How to Care for Your Breasts When You're Breastfeeding

Mother holding newborn infant on her chest
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Your breasts may change a great deal during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or they may not change very much at all. Hormones that are released by your body while you're pregnant trigger the milk-making tissue in your breasts to grow and begin producing breast milk. Then, after the birth of your child breast milk production kicks into gear and your breasts will start to fill up with breast milk. With all these changes, what can you do to care for your breasts while you're breastfeeding?

How to Care for Your Breasts When You're Breastfeeding

There really isn't anything special you need to do for your breasts when you're breastfeeding. As your breasts fill up with breast milk, you may notice breast engorgement, tenderness, tingling, and the leaking of breast milk. These are all normal experiences. So, the most important thing is to try to remain as comfortable as possible. Here are some tips to help you care for your nursing breasts and prevent some of the common problems of breastfeeding.

9 Ways to Care for Your Nursing Breasts

  1. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands before touching your breasts. Keep your breasts and nipples clean by washing them each day with warm water in the shower or bath. Avoid using soap on your breasts since it can cause dry, cracked, and irritated skin. It can also remove the natural oils produced by the Montgomery glands located on the dark area surrounding your nipples. These oils help to keep the nipples and areola clean and moisturized. 
  1. Wear a supportive bra. Choose a nursing bra or a regular bra that fits well, but is not too tight. Cotton is an excellent choice of fabric since it allows your skin to breathe.
  2. Make sure your baby is latching on correctly. Getting your child to latch on well from the first breastfeeding, and nursing very often — at least every 2 to 3 hours — can help prevent the development of painful breast problems such as sore nipples, breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, and mastitis.
  1. Change your breast pads often. If you are using breast pads or cotton squares inside your bra to soak up the breast milk from leaking breasts, be sure to change them when they become wet. Clean, dry nursing pads can help to prevent sore nipples, thrush, or mastitis from occurring.
  2. Moisturize your nipples with your breast milk. After nursing your baby, rub some of your breast milk on your nipples and areola then let them air dry. 
  3. Remove your child from your breast correctly. When you're ready to take your baby off of the breast, do not pull her off. Instead, place your finger in the corner of her mouth to break the suction between her mouth and your breast.
  4. Discuss sore nipples with your doctor. If you have sore nipples, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant about using purified lanolin or hydrogel pads to help soothe your breasts. You want to stay away from any lotions, creams or sprays without first discussing it with your healthcare provider, as many products can harm your baby, clog your milk ducts, or irritate your skin even more.
  5. Treat breast engorgement. If your breasts become painfully overfull, hard, and swollen, you can use cold cabbage leaves or cold compresses to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
  1. Continue to perform your monthly breast self-examination. Even though you are nursing, it's important to check your breasts each month. While it's normal for your breasts to feel lumpy when they're full of milk, the lumps should go away with breastfeeding, pumping, or massaging your breasts. If you notice a lump that doesn't go away on its own within a few days, contact your doctor to have it checked.

Caring for Your Breasts When You Want to Suppress Lactation

Your body will still make breast milk even if you decide not to breastfeed. You will also continue to make breast milk if you have to wean your child suddenly.

It could take a few weeks or months to dry up the breast milk in your breasts. Here are some tips for caring for your breasts if you're in a situation where you want to stop making breast milk. 

  • Wear a bra that is supportive but not tight. 
  • Use breast pads or a cotton cloth to soak up leaks. 
  • Place a cold compress or cold cabbage leaves on your breasts to help relieve swelling and discomfort. 
  • If your breasts are painfully full, pump or hand express a little bit of breast milk to relieve some of the pressure. Just don't pump a lot or often or you'll continue to make more breast milk. 
  • Try not to touch your nipples or your breasts. Regular stimulation of the breasts and nipples tells your body to keep producing milk. 
  • Ask your doctor if it's OK to take a medication such as Tylenol or Motrin to relieve pain. 

Breast Health and Breastfeeding 

Caring for your breasts while you're breastfeeding can help you stay healthy and prevent the breast issues that can lead to breastfeeding problems. If you have any concerns about your breasts or how to care for them, you can contact your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group for assistance.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Berens P, Brodribb W, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. ABM Clinical Protocol# 20: Engorgement, Revised 2016. Breastfeeding Medicine. 2016 May 1;11(4):159-63.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier. 2015.

Wambach K, Riordan J, editors. Breastfeeding and human lactation. Jones & Bartlett Publishers; 2014 Aug 15.

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