Breastfeeding When You Have Eczema

How to protect you and your baby’s skin while breastfeeding

Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, and it is possible to have patches of dry, red skin on the breasts and nipples. People with breast eczema often find breastfeeding more challenging. Fortunately, it is manageable with treatment. 

This article discusses eczema during pregnancy and breastfeeding and how to treat it. 

A mother breastfeeding her baby at home

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Does Breastfeeding Prevent or Increase Eczema Risk?

Eczema is the most common chronic inflammatory skin disorder in children. It was once believed that breastfeeding might lower the risk of eczema in babies

However, there does not seem to be a connection. A cohort study did not find evidence of protection from eczema from breastfeeding. This means that their eczema risk will not be affected whether you choose to use breast milk or formula for your little one.

Diet, Breastfeeding, and Baby Eczema 

More common in children than adults, eczema is a condition that may be affected by a person’s diet. Many people with eczema may notice that certain foods tend to trigger their symptoms. If certain foods trigger eczema, remove them from your diet. These may include gluten, red meat, shellfish, citrus fruits, cow’s milk, and dairy products. However, elimination diets are not recommended for eczema.

If your breastfed baby develops eczema, your child’s healthcare provider may recommend removing certain foods from your diet to see if the change improves their condition. Breastfeeding parents may choose to avoid cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and wheat to manage their child’s eczema symptoms.

Why Pregnancy Eczema Happens

It’s possible to develop eczema during pregnancy, even if you have never experienced the condition. This is likely related to immune changes in the body caused by changing estrogen levels during pregnancy.

A person’s immune function changes during pregnancy to protect their growing baby. Before pregnancy, the body’s immune system is regulated by Th1 cells. These cells are responsible for protecting us against foreign invaders like infections. However, these cells are not helpful during pregnancy because they could recognize the fetus as a foreign invader and attack. 

During pregnancy, the body relies on Th2 cells for immunity. These cells are responsible for defending against allergens and other toxins that are located outside of the cells. They keep the fetus safe from harm but affect the pregnant person in new ways. The Th2 cells cause the pregnant person to become more sensitive to allergens. This means that the risk of eczema and other allergic conditions goes up. People with asthma may notice that their condition worsens during pregnancy.

High estrogen levels in the body likely trigger this shift from Th1 cell immunity to Th2 cell immunity. 

How to Safely Nurse With Breast Eczema 

Breastfeeding can feel challenging for anyone, and eczema can further complicate it. People with breast eczema often experience more discomfort with breastfeeding than others. Nipple dermatitis (eczema on the nipples) can cause irritation, redness, oozing, and crusting of the skin. 

Lanolin is usually used for sore nipples but could cause an eczema flare. Instead, try applying expressed breast milk to any irritated areas. Other options for irritated nipples include coconut oil, olive oil, and raw shea butter. 

Consider the following tips when breastfeeding with eczema:

  • Get a good latch: The nipples can quickly become red and cracked when your baby is not properly latched to the breast. Consider working with a lactation provider for support. 
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking water is crucial for breastfeeding parents, especially when you have eczema. Keep a full water bottle with you as often as possible.
  • Try a heating pad: Applying a heating pad set to low-heat to the breasts before feeding may help with discomfort and let-down. 
  • Treat sore nipples: If you are experiencing nipple pain or bleeding, see a lactation consultant. They may recommend nipple shields or hydrogel pads to protect the skin. 
  • Treat pain and irritation: It’s important to treat breast and nipple pain when breastfeeding. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help with soreness. 

If you continue to experience breast and nipple irritation with breastfeeding, talk with your healthcare provider. Breastfeeding is an excellent way to give your baby the nutrients they need. So is formula. Do what works for you.

Topical corticosteroids are a common treatment for eczema. However, they should be used sparingly on the breast and nipples when breastfeeding. This is because your baby could ingest the medication during feedings.

Before using a topical steroid, talk with your healthcare provider. Use as little of the medication as possible and apply it at least one hour before feedings. Before feeding your baby, gently wipe the area with a clean washcloth to remove any medication. 

Medicinal Use of Breast Milk for Eczema 

A 2019 review found that using breast milk topically was as effective as treatment with hydrocortisone cream for eczema. The study also found that breast milk can successfully treat diaper rash as well. 

Consider a breast milk bath for widespread eczema that covers much of your baby’s body. This requires a significant amount of extra breast milk you don’t need for feeding. Add lukewarm breast milk to your baby’s bath until the water looks cloudy. After your baby’s bath, discard the bath water. 

For smaller areas of eczema, use breast milk as a spot treatment. Apply a small amount of breast milk to a clean washcloth and lightly dab the area. 

If you are not currently breastfeeding but want to try this treatment, consider consulting a breast milk bank. Talk with your pediatrician before incorporating breast milk into your treatment. The risk of catching an infection or disease from breast milk is low but possible. 


Eczema is a condition that causes red, itchy patches of skin. The patches may also crack and ooze. Eczema can appear anywhere on the skin, including the breasts and nipples. Breast eczema can make breastfeeding more complicated and even painful. 

It was once believed that breastfeeding could lower the risk of eczema in a baby, but no evidence supports this. Pregnant people may be more at risk of developing eczema because of changes to the immune system during pregnancy. 

To successfully breastfeed with breast eczema, consider working with a lactation consultant. Breast milk may be an effective topical treatment if you or your baby have eczema. 

A Word From Verywell 

Eczema is a chronic condition that can be quite uncomfortable. And when you experience it on your breasts while breastfeeding, you may feel overwhelmed. Know that your condition is treatable. Talk with your healthcare provider if your eczema is not under control. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do I have eczema on my nipples?

    Eczema can appear anywhere on the skin, including the nipples. It may develop during pregnancy because higher estrogen levels lead to changes in the immune system. These changes can raise the risk of allergic conditions like eczema.

  • Are steroids for eczema safe when you’re breastfeeding?

    If necessary, steroids may be used safely during breastfeeding. If your eczema is not well-controlled, talk with your healthcare provider. If you need topical steroids for breast eczema, use a small amount at least one hour before nursing. Before feeding your baby, wipe away any steroid cream first.

  • Did breastfeeding cause my baby’s eczema?

    No, there is no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding affects a baby’s risk of eczema.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Breastfeeding Network. Eczema and breastfeeding.

  2. Wang J, Ramette A, Jurca M, et al. Association between breastfeeding and eczema during childhood and adolescence: a cohort study. PLoS One. 2017;12(9):e0185066 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185066

  3. National Eczema Association. Eczema diet: top foods to eat and avoid.

  4. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Diet of breastfeeding mother & child with atopic dermatitis.

  5. National Eczema Association. Eczema and pregnancy: symptoms, causes and treatment.

  6. National Eczema Association. How to nurse your baby when you have eczema on your nipples.

  7. Witkowska-Zimny M, Kamińska-El-Hassan E, Wróbel E. Milk therapy: unexpected uses for human breast milk. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):944. doi:10.3390/nu11050944

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently asked questions (faqs) | breastfeeding.

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.