Caring for Your Breasts When Breastfeeding

Mother holding newborn infant on her chest

LWA / Larry Williams / Blend Images / Getty Images

You'll notice that your breasts change a great deal during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Your areolas may darken and get bigger and pregnancy hormones trigger the milk-making tissue in your breasts to grow and prepare to produce 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.

If you're breastfeeding and/or pumping, breasts don’t require any special treatment, but proper care, awareness, and hygiene are especially important to help you feel more comfortable and head off some potential breastfeeding issues such as infection or sore nipples.

Breastfeeding Breast Care

There really isn't anything special you need to do for your breasts when you're breastfeeding, beyond basic cleanliness, monitoring the moisture balance of your skin (too dry can cause cracking and too wet can breed germs), and noticing any changes that might need attention. 

As your breasts fill up with breast milk, you may experience breast engorgement, tenderness, tingling, and the leaking of breast milk. These are all normal experiences that can be helped by diligent breast care, which will also minimize other types of discomfort and help prevent infection. 

Practice Good Hygiene

Wash your hands before touching your breasts. Keep your breasts and nipples clean by washing them daily with warm water in the shower or bath. Also, avoid using soap on your breasts. Soap 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 areolas clean and moisturized.

Change 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, as dampness can prompt germs to grow. Clean, dry nursing pads can help to prevent sore nipples, thrush, or mastitis.

Wear a Supportive Bra

Choose a supportive 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.

Make Sure Your Baby Is Latching On Correctly

Getting your baby 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.

Remove Your Baby From Your Breast Correctly

When you're ready to take your baby off of the breast, do not pull them off. Instead, place your finger in the corner of their mouth to gently break the suction between their mouth and your breast.

Treat Sore Nipples

After nursing your baby, to treat (and prevent) sore nipples, rub a safe nipple cream or some of your breast milk on your nipples and areola, and then let them air dry. 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.

Stay away from any lotions, creams, or sprays without first discussing them with your healthcare provider, as some products can harm your baby, clog your milk ducts, or irritate your skin even more.

Treat 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. Pumping or nursing often to relieve the pressure can also help.

Perform a 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.

Breast Care When Pumping

Care for breasts when using a breast pump is essentially the same as when you are breastfeeding, with a few extra components specific to pumping:

Make Sure Pump Flanges Fit

While a standard breast shield or flange that fits over the breast and nipple may work for your breasts, proper fit is important. There are other sizes available to accommodate a range of breast and nipple sizes to allow for proper nipple positioning and fit over the areola. If you use one that's too small or too big, you may impede the effectiveness of your pumping and possibly develop a breast injury and/or nipple soreness.

Keep Everything Clean

Always wash hands and thoroughly clean pump parts every time you pump to prevent infection.

Breast Care When Weaning

Your body will still make breast milk even if you decide not to breastfeed or when you wean your child. If weaning gradually, no particular care should be needed. Your breast milk supply will gradually decrease as demand from the baby or pump decreases. If weaning is sudden, there are some steps parents can take to care for the breasts.

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.

  • Ask your doctor about medication such as Tylenol or Motrin to relieve pain.
  • Avoid touching your breasts or nipples. Regular stimulation of the breasts and nipples tells your body to keep producing milk.
  • Place a cold compress on your breasts to help relieve swelling and discomfort. You also can use cold cabbage leaves.
  • Pump or hand express breast milk to relieve some of the pressure if your breasts are painfully full. Just don't pump a lot or often or you'll continue to make more breast milk.
  • Use breast pads or cotton cloth to soak up leaks.
  • Wear a bra that is supportive but not tight as constriction can be painful.

A Word From Verywell

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

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