Breastfeeding - skin and nipple changes
Learning about skin and nipple changes during breastfeeding can help take care of yourself and know when to see a health care provider.
Breastfeeding - Animation
How you feed your baby is a personal decision, but if you breastfeed you're choosing to give your child a natural, nutritional food source that can benefit you AND your baby. Let's talk about breastfeeding. Many women ask me, What's so good about breastfeeding? Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for a baby. It contains just the right amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. And they vary over time within each feeding and over the months as your baby grows, tailored. Breast milk also gives your baby the digestive enzymes, minerals, vitamins, hormones and flavors they need. Plus your baby gets antibodies and other immune factors from YOU that can help your baby resist some infections. Infants who breastfeed are less likely to have allergies, ear infections, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, skin problems, stomach or intestinal infections...and are also less likely to experience wheezing, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Breastfeeding helps mom too! You form a unique bond with your baby. You might lose pregnancy weight faster and, you have a lower risk of breast cancer, some types of ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis. Your baby will need to be fed a lot, often nearly around the clock during the first few weeks after birth. It's perfectly normal. Some mothers find that bringing the baby in bed for feedings at night or placing a bassinet within reach, allows them to meet the child's needs while losing minimal rest. During the day, nap after feedings if you can. If you need to return to work soon after your baby is born, or you're a stay-at-home mom that needs some time to herself, there are plenty of pumping and storage systems available that let you continue to breastfeed your baby as long as you want. Breastfeeding goes smoothly for most people, once mother and baby get the hang of it. For others, it may take time and practice. If you run into any problems, contact a lactation consultant, a person who specializes in breastfeeding.
Notice Changes in Your Breasts and Nipples
Changes in your breasts and nipples may include:
- Inverted nipples. This is normal if your nipples have always been indented inward and can easily point out when you touch them. If your nipples are pointing in, and this is new, talk to your provider right away.
- Skin puckering or dimpling. This can be caused by scar tissue from surgery or an infection. Often, there is no known reason. You should see your provider but most of the time this does not need treatment.
- Warm to the touch, red, or painful breast. This is caused by an infection in your breast. See your provider for treatment.
- Scaly, flaking, itchy skin. This is most often eczema or a bacterial or fungal infection. See your provider for treatment.
- Retracted nipples. Your nipple was raised above the surface but begins to pull inward and does not come out when stimulated. See your provider if this is new.
Take Care of Your Nipples
Your nipples naturally make a lubricant to prevent drying, cracking, or infections. To keep your nipples healthy:
- Avoid soaps and harsh washing or drying of your breasts and nipples. This can cause dryness and cracking.
- Rub a little breast milk on your nipple after feeding to protect it. Keep your nipples dry to prevent cracking and infection.
- If you have cracked nipples, apply 100% pure lanolin after feedings.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider if you notice unusual changes to skin and nipples. Your provider will talk to you about your medical history and the recent changes you have noticed in your breasts and nipples. Your provider will also do a breast exam and may suggest that you see a dermatologist or breast specialist.
You may have these tests done:
- Mammogram (uses x-rays to produce pictures of the breast)
- Breast ultrasound (uses sound waves to examine the breasts)
- Breast MRI (uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed pictures of the breast tissue)
- Biopsy (removal of a small amount of breast tissue to examine it)
John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
Newton ER, Stuebe AM. Lactation and breastfeeding. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 25.
Valente SA, Grobmyer SR. Mastitis and breast abscess. In: Bland KI, Copeland EM, Klimberg VS, Gradishar WJ, eds. The Breast: Comprehensive Management of Benign and Malignant Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 6.