So you have decided to breastfeed. That’s fantastic!
But now you’ve developed itchy nipples while breastfeeding or between feeds and it’s starting to become really irritating.
Although breastfeeding is a wonderful, natural thing, it can come with its fair share of challenges.
It can even make you second guess your decision to breastfeed your baby.
With each challenge, in most cases, there is also a solution. With the right support, you and your baby can be back on track before you know it.
Let’s look into itchy nipples while breastfeeding, to see if we can help you find the causes and the solution you are searching for.
Why do my nipples itch when I breastfeed?
Your poor nipples are just getting used to being sucked on with so much force and now they’re itching. You feel like you want to scratch them right off.
Please don’t do this! The last thing you want to do is cause more damage or possibly introduce infection.
What might be causing your nipples to be so itchy?
Here are 5 reasons nipples might become itchy while breastfeeding and what you can do about it.
#1: 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 might cause some itchiness, especially while it’s healing.
Poor latch when breastfeeding is the most common cause of damage and nipple pain. It’s important to see a lactation consultant and work on attachment and positioning, to prevent damage from occurring.
You can read more in Cracked Nipples? Here Are 7 Steps To Follow.
Itchy nipples can be a sign of infection. Another symptom of nipple infection is pain in the nipples or breasts.
If you have sore nipples, sharp pain, or aching deep within the breast tissue, you should seek professional medical advice from your doctor or lactation consultant.
Two common types of infection can affect the nipple and even go deep into the milk ducts:
Thrush infection is also known as yeast infection and is caused by a common fungus called Candida albicans.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding mothers often develop nipple thrush; it leaves many women experiencing itchiness and pain.
You’re at higher risk of a yeast infection if you’ve recently taken antibiotics or have a strong history of vaginal thrush.
If your nipples are damaged and oozing pus or discharge, it’s most likely you have a bacterial infection. The most common bacterial infection on the nipple is Staphylococcus aureus.
Having cracked nipples is one of the biggest risk factors and this can lead to nipple pain and itchiness.
A swab of the discharge from your nipple will help determine what type of bacteria is the culprit, so your doctor can recommend the right treatment, such as all purpose nipple ointment.
Seek medical attention from your doctor or a breastfeeding healthcare professional, such as a lactation consultant, if the pain persists.
#3: Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Nipple eczema can develop in a breastfeeding mother. It’s very common for nipple itchiness to occur in women who have a history of eczema or sensitive skin.
Eczema can cause extremely itchy nipples and itchy breasts. The irritated skin might be around the areola or on the breast itself.
The rash is usually red, raised with an obvious edge, very itchy, and can spread.
If you suspect you have developed nipple eczema, seek advice from your doctor. You might need to use a steroid cream.
The good news is, you can ease nipple eczema by maintaining natural moisture in the skin, limiting the use of soap and gels that can have a drying effect, and avoiding prolonged contact with water.
#4: Contact dermatitis
When we try to prevent cracking, the products we use on our bodies can sometimes cause an itchy rash called contact dermatitis.
Contact dermatitis can be caused by creams, gels, soaps, detergents, or chemicals; it makes the affected area red, dry, cracked, itchy, and often sore.
If you suspect you have contact dermatitis and it’s causing breastfeeding problems, your doctor can provide medical advice to identify the cause.
#5: Paget’s disease
Rarely, an itchy breast or nipple can be a symptom of Paget’s disease, a rare form of breast cancer. Early Paget’s disease symptoms can mimic those of nipple dermatitis.
Other symptoms are:
- A flattened nipple
- A lump in the breast
- Discharge from the nipple
- Skin changes on the nipple or breast that make your breast resemble orange peel.
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s very important to ask your doctor to check you immediately.
How do I know if the baby has thrush or milk residue?
The candida fungus can affect breastfeeding moms and their baby’s mouth from skin to skin contact.
Your baby might have obvious signs of oral thrush, causing discomfort or latching on and off while feeding.
Thrush can appear as white spots on your baby’s gums, on the lips or inside the cheeks. There might also be a white coating on the baby’s tongue.
Sometimes milk residue can be left behind on your baby’s tongue after a feed. If this coating easily wipes away with a clean finger or cloth then it’s most likely just milk residue.
Thrush is hard to wipe off your baby’s tongue or mouth, and it can leave the area red and raw when wiped away.
How do I know if I have thrush on my nipples?
Your nipples might appear pink and/or shiny, and the areola could be pink or dry and flaky.
Women report burning pain and or itchiness during a feed, which can also continue after feeding. Some women report sharp stabbing pains behind the areola, and up into the breast.
For more info check out Nipple Thrush- Treatments For Nipple Thrush.
Can thrush go away on its own?
If the thrush is mild it might clear up on its own with no treatment. The immune system is usually pretty good at keeping thrush under control.
If you and your baby don’t have severe symptoms, a probiotic could be useful as a first-line treatment.
Keeping yourself healthy and clean is important. It helps keep your good bacteria abundant so they can keep a check on bacteria that cause problems.
Because yeast thrives on sugar, a low sugar diet can also be helpful in keeping it in check.
For treatment ideas about nipple thrush, you can read Grapefruit Seed Extract For Nipple Thrush – Does It Work?
How do you treat thrush on nipples?
If you’re experiencing pain and think you have nipple thrush, or if you think there’s thrush in your baby’s mouth, you’ll both need to be treated with an all-purpose ointment or anti-fungal cream.
Your doctor or lactation consultant is the best person to talk to about what treatment to use. Sometimes thrush can be persistent and you might need repeated doses.
Be sure to read Thrush Treatment- Get Rid Of Thrush For Good (Yes It’s True!) for more help and advice.
Can I give my baby frozen breastmilk pumped when I was infected with thrush?
The freezing process deactivates thrush but it doesn’t kill it, which means it might still be present when the milk is defrosted.
There’s little evidence to suggest you shouldn’t feed your baby pumped breastmilk that has been frozen, but there are studies to show the thrush is still active after being frozen.
It might be better to use this frozen milk at the same time you’re treating yourself and your baby.
Can you boil breastmilk to kill thrush?
Boiling breastmilk will kill the yeast that causes thrush. Boiling your milk, though, also causes it to lose its wonderful, beneficial properties.
Your breastmilk is so amazing it has the ability to help prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria in your baby.
Lactoferrin in your breastmilk can inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, as shown in this study.
There’s no need to boil your breastmilk for your baby whilst you’re both being treated for thrush.
Should you moisturize your nipples?
Keeping your nipples supple and well moisturized can help prevent dry, cracked nipples when breastfeeding.
Your own breastmilk is a great moisturizer and has amazing healing properties. It can be rubbed onto your nipples before and after a feed for relief of pain and itchiness.
It’s important to change breast pads regularly, and to keep your hands clean to prevent itchy, painful nipples while breastfeeding.
Breast pain and breast tissue
It also helps to make sure the rest of your breast is well looked after. Swollen breasts cause stretchy skin and blocked ducts which can also cause itchiness.
Use warm compresses, coconut oil, or olive oil to massage into your breasts and help them stay moist and softened.
How do I stop my nipples from itching while breastfeeding?
Finding the cause of your itchy nipples is the key to stopping it while breastfeeding.
You could try keeping a breastfeeding log, and pinpoint exactly when you’re feeling itchiness or pain, to help determine the cause.
That will also help the doctor or lactation consultant who’s working with you to find the right solution for you and your baby.
Hopefully, you found this article helpful in finding the cause of your itchy nipples so you can continue breastfeeding comfortably.