What Can I Do About Breast Eczema During Pregnancy
Pregnancy brings on a lot of uncomfortable skin conditions, including eczema. While many women notice the appearance of this irritation on their hands, face, and neck, others will find this red rash in a much more sensitive area — their breasts. For those looking for some much needed relief, we have an array of solutions that will help to stop the urge to scratch.
What Is Breast Eczema and Why Does It Occur?
According to the National Eczema Association, “eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes itchiness, dry skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters and skin infections.” Otherwise known as atopic dermatitis (AD), this is a hereditary disease that can stay dormant for years, making its sudden appearance quite jarring. Research shows that this condition ”is the most common dermatosis of pregnancy, accounting for between a third and a half of all cases.”
Unfortunately, many women notice flare-ups during the beginning and middle stages of pregnancy thanks to the increase in hormones that accompany this time of rapid change. Other causes can include the stretching of your breast tissue during the third trimester as your body begins to produce milk as well as environmental factors like fabric types, dry weather, or the development of new allergies.
Yes, that’s right - as if pregnant women didn‘t have enough on their plate, allergies can suddenly emerge following conception or after giving birth. These can include new reactions to medications and substances like soaps and lotions, heightened reactions to pollen, and even the development of food allergies. These surprising immune responses require that ladies look closely at when these eczema flare-ups occur and to watch for patterns in order to properly treat the problem.
Eczema Symptoms & Impacts
As mentioned above, itchy, cracked, and dry skin are the main symptoms of eczema. These can appear anywhere on the body, including on and around the breasts - this can even impact the areolas. Extreme discomfort can be expected when these symptoms arise.
Thankfully though, despite the pain and tenderness that you will experience, eczema will not harm your baby in any way. However, it can make breastfeeding a much more difficult experience. Thus, addressing symptoms early is extremely important for both your well-being and your success in the nursing process.
Breast Eczema Treatment Options
With hereditary issues like eczema, the best course of treatment is to manage the symptoms as best as possible and to try to determine what triggers are making it worse. Here are some of the top home remedies that can give your breasts a bit of relief.
1. Use Moisturizers Daily
Proper skin care is paramount when combating dryness. Hydrating lotions like CeraVe and Cetaphil are dermatologist recommended and designed to bind moisture to the skin. It is always best to apply these products immediately after getting out of the shower. Moreover, allow them to fully absorb before putting on your bra. This can ensure that you get the full effect and find substantial relief.
2. Change Detergents And Bath Products
Harsh soaps, fragrant detergents, essential oils, and perfumes are items that can trigger eczema breakouts and conditions like contact dermatitis. Therefore, it is best to choose all natural products and hypoallergenic options to help prevent breakouts from occurring.
Conveniently enough, you are about to have a baby! This means that you will soon be investing in these types of laundry and bath products anyways to help cater to your little one’s sensitive skin. Just start making the transition sooner!
3. Choose The Right Fabrics
While your lucky bra may have treated you well up until this point, it could be causing your breast or nipple eczema to worsen. Abrasive fabrics like polyester, nylon, spandex, and wool can all irritate the skin. Instead, you need to look for options like cotton, bamboo, tercel, and silk. These materials are hypoallergenic, and if you go with bamboo, it is also extremely soft, breathable, and sweat resistant. All of these qualities can further help to deter flare-ups.
4. Stay Hydrated
Water is essential to human life, and as we all know, if your growing baby is not getting enough of something, the body prioritizes the child over the mother. Therefore, if you are not consuming enough water, it can cause your eczema to worsen. Drinking water regularly throughout the day is an easy way to combat this skin condition, along with an array of other pregnancy symptoms.
5. Lower The Temperature
Sweat can also bring on eczema outbreaks and since pregnancy tends to make women run hotter than normal, lowering the thermostat and avoiding activities that will bring about excess perspiration can help.
If you want to stay active, workout in the early morning and late evening hours when temperatures are more comfortable. Most importantly, dry off as soon as you get done. Additionally, if the itching gets unbearable, a cold compress can also bring quick relief.
6. Limit Time In Water
A hot steamy shower is always a fantastic way to relax after a long hard day, but unfortunately, these toasty temperatures can also lead to eczema flare-ups. Keep your showers short and sweet - this is exceptionally important for pregnant women who have hard water in their homes. Research shows that this can actually exacerbate issues even further.
Additionally, lukewarm water is best for the ladies suffering from this skin condition. You also want to avoid scrubbing of any kind, so nix the loofah and washcloth. Finally, always pat dry when you exit the shower. Again, rubbing and wiping can cause the skin to become more irritated.
Speak With A Dermatologist If Symptoms Don’t Improve
For those women with a history of eczema, you likely have a dermatologist on standby. However, if this is your first time dealing with this issue, talk to your healthcare provider about these skin changes and request a referral to a specialist.
While this is a common skin condition, symptoms can become quite severe for many women and over-the-counter lotions and ointments as well as home remedies may not suffice. If this is the case, they may prescribe topical steroids or prescription emollients to treat the problem.
Other Possible Issues
Another reason to speak with a specialist is that many other skin irritations can be misdiagnosed as eczema. This can lead to prolonged periods of itchy skin and other uncomfortable symptoms. Here are some of the common culprits.
1. Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy (PUPPP)
PUPPP is another itchy, red rash that appears during pregnancy. It normally forms during the late stages of the third trimester and can last up to six weeks. It occurs in the stretch marks on your belly and then spreads to other areas like the breasts. Similar to eczema, it cannot be prevented and it will not cause any harm to you or your baby, but it can cause quite a large amount of discomfort.
The Cleveland Clinic notes that “PUPPP doesn’t usually show up during the first and second trimesters. If you notice an itchy rash, see your provider to rule out other skin conditions, like contact dermatitis.” Treatment involves antihistamine regimens and topical ointments to lessen the urge to itch. Thankfully, it usually goes away on its own a few weeks after giving birth.
2. Yeast Infection
If you are breastfeeding and your breast issues arise soon after giving birth, you could be suffering from nipple thrush. When a woman has a vaginal yeast infection when giving birth, they can pass the fungus onto the child and it can then be transferred to the breast tissue through nursing. Like eczema, itching, burning, and redness will accompany this condition, but the treatment is extremely different.
An easy way to determine if this is your problem is to look inside your child’s mouth. If they have white patches on their tongue, cheeks, and throat, it is thrush and a simple antibiotic treatment will clear up both of your symptoms. Just make sure to address this early because it can cause a newborn to be reluctant to feed.
3. Breast Cancer
In rare cases, the sudden appearance of a red, itchy rash on the nipples can be a sign of cancer. Referred to as Paget’s Disease of the breast, it exhibits as an eczema-like skin irritation, but unlike eczema, it will impact the nipple and it normally only occurs on one breast.
Since it does mimic atopic dermatitis, your doctor will likely prescribe a steroid cream first and if that doesn’t remedy the issue, further testing will be required. If your symptoms do not improve, be vigilant about finding the cause of the condition.
Breast Eczema and Nursing
Finally, once you give birth, most women will notice that their eczema symptoms will subside. However, this can take time and during the interim, it is imperative that you pay attention to what products you are using to find relief if you choose to breastfeed your newborn.
Prescription creams and ointments are fantastic prior to nursing, but they may not be safe for your child to ingest. Therefore, make a point to speak with your doctor about alternative solutions to implement once you give birth. Moreover, while lanolin is a spectacular product to relieve dry and cracked nipples when breastfeeding, for those with eczema, it may actually make your symptoms worse.
Instead, the National Eczema Association recommends using natural remedies like sunflower, coconut, or olive oils to help lubricate the skin. Consider using a nipple shield to limit irritation and keep your feedings as efficient as possible. This can be done by applying heat to help with milk production and by always ensuring a good latch.
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