Treating Itchy Breast And Nipple Breastfeeding or Pumping

By Me & Qi
Nov 04, 2022

What is Itchy Breast or Nipple?    

Nipple or breast itching is a common sign of allergy, physical irritation, or even inflammation. It is characterized by tingling, rash, and discomfort on the breast skin surface. It can occur due to nipple or breast problems such as dry nipples or due to generalized disorders like breast eczema or hives.


What Does It Imply When Breasts or Nipples Get Itchy While Breastfeeding?

An itchy nipple or breast is not a condition itself, but during breastfeeding having itching on the nipple or breast skin could be a sign of engorgement, clogged milk ducts, thrush, mastitis, or fissures caused by aggressive baby suckling. 

For example, if it is caused by improper latching and baby positioning, your nipple skin will appear dry and red associated with itching, pain, and cracks on the skin. It can later develop into engorgement, clogged milk ducts, nipple fissures, or scabs.

If a mother develops thrush, her nipples appear flaky and cracked. She also experiences itching, sharp and shooting pain, and burning sensations on her nipple, areola, and breast.  

In case of a more severe condition like mastitis, there will be signs of inflammation such as a red or hot area to touch. Furthermore, the mother may observe hard lumps, nodules, and itchy rash on the breast along with sticky pus.


Is It Normal To Have Itchy Breast or Nipple While Breastfeeding?

Yes, it is a quite common postpartum issue, especially at the beginning of breastfeeding. That is because the nipples are pulled and sucked aggressively by the baby during each feed, and they also get wet multiple times a day.

So, it is almost impossible to avoid sore, itchy and cracked nipples when you become a new mother. However, with time and little practice most nursing mothers are able to overcome these issues within the first few weeks of giving birth.

Theoretically, when mothers are used to this task, breastfeeding itself should no longer cause discomforts such as itchy nipples or breasts.  However, if it is still the case, it indicates more serious issue such as clogged milk duct, mastitis, thrush, etc.


Is It Normal To Have Itchy Breast or Nipple After Pumping?

Like direct nursing, pumping could also lead to itching on nipples, areolas, and breasts, especially during the first few days of using the pumping machine. However, this discomfort should quickly go away when you get used to the activity.

If the pain or itching still occurs after pumping each time, then there are a few things you need to check:

How to position nipples in pumping machine flanges or funnels

  • Problems with the machine flanges or funnels size:

The flanges size should be based on the width of your nipples. If the flange is too small, the nipple may be stuck inside the flanges. In the case of a large-sized funnel, part of the areola will be dragged into the funnel. Both conditions can lead to nipple itching.

  • Incorrect machine breast shield size:

If the wrong-sized breast shield does not cover the breast fully, proper squeezing pressure on the milk ducts cannot be applied, which may lead to inadequate emptying of the breast. As a result, the remaining breast milk accumulates and causes clogged milk ducts. Breast or nipple itching is often one of the symptoms. 

  • Unproperly installed machine parts:

If there are no problems with the breast shield or flanges, but you still have itchy nipples, check the instructions, or contact the machine's distributor to ensure that the machine parts have been installed correctly.

  • Bad quality machine

Make sure to use a good brand or hospital-grade machine for your sensitive nipples such as Medela.  If you cannot afford an expensive new pumping machine, you always have the option to rent one or try a good quality second-hand one.


What Causes Itchy Breast or Nipple While Breastfeeding or Pumping?

The following postpartum issues may lead to itching on nipples, areolas, and breasts:        

  • Breast Engorgement

Breasts grow in size due to an increase in milk demand and supply. This change causes stretching and tightness of the skin, which can lead to constant itching on the breasts.

  • Clogged milk ducts

Clogged milk ducts occur due to inflammation of tissues or blood vessels around the breasts. It happens as the mother goes too long without emptying her breasts or doesn't completely empty her breasts during feedings or pumping. This often results in sore and itchy nipples along with hard lumps or nodules on breasts or areolas.

  • Nipple cracks and scabs

Due to aggressive baby suckling, most mothers experience nipple damage, especially during the first week of nursing. This injury is often accompanied by dry skin and cracks, which then form scabs on the nipple and worsen the itching during healing.

  • Peeling On Nipple and Breast

Peeling on nipples or breasts is mainly caused by rubbing of breast cloth or improper latching. It then leads to itching on the areola, nipple, and breasts.

  • Mastitis

Mastitis is an inflammation of under skin breast tissue, which makes the breast swell up and hurt. It also makes the breast warm, red, and itchy. Most of the time, it is caused by plugged milk ducts and bacteria getting into the breasts.

  • Thrush

Yeast that has infected your nipples and breasts is another typical cause of itching while breastfeeding. It is a common fungal infection transmitted between the mother’s breast and the baby’s mouth.

Additionally, it is important to know that thrush affects more the external skin surface, while mastitis occurs deeper in the breast tissue.

  • Breast Eczema

If a woman has had eczema in the past, she is more likely to have this condition on her breast while nursing, due to a genetic defect or an overactive immune system

Breast Eczema is often triggered by individual contact with common allergens found in the environment such as cloth, perfumes, pollens, pet fur, etc.


What Home Remedies Treat Itchy Breasts While Breastfeeding Or Pumping? 

Identifying the actual causes of your itchy nipples is the key to treating them. You could keep a nursing journal and note down the potential reasons. Then, try the following home remedies which may ease itchy nipples and breasts while breastfeeding:

  1. Practicing Good Latching Technique And Feeding Position

As mentioned above, improper latching and feeding positions can cause engorgement, clogged milk ducts, nipple fissures, or scabs. Itchy nipples and breasts are often the typical symptoms of these postpartum issues.

Try adopting a proper latching technique and baby positioning:

For correct positioning, the mother's arm should hold the baby up towards the breast. The head of the baby should be held close to her elbow.

After that, it is recommended that she gently rubs her nipple to extract a small amount of breast milk and spread it across her breast. The milk aroma will urge the baby to open his or her mouth widely.

Make sure that the baby's lips grasp the nipple and as much of the areola as possible. This is to ensure that even pressure is applied to the milk duct so that breast milk can be squeezed out properly.


  1. Keep The Breast Area Hygienic, Not Too Dry or Too Moist

After each feeding session, wipe the nipple and breast properly. This aids in the prevention of cracking and infection. You can also use a gentle soap to clean your skin but be sure to dry the area beneath your breasts well to prevent moisture retention.

Or try Epsom salt water to keep the breast clean. Salt is an antibacterial that helps in the prevention of infections such as mastitis. To make Epsom salt water solution, mix a half teaspoon of table salt with 250 milliliters of water. Then immerse your breast area in this solution for approximately one minute and clean it with a soft cloth.

In addition to that, wear well-fitting, breathable bras to avoid friction on the breasts and the buildup of moisture. 

On the other hand, excessive dryness on the nipple or breast may lead to skin peeling, scabs, cracks, and chapped nipples. 

Therefore, there should not be too much moisture or too much dryness on your breasts, areolas, and nipple.


  1. Tackle the Fundamental Causes Of Breast Itching

Use Unblock Nursing Tea to treat the fundamental causes of breast itching such as engorgement, clogged milk duct, cracks, scabs, and mastitis

According to the Western concept, most of these disorders are believed to be caused by the transfer of bacteria from the baby to the mother via breast-mouth contact, which then leads to inflammation.  In Chinese Medicine, this phenomenon is known as Toxic Heat

Unblocking nursing tea can help in this case. It contains cooling herbs such as Dandelion, Honeysuckle flowers, and Chrysanthemum flowers that, from the inside of the body, remove pain and itching from the affected breast area.

Furthermore, some of the tea's cooling effects are also passed to the baby via breast milk. Thus, it can treat problems such as baby eczema or lip thrush.


  1. Using Soothing Creams and Lotions To Ease Itching
  • Lanolin Creams

You can try lanolin creams to ease pain associated with itching. They are proven to be very helpful in issues such as scabs, nipple cracks, or dry skin and in preventing bacterial infections. Additionally, lanolin cream is safe for the baby and it is not necessary to wipe it before each breastfeeding or pumping.

However, this Lanolin cream should never be used in case of eczema as it can trigger and worsen breast skin flares due to the high content of moisture.

  • Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion keeps the breast skin dry, which is very useful in relieving itching and burning sensations in case of milk leaking, sticky pus, or blood discharge.

It also aids in skin healing and is recommended for eczema but make sure to remove this lotion before feeding the baby.  Additionally, it should never be used in case of excessive dryness conditions such as peeling skin.

  • APNO

APNO (All-purpose nipple cream) is a prescription ointment containing anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial substances that can alleviate nipple pain resulting from a variety of causes.

Examples of APNOS include Mupirocin 2% ointment, Betamethasone 0.1% ointment, and 2% Miconazole powder. Each one contains special ingredients that help in the treatment of thrush, mastitis, and other infections. 

For example, Mupirocin 2% ointment is effective against bacterial infection and 2% Miconazole powder is good for fungal infections. On the other hand, Betamethasone 0.1% is a corticosteroid that fights off inflammation and relieves itching.

Also, remember that lanolin eases symptoms such as pain or itching while APNOs treat the underlying root cause of the problem.  APNOs are not so effective in relieving symptoms compared to symptomatic creams.

It explains why women who use lanolin to alleviate nipple pain or itching are more likely to keep nursing at 12 months compared to those who used APNO. 

Finally, APNOs should be used according to the doctor's prescription.  

  • Other products

Cocoa butter and coconut oil or any fragrance-free moisturizer can also help relieve dry and itching skin on the breasts and elsewhere on the body.

Finally, you can try cooling Silicone gel pads to ease discomfort.


  1. Other things to do to ease pain and itching

Apply a warm cloth on the affected area to ease irritation and swelling.

In case of blocked ducts, allow your newborn to empty one breast before moving on to the other in order to drain your breasts completely, or try breast pumping.


Should I Still Nurse With Itchy Nipples?

Yes, you can still nurse despite having itchy nipples. This is not a serious condition. If your breasts and nipples feel itchy due to minor causes such as poor latching techniques or drying of the skin, you can try the abovementioned home remedies according to your condition.   

However, if it is accompanied by infections, such as mastitis and thrush, the itching will not go away, unless you eliminate the yeast or bacteria first. So, during an infection, you can use antibiotics or antifungal agents to kill the germ responsible for your infection. You can also apply nipple shields while breastfeeding to prevent the transmission of the germ to the baby.

Article tags: Breastfeeding and maternity