Rashes, in particular, are quite common among breastfeeding mums. They’ll typically appear as red, raised and/or inflamed skin on or around the breast, nipple or areola, and while they’re often not a cause for concern, they can be quite uncomfortable.
Here’s everything you need to know about breast rashes, with expert insights from Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor, a GP at Kin Fertility.
What are breast rashes?
“Breast rashes are common, and don’t just occur in the context of breastfeeding. I often see rashes from heat rash (also known as miliaria), rashes under the breast fold, dermatitis or psoriasis, or rashes from infections such as shingles. I also see rashes related to breastfeeding, such as from mastitis, infection from trauma to the nipple or nipple eczema,” Dr Wallace-Hor explains.
“There are rashes that are unique to the breast. Some of these have serious causes that are thankfully rare, such as Paget’s disease of the nipple, which accounts for 1-3% of breast cancers, and inflammatory breast cancer.
“This is why examining your own breasts regularly is important. It helps to get to know what is normal for your breasts so that any changes (such as lumps, or changes to the skin or nipples) can be detected early. If you’re not sure how to examine your own breasts, you can ask your GP or check breast cancer awareness resources online.”
How can you treat breast rashes?
The best way to prevent or treat breast rashes depends on the cause. A few things you can try include:
Applying a nipple cream
As you feed your baby, your nipples are constantly being sucked and pulled, which can often lead to chafing, nipple cracking, and rashes. The right nipple cream will provide instant relief while deeply nourishing the skin. We recommend you look for a leave-on nipple cream that is safe for both you and your little one, so you don’t have to wipe it off before breastfeeding.
And while we’re on the topic of skincare, “It’s best to use non-fragranced, non-soap based body wash or cleansers to reduce skin irritation. Moisturising is also important to help protect the skin barrier,” Dr Wallace-Hor recommends.
Eating skin-friendly foods
Certain foods – like peanuts, wheat, soy, eggs, shellfish and cow’s milk – are more likely to cause itches, rashes and other skin conditions, so you want to steer clear of them. Instead, reach for whole, clean foods that have the opposite effect and help soothe your skin – think leafy greens, complex carbs and whole grains. Oh, and make sure to stay hydrated, as water helps minimise inflammation and skin redness.
Ensuring adequate drainage
In other words, you want to make sure that your breast milk doesn’t accumulate and end up blocking your milk ducts or causing mastitis.
“Cool packs and anti-inflammatories can help with engorgement and swelling, whilst heat applied before feeding can help with your letdown.
“Gentle (not rough) massage can also help with blocked ducts – if you’re not sure how to do this, a women’s health physiotherapist can help. If you have persistent oversupply, a lactation consultant or a GP who specialises in breastfeeding can help. The Australian Breastfeeding Association also has great resources as well as a helpline.”
Depending on what’s causing your rash, there are medical treatments you can try, like antibiotics and pain relievers. Certain medications are available over the counter, while others require a prescription. If in doubt about which medication you should take, be sure to ask your doctor.
Use breast pads
Often, breastfeeding rashes are a result of leftover moisture on the breast that ends up irritating the skin and leading to nipple dermatitis, an itchy, red, scaly rash on the nipples and areola. Breast pads can help prevent this by soaking up any extra breast milk that might leak between feeds or be left on the skin afterwards, keeping the skin dry.
Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone and there’s no shame in stopping. While having a rash doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop immediately, it’s important to listen to your body and prioritise your well-being. If it becomes too painful, consider stopping or opting for pumping instead.
If you really don’t want to stop, there are certain tweaks you can make to your breastfeeding sessions to make them easier and hopefully avoid rashes. Some of Dr Wallace-Hor’s tips:
- Ensure that your baby has a good latch
- Try different feeding positions
- Feed your baby on demand (rather than on a strict schedule)
Seek professional help
If you’ve changed up your diet, tried medications and started using breast pads, but those annoying rashes persist, it might be time to seek medical help. One option is to speak with a lactation consultant, who can help identify what exactly is causing your skin issues and find the appropriate treatment.
You can also reach out to a doctor or dermatologist to receive a confirmed diagnosis and, again, guide you through treatment.