Most breastfeeding mothers complain of itchy nipples. It may be caused by the body adjusting to breastfeeding, or a sign of minor infection. Itchy nipples can be solved by using effective home remedies or a doctor who is knowledgeable about breastfeeding can help.
Itchiness while breastfeeding may be felt on the skin or deep in the breasts. Some common causes of itchy nipples while breastfeeding include:
Mastitis is an inflammation in the deep breast tissue caused by bacteria. It can appear suddenly in the early weeks of breastfeeding. Mastitis can cause itching and pain both on the skin and deep in the breast tissue. Some women experience painful shooting sensations. The breasts may feel warm to the touch. Antibiotics may be prescribed for mastitis by a doctor.
This is a yeast infection in the breast or nipple. It is very common in breastfeeding women and can cause itching and pain on the nipples and breasts. The pain can deteriorate with time. Thrush flourishes in warm, wet environments like a baby’s mouth. A woman and baby can pass thrush back and forth for weeks or even months.
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Newborn babies normally suck forcefully. The nipple tissue may be sensitive at first, so forceful sucking can cause dry and irritated skin. Some breastfeeding mothers may develop eczema on their nipples due to the irritation of nursing. Bacteria may enter the breast tissue through tiny cracks in the skin, causing an infection, such as mastitis.
When nipple itching is due to cracked or dry skin, the symptoms will probably be on the surface of the skin and may subside as mother and child settles into a comfortable breastfeeding pattern.
When the baby latches onto the breast incorrectly or is in a position that mounts pressure on the nipple, it can cause irritation or damage to the nipple. Itching due to a bad latch or poor positioning occurs in the early weeks of breastfeeding. Typically, it goes away on its own as the pair learns how to breastfeed comfortably.
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Contact dermatitis occurs after exposure to a skin irritant. Contact dermatitis in the nipples causes pain and itching in the early weeks of breastfeeding. Sometimes the nipples turn red or scaly. It can be caused by certain creams that some women use to help with breastfeeding.
The cause of itchy nipples can be diagnosed by a doctor or midwife, depending on a woman’s symptoms. Examining the baby can also help, since thrush in the baby usually means the mother has thrush, too.
Treatment and home remedies
When breast pain is not due to an infection, a woman can often treat it at home. If a doctor diagnoses an infection, they may prescribe antifungal creams or medication for thrush. Also, antibiotics can be prescribed for mastitis.
The following strategies to help with itchy, painful nipples:
- All-purpose nipple ointment (APNO).These creams contain antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory ingredients that can ease nipple pain.
- Lanolin cream: Women who used lanolin to manage nipple pain were more likely to still be breastfeeding at 12 months, unlike those who used APNO.
- Changing breastfeeding positions:A shallow latch can cause irritation to the nipples.
- Applying heat to the breasts can help soothe inflammation.
- Drying the nipples after each breastfeeding session can help prevent cracking and infection.
When to see a doctor
For most women, especially first time breastfeeding mothers, knowing what is normal and what is abnormal may be difficult. Most women can try home remedies for a few days, it is best to see a doctor if symptoms do not improve or get worse.
A breastfeeding woman should speak to a doctor if they experience:
- itchy and red nipples
- swollen breasts
- a painful lump in the breast which could indicate abscess
- a baby with a white tongue or mouth
- fever along with breast pain or itching
- intense itching that feels as if it is deep in the breasts