HELP! My Breasts Are ITCHY! (For the Nursing Mom)

The three reasons it might be happening to you.

itchy breasts breastfeeding

So you’re breastfeeding your little one and all seems to be going swell. Milk’s flowing, baby’s latched, and all’s great in mommy-baby world. When BOOM!

All of a sudden your breasts begin to itch and at first, it seems to just be a little skin irritation. But then, to your surprise and growing discomfort, the area around your nipple (areola) and probably your entire breast begins to itch with increasing intensity. Why is this happening? What do you do?

Never fear mama! You are not alone in this experience. There may also be exactly three reasons why your breasts may be itching.

Reason #1: Thrush

What is it?

Thrush is a yeast infection caused by an overabundance of bacterial yeast present in the body. Sometimes infants can come in contact with it for the first time during vaginal delivery but it goes away with treatment.

What are the signs?

In Mom:

  • itchy nipples.
  • pink discoloration around nipples.

In Baby:

  • baby starts crying while nursing or sucking on pacifier.
  • red and white patches on:
    • the roof of mouth
    • inside of cheeks
    • tongue
    • throat
  • yeast diaper rash.
    • bright red patches and bumps on genital and rectal areas.

How do I treat thrush?

For Mom:

  • Applying a Nystatin cream or the more stronger over-the-counter medication, Mycolog ointment or vaginal yeast infection medications such as Micatin, Lotrimin AF, and Monistat 7.
  • All Purpose Nipple Ointments contain antibiotics, anti fungal and steroidal components and can be helpful for thrush
  • Take Ibuprofen for pain management.

For Baby:

  • Many doctors prescribe Nystatin cream for babies as well. Rub the cream on the affected areas, covering it thoroughly. This should be done several times a day for at least one week.
  • Try Gentian Violet
    • Some lactation consultants and health care personnel recommend this dye for its ability to more effectively kill yeast bacteria on contact than the Nystatin ointment.
    • Apply 1 percent gentian violet to the inside of baby’s mouth to all affected areas (tongue, cheek, lips) using a cotton swab.
    • To avoid staining other surfaces, undress your little one, and place a towel underneath them.
    • Repeat this process twice a day for three days.

How do I prevent reinfection?

In all of the hustle and bustle that comes with being a mom, it can be easy to forget to be proactive in the prevention of cross contamination. During the healing process, it is important to prevent any reinfection. Remembering to wipe your nipples and apply cream before and after nursing is also pertinent to keep the infection at bay.

Another thing to remember is to wash any toys, pacifiers, or bottles that have come into contact with any infected areas. Sterilizing these items for at least 20 minutes in hot water will help keep any bacteria from spreading. Lastly, be sure to wash your hands before and after nursing your baby.

Reason #2: Mastitis.

What is it?

Mastitis (Mas-tie-tis) is an infection that commonly occurs in nursing moms. It is an infection that occurs when breast tissue becomes extremely inflamed.

What are the signs?

Mastitis, although often a cause for concern, can be easily treated if detected early.

What to look for:

  • Very itchy, red, and cracked nipples.
  • Deep shooting pain in one or both breasts.
  • Itching in vaginal area.
  • Increased thick vaginal discharge.
  • Breasts are hard and very warm to the touch.
  • Fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Extreme fatigue.

How is mastitis caused?

Mastitis can be caused by an overabundance of milk in the breast or “milk stasis.” Some moms have also gotten mastitis as a result of prolonged breast engorgement or clogged milk ducts. While nursing, nipples can become cracked, which can allow bad bacteria and other viruses to enter the bloodstream and cause infection.

Extreme stress and fatigue are other common causes of mastitis. Although mastitis can occur anytime while breastfeeding, it is most common during the first three months.

How do I treat mastitis?

Though antibiotics are the most common form of treatment for this infection, there a couple of self-help methods other moms have tried to help treat this infection as well:

  1.  Breastfeed your little one frequently. Breastfeeding about eight to twelve times a day is standard during those first few months of life and can help prevent unnecessary engorgement. Baby-led feeding is also an incredible way to keep your milk supply up, while also ensuring that your baby is hungry enough to empty both breasts at each feeding.
  2. Be sure to get plenty of rest (yes, wonder mom, you need it!) and drink plenty of fluids (water especially). Keeping the body rejuvenated and refreshed is essential for hydration and overall health.

To keep in mind:

Although it may be extremely painful,  do not stop feeding your little one from the inflamed breast.  This is to reduce the chance of engorgement and help with the swelling.

Another way to help with the discomfort caused by the infection is to apply a very warm compress to the breast a few times each day. Some moms also tend to avoid breastfeeding their little one for fear of giving them the infection. But do not worry. Mastitis cannot be passed to your infant, and continuing to nurse is essential to your healing, Mom, so keep on nursin’!

Important FYI: Contact your doctor as soon as you begin to experience any of these signs. It is better to be wrong than to go on experiencing more pain and discomfort. Your doctor will likely provide a medicated ointment for external application as well as an oral medication or antibiotics.

Reason #3: Breast Enlargement/Engorgement

So you’ve checked your breasts, your little one’s mouth, and entire body down to their little bum and there was no visible sign of infection. But, you’re breasts are still incredibly itchy.

As your milk begins to “let-down” in preparation to feed your little one, the skin stretches because of the increase in milk flow and your breasts begin to harden.

What can you do?

First, do not fret. Engorgement, as aforementioned, is a common occurrence in breastfeeding moms. This can become a more common occurrence if your little one begins to sleep through the night and you are left with overfull breasts.

Although the enlargement of the breasts is normal due to the increase in milk flow, there are a few ways to avoid it becoming engorged to the point of extreme discomfort:

#1. Breastfeed frequently, and look for hunger cues.

Catching your little ones hunger early will be best for you and for your little one. No engorgement and a happy baby. A win-win in my book!

#2. Empty one breast before going to another.

Many babies will sometimes prefer one side over the other. Alternating each time you breastfeed will help prevent either breast from getting overfull.  

#3. PUMP. PUMP! PUMP!

Ladies, I am speaking to myself here as well.

Sometimes it seems a little more inconvenient to search for the pump to pump your milk out, than to just nurse your little one. But oh, is it important!

You will be able to add to your freezer stash for those times when you have to be away from your little one. Pumping will also allow you to relieve some of the pressure before nursing. So, definitely use your pump, you’ll be glad you did!

Things to Remember

As a nursing mom, there are some challenges that you may come across, and at times it can feel discouraging if you are experiencing discomfort. My hope is that you will keep these four things at the forefront of your mind whenever those moments arise:

  1. You are not alone.
  2. You’re itchy breasts will soon be at rest. With patience and proper care, it will get better.
  3. Keep nursing, even when it hurts. Your little one will thank you and you will get the healing you need.\
  4. Seek advice early. Speaking from experience, I have often found myself in situations where, had I have asked sooner, my healing process would have begun sooner. My delay in action occurred when I deemed a situation too silly to inquire about.  Itchy breasts was definitely high on the list in my mind of silly things. But, I soon realized, that it is always best to remain informed in order to prevent causing any harm to yourself and thus being unable to fulfill our supermom duties (nursing being one of the top duties).

In Closing: Be At Ease

Us moms have the unique and honorable opportunity of being able to provide nourishment for our little ones, so it is important that we are well taken care of first. If you have had any experience with itchy breasts while nursing, but may have another reason to add, feel free to leave a comment below!

Together, we can help moms all over the world have the least discomfort possible whilst nursing so they can do it with strength, confidence, and power. Itchy breasts will never hold us back again!

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