Eczema on Nipples

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated March 2, 2013.

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What is eczema?

Eczema is a skin dermatitis which is an inflammation of the skin that can occur anywhere on the body, including on the breast and nipple. Eczema on nipples causes itching, burning, and pain, which can worsen over time.

What causes it?

There are a variety of causes of eczema on the nipples, including the following:

  • History of eczema
  • Using nipple creams/ointments that irritate the skin
  • Expressing with a pump that has too high of a suction can damage the skin, creating an environment for eczema to develop
  • Allergens that cause eczema breakouts on other parts of the body can also affect breasts
  • If mother is sensitive to residual foods, teething gels, etc. in baby’s mouth when he breastfeeds
  • Cold and dry climates or being hot and sweaty
  • Disposable breast pads can also cause irritation

What are the symptoms of eczema?

Eczema on nipples typically begins with tiny blisters or raised areas that then turn red, swell, and become crusty.  The skin is very dry and will thicken and becomes scaly.  Eczema causes itching, burning, and pain, especially while breastfeeding.  It is common to appear on both breasts and worsens over time.  Scratching can exacerbate the condition and allow for the development of a bacterial or fungal infection as well.

How do you treat eczema on nipples?

There are several natural remedies that can help.  It is important to determine what caused the inflammation and remove that allergen.  Some possibilities include the following:

  • Nipple creams and ointments
  • Disposable breast pads
  • Soaps and laundry detergents
  • Allergens in mother’s diet
  • Allergens in baby’s diet – when his saliva then comes into contact with mother’s breasts

Home treatment options:

  • Rinse nipples in cool (not hot) water and pat dry immediately
  • Do not allow skin to “dry out” but moisturize with non-allergenic cream (creams are better than lotions for skin with eczema)
  • Avoid having breasts/nipples become “hot and sweaty” – e.g. workouts, sitting in front of warm fires, extra covers, hot showers, etc.
  • Avoid perfumes, dyes, and other products that could cause allergens to this area
  • Eliminating allergens in your diet – things such as grains, dairy, sweets, etc. could exacerbate the eczema

If these do not help improve the eczema, contact your health care provider about possible topical ointments.  These medications can still be compatible with breastfeeding especially when it is applied immediately after nursing and gently wiped off before breastfeeding.

Please note:  If symptoms do not significantly improve within 3 weeks, a mother should see her doctor to rule out Paget’s Disease, a very rare form of cancer. 1  Early detection of this aggressive form of cancer is critical.

Can I still breastfeed if I have eczema on my nipples?

In short, yes!  A baby should not be affected by his mother’s eczema and breastfeeding can safely continue for baby.  As her symptoms subside, the pain she experiences while breastfeeding should also improve.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Barankin, B. & Gross, M.S. (2004) Nipple and areolar eczema in the breastfeeding woman. J of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, 8(2) 126-130.
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