Breastfeeding should be comfortable for both mom and baby. Although usually harmless, itchy nipples when breastfeeding can be irritating and even discouraging to a mother. There are several possible explanations and solutions for itchy nipples. If any additional symptoms occur with the itching, consult a lactation professional or pediatrician for guidance.
Hormones, friction, sucking and wetness all contribute to the various sensations a newly nursing mother experiences. Tingling, itching, burning and even a "pins and needles" sensation are relatively normal when they exist only briefly. Some women are more sensitive than others and may feel the itching more intensely. A mother with sensitive nipples should continue to nurse but also seek relief by applying cold compresses or contacting a lactation professional to rule out other possible issues.
Cracked and Dry Skin
Many mothers experience a brief period of cracked or dry skin on and around the nipple when breastfeeding begins after the birth of a baby. Sometimes, this is due to the baby latching onto the nipple in an incorrect manner. It is quite common for some dryness to occur and even minor cracking. Both side effects of nursing can cause itching. Bleeding and severe pain or itching is not something to ignore.
Mothers with dryness and cracking should examine the baby's latch. Make sure that the nipple and dark skin surrounding it are inside the baby's mouth. If only the nipple is inside the baby's mouth, extreme soreness, cracking and eventually bleeding will occur. Make sure the baby's lips are flanged, meaning all of the lip tissue is out and not folded in against the nipple. Improving the latch can be done easily by getting into a good position where the baby and mother are well-supported. Encourage the baby to open his mouth wide by stroking his chin right before bringing him to the nipple. If he latches onto only the nipple, gently, with one finger, push down on his chin to help him open his mouth further. When he resumes sucking, his chin should be moving up and down.
When itchy nipples are accompanied by pink coloration, an infection is likely. The most common infection is called thrush, a form of yeast infection. Without proper treatment, thrush can be passed from the mother to the infant and back again. Seek assistance from a health care professional to identify the infectious agent and receive an appropriate remedy. When thrush is present on the nipples, it likely is present inside the baby's mouth, too. Signs of thrush in a baby include redness and white patches on the roof of the mouth, tongue, throat and the inside of the cheeks. Sometimes a baby has only a red diaper rash from secreting the yeast spores she is ingesting. A yeast diaper rash often is described as lacy with the genital and rectal areas being bright red with patches or bumps of redness a short distance away. Yeast diaper rashes usually don't respond to an overnight treatment using zinc oxide, an active ingredient in typical diaper rash creams.
Following a nursing session, let the breasts air-dry and apply some freshly expressed breast milk or lanolin to the area. Avoid washing with soap and water or rubbing the area dry. After several sessions, it is appropriate to wash or pat the area with cool water for cleansing or allow water to run over the breasts during a regular bath or shower. Change nursing pads or go without a bra and shirt as often as possible.
Thrush is not necessarily due to a lack of cleansing between nursing sessions. Sometimes, small cracks on the nipples can encourage yeast overgrowth. Yeast is naturally found in the mother and baby's body. Breastfeeding can create the perfect breeding ground for yeast -- a warm, wet and dark area. Thrush isn't usually serious and can be cleared up by following the prescribed instructions from a health care professional.