As all breastfeeding people know, nursing isn't always easy.
From 4am feeds to fussy babies who won't latch, mastitis, a blocked milk duct, a breast abscess or rash, cracked nipples and milk supply issues, the list of potential problems when feeding is very long.
Rashes, in particular, are a common symptom of nursing and can occur for a number of reasons.
Thankfully, there are also plenty of ways to fight these nursing nasties, but before we talk about solutions, let's go a little deeper into what breast rashes mean and what causes them.
What is a breast rash?
Simply, a breast rash is a rash on or around the breast, nipple or areola.
Sometimes appearing as red, raised and/or inflamed, rashes can occur all over the body for a number of reasons. However, some rashes exclusively affect our breasts.
Breast rashes are very common, especially while feeding and they're often not a cause for concern.
However, in some cases, they can indicate some more serious conditions, which is why it is important to understand the ins and outs of rashes when breastfeeding.
What causes a rash while breastfeeding?
However, these conditions affect the entire body, not just the breasts.
In rare cases, a breast rash could indicate a more severe condition such as Paget’s disease of the nipple or inflammatory breast cancer, which is why it is vital to get any breast changes checked by your doctor.
The most common causes of breast rashes are:
- Mastitis: This is a bacterial infection caused by a blocked milk duct. Mastitis is an inflammatory condition that results in a rash, breast pain, swelling, warmth, fever, and chills.
- Mammary duct ectasia: This is fluid build-up in the milk duct. It is caused by the thickening of the walls in the milk duct and breast tissues which traps milk over long periods.
- Breast abscess: This occurs when pus becomes trapped in the breast, causing an abscess. It is usually a symptom of an infection.
- Allergic reactions: A red rash is a common symptom of an allergy. This is not exclusive to the breasts as allergic rashes can occur all over the body. A common cause of rashes on the body is food sensitivity and eating a particular food like peanuts, wheat, eggs, or dairy products can lead to a rash. A food allergy isn't the only cause of rashes across the body, with hayfever and sensitivity to products also causing inflammation in some cases.
Are breast rashes serious?
A breast rash is not always a cause for concern. But, some are more serious than others and can be common symptoms of underlying conditions.
More serious causes of breast rashes are:
- Inflammatory breast cancer: This rare but aggressive breast cancer can cause rash-like skin changes on the breast.
- Paget’s disease: This is a rare kind of breast cancer affecting the skin around the nipples. To diagnose Paget's disease, a skin biopsy taken from around the nipple is required.
Consult your doctor if you are concerned about any breast changes or abnormalities.
Can breastfeeding itself cause a rash?
While many medical conditions can cause skin irritations, sometimes rashes are caused simply by breastfeeding itself.
While it can be a special bonding experience between mother and baby, having a baby's mouth attached to your nipple for long periods of time can be downright uncomfortable and can cause a cracked nipple, dry skin, breast effusion and more.
In some cases, rashes can be caused by something as simple as the delicate skin around the nipple becoming irritated by the baby's mouth.
Trapped moisture from breast milk and wearing tight-fitting bras and clothing can also cause inflammation.
Can breastfeeding cause itchy skin?
Itchy breasts and nipples are incredibly common while lactating and feeding.
Your breast and nipples are constantly being pulled and sucked multiple times a day and this, combined with the moisture from breast milk, can cause skin irritation and result in dry skin and itching.
While itchy skin while breastfeeding isn't usually a concern, if you are experiencing pain, you should consult your doctor.
The itching and pain may be a symptom of thrush, which is an infection that requires medical attention.
Treating breastfeeding rashes
If you develop a rash on your breast, it is essential to get it checked out by a doctor.
But, once any serious medical conditions have been ruled out, you can treat breastfeeding rashes in several ways.
Some of our favourite treatments for breastfeeding rashes are:
Nourishing nipple cream
Kin's Nipple Cream soothes and smooths your nips.
The all-natural formula combats dryness and helps prevent nipple cracking, leaving your nipples hydrated and healthy throughout your nursing journey.
To use, apply a small amount of the formula to the affected area as often as needed to build skin elasticity and soothe irritations caused by nursing.
And, the formula is safe for baby too and can be left on for feeds.
Eat skin-friendly foods
A mother's diet is extremely important while nursing. Certain foods are prone to causing itches, rashes and other skin conditions.
The main culprits are peanuts, wheat, eggs, cow's milk, soy and shellfish.
If you are finding your skin is flaring up, try eating complementary foods and minimising dairy products.
Ensure you are eating plenty of whole, clean foods and stay hydrated.
Particular foods such as leafy greens, complex carbs, and whole grains can all help soothe skin conditions.
Depending on the cause of your rash, you might need medical treatment such as antibiotics, pain relievers or antihistamine drugs for an allergy.
You can also treat hives using medicinal ointments.
If you suspect your rash might be caused by something more serious, see a doctor immediately, who might prescribe medication or seek further testing.
Prevent mastitis naturally
Rashes are common symptoms of mastitis so a good way to keep rashes at bay is to do your best to prevent mastitis from occurring.
Mastitis is caused by bacteria that get under the skin through cracks in the nipples.
One way to stop mastitis from developing is by using a soothing balm to prevent cracks and cuts in the nipples.
Ensuring your baby has a good latch and allowing it to drain one breast completely before switching to the other is also help as it helps prevent fluid from getting trapped in the milk duct, which is the most common cause of this bacterial infection.
A common cause of breastfeeding rashes is leftover moisture on the breast that can irritate the skin and cause dermatitis.
Breast pads keep the skin dry and soak up any extra milk that might be left on the skin after feeding.
You can also wear breast pads to absorb any milk that may have leaked throughout the day between feeds.
Kin's Breast Pads are made from a reusable, sustainably-sourced bamboo material that is soft on sensitive nipples and absorbs any leaks.
A rash does not always mean you have to stop nursing immediately; however, if it becomes too painful, there is no shame in stopping.
Opt for pumping instead or stop breastfeeding entirely to give your breasts a break.
See a lactation consultant
It can be helpful to speak with someone who is knowledgeable about breastfeeding issues and a lactation consultant can take a detailed health history to help you pinpoint the underlying cause of the problem.
Once you've discovered that, you can begin treating it.
See a doctor or dermatologist
A doctor or medical professional will be able to provide a proper diagnosis, especially if you're experiencing pain.
Determining the exact cause is necessary to find the appropriate treatment for your symptoms and minimise any risk from your breast rash. If in doubt, be sure to seek medical advice.