Why Do I Get Itchy Breasts while Breastfeeding?

Stretch marks and cracked nipples got you down? Do you feel a slight burning sensation, like pins and needles, while you are feeding your little one? Are your breasts red, tender, or blistered? Is the intense itching enough to make you want to claw your skin to shreds?

There are many reasons that your breasts may be itching while you are breastfeeding. Some are minor annoyances that can be fixed with a simple moisturizer or ointment, and others are more severe that need medical attention.

Calm down; take it easy. Before you tear your hair out (or rip your breasts off), take a moment to read this article. You may just find what you need to get some relief from the itching.

Sensitive Nipples

The first few days of breastfeeding are by far the most difficult. Your baby is born with a powerful sucking reflex, and when pitted against an already sensitive part of your body that is always protected from the elements, your nipples are in for a losing fight in the first couple of weeks.

The strong sucking motion of your baby will likely leave your nipples cracked and sore, usually getting worse over the first week and then gradually better after that. As the skin is healing, you will likely experience itching, sometimes severe enough to drive you crazy!

To find some relief, there are a couple of products by Lanisoh you can try. I have had great success with their lanolin ointment. Just rub in a small amount after a nursing session to moisturize the area. 

Lanisoh’s Soothies are gel pads that can also provide cooling relief. They protect your nipples from sticking to your clothing, and any other friction that could irritate them further.

If you find that you are still having troubles with cracked nipples after the first 10 days or so, the problem may be an improper latch. You may choose to seek assistance from a lactation consultant, or you can check out this video which can help you properly position your baby and prevent further damage.

Stretched Skin

Your breasts go through some major changes while you are breastfeeding. They change in size several times a day, often by a whole cup size! The constant inflation and draining causes your skin to become stretched and thin, and, therefore, more sensitive and prone to itching.

The first thing you will want to do is take a look at the soap you are using. Certain soaps, particularly those with parabens, can cause your skin to be very dry. Hot and hard water can do the same. Opt for a softer, perhaps natural, soap, and only run cool water over your breasts when you rinse in the shower.

Next, you will want to moisturize. However, not just any lotion will do. You have to be careful of what you apply to your breasts as it will come in contact with your baby. Natural options, like coconut oil, are best for moisturizing without fear of your baby ingesting something harmful.

Let-Down Sensation

Your milk ejection reflex (also known as let-down) can also make you feel itchy sometimes. Some mothers never experience the sensation of feeling their milk let down. Those that do often describe it as a warm, somewhat burning feeling, like pins and needles.

Unfortunately, there is not really much you can do to find relief from this. However, as one of the mothers fortunate enough to experience this, I can tell you that you will get used to it. Over time you will not even notice it anymore.

Fungal Infection

One of the more serious causes of breast itchiness is a fungal infection, such as thrush. It is essentially a yeast infection that finds its home on your breasts/nipples. 

Symptoms of thrush include itching or burning nipples that are red, blistered, or “flaky”, and pain during and after a breastfeeding session.

When you do not properly dry the area after you nurse, the dark moist environment invites yeast to grow. If you believe you may have thrush, you will need to see your doctor immediately to start on a round of antibiotic cream.

Your pediatrician will also need to examine your baby as it can be passed back and forth between the two of you. If you see white spots inside of your baby’s mouth or if she seems agitated will eating (as if it is painful), she may have thrush in her mouth as well.

The good news is that yeast infections are highly treatable. You just want to be sure to catch it as soon as possible to avoid prolonged exposure that could lead to unnecessary discomfort.

Your OB/GYN and/or pediatrician can prescribe what you and/or your baby needs to fight the infection.

Mastitis

In addition to fungal infections, another condition you need to be on the lookout for is mastitis. This is an infection that incurs as a result of a blocked milk duct. Symptoms include red, swollen breast tissue, pain and burning (sometimes itching), and flu-like symptoms, such as fever and fatigue.

Most cases of mastitis occur during the first 6-12 weeks after giving birth, due to improper latching and the breast not being drained completely with each feeding. It can also occur during the weaning process as milk builds up and is not being expressed.

Mastitis is a serious condition, but with proper care and attention, it can be prevented. Correct latch and patience during feeding time is key to making sure the breast is completely drained. If you feel there is milk left in your breast after feeding, try pumping or hand expressing to finish draining.

If you feel a lump in your breast that you feel is a blocked duct, whether you are breastfeeding or weaning, you can prevent mastitis with self-massage, as demonstrated in this video. You can help break up the blockage and get your milk flowing again before an infection can set in.

Even with all of these precautions, you may still find yourself at the doctor’s office with an infection. At this point, there is not much you can do apart from what you have been doing (draining and massage) and taking the antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Just let time do its work.

Most importantly, as painful as it may be, you need to keep breastfeeding your baby. Her powerful sucking motion will help to clear the blockage, and prevent milk build-up and mastitis recurrences.

Final Word

Breast itchiness is common amongst many breastfeeding mothers. It can be the result of a number of factors, both minor and severe. Listen to your body; read its cues. If you are concerned with what you are experiencing, always consult your doctor to be safe.

We hope that this article has been helpful for you. If you have faced breast itching as a result of any of the things mentioned here, or if you have any questions or concerns, please share in the comments to connect with other mothers like you, so you can all share support and advice.