things seemed to have been going well.

But now you’ve developed itchy nipples which are giving you a strong urge to scratch them.

Itchy nipples can be very irritating and even painful at times.

The discomfort can range in intensity from mild to severe and the urge to scratch them from occasional to constant. The itchiness and/or pain might affect either one or both of your nipples.

5 Causes Of Itchy Nipples While Breastfeeding

Despite the urge to scratch your nipples, it’s important to avoid this as it could damage them further, making them more inflamed, swollen and cracked.

So what might be causing your nipples to be itchy? Here are 5 reasons of itchy nipples while breastfeeding and what to do about it.

#1: Infection

If a nipple infection is present, one symptom may be itchiness. A nipple infection could be bacterial or fungal.

If the nipple is damaged and pus can be seen, a bacterial infection is most likely. In such a situation, medical advice should be sought and a topical antibacterial ointment is commonly prescribed.

Breastfeeding mothers with stinging nipple pain (and perhaps some itchiness) which occurs during and after feeds, may have a fungal nipple infection (aka thrush).

The nipples may appear pink and/or shiny and the areola may appear pink or dry. Risk factors for nipple thrush include a strong history of vaginal thrush or a recent course of antibiotics. For treatment ideas about nipple thrush, you can read Grapefruit Seed Extract For Nipple Thrush – Does It Work?

#2: Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

Another potential cause of itchy nipples is eczema. Nipple eczema can occasionally occur in breastfeeding mothers, many of whom have a prior history of eczema or sensitive skin.

A red, itchy rash that tends to spread but with a definite edge is commonly seen. If nipple eczema is suspected, medical advice should be sought and a steriod cream may be prescribed.

Nipple eczema can be eased by maintaining natural moisture in the skin by limiting the use of soap and gels that can have a drying effect, and avoiding prolonged contact with water.

#3: Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is caused by irritation of the skin by products such as creams, gels, soap, detergent or chemicals.

Contact dermatitis can make the nipples and the areola red, dry, cracked, itchy and sore.

If contact dermatitis is suspected, medical advice should be sought.

#4: Cracked and Dry Skin

Many mothers experience some nipple damage in the early weeks of breastfeeding. Dry skin on and around the nipple can sometimes accompany this damage in the early weeks.

Minor cracking and dryness on the nipple may cause some itchiness.

The most common cause of nipple pain and damage in the early weeks is suboptimal positioning and attachment. You can read more about cracked nipples in our article Cracked Nipples? Here Are 7 Steps To Follow.

If you have nipple pain, seeing a lactation consultant can help you work out why they might be sore and work out a plan of how to make them feel better.

#5: Paget’s Disease

Rarely, an itchy breast or nipple can be the symptom of Paget’s disease, a rare form of cancer. Early Paget’s disease symptoms can mimic nipple dermatitis. Other symptoms include:

  • A flattened nipple
  • A lump in the breast
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Skin changes on the nipple or breast that make your breast resemble an orange peel.

It’s therefore important to seek medical advice.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

One comment

  1. I think my itchyness is from the plastic nursing pads. I get a similar itchyness from period pads. I never used to have this reaction. but since the baby, its worse.

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