Breastfeeding is one of the most loving acts a mother can do for her child. It has innumerable benefits beyond nutrition, ranging from protection against infections to the psychological development of the baby, and even positively impacts the health of the mother.
Breastfeeding a newborn entails anatomical and hormonal changes in the mother that can translate, depending on the constitution and habits of each woman, into discomforts, almost always temporary, but that can reduce the vital work of breastfeeding. In this FastlyHealarticle, we answer the question: why do my armpits itch when I breastfeed?
Breast changes during pregnancy and lactation
The breasts are made up of a vital specialized tissue whose ultimate purpose will be to feed the baby. On the outside, each breast is made up of a nipple surrounded by the areola and by a fold of skin that contains connective tissue, the mammary glands, and the excretory ducts that will carry the milk to the nipple. Their external appearance of soft mass is given by the fatty tissue that makes them up, which varies in quantity from one woman to another.
Breast tissue begins to form from the fifth week of embryonic development and will undergo a series of transformations throughout women’s lives in terms of size, shape, and role. Without a doubt, the most apparent change after the increase in size that occurs at puberty occurs when the breasts fulfill their healthy function. One of the most obvious changes is the increase in size that begins during pregnancy. In general, the breasts weigh more or less 200 g, but when they produce milk, they can multiply their weight until they reach 600 or 800 g. This implies that the skin will stretch significantly, which can cause stretch marks to appear. And itching is experienced, a symptom that can be reduced by applying moisturizers or mild oils, such as sweet almonds.
The nipple will also increase in size, and, in addition, the hormones will make the color of the nipple and the areola darker to make it easier for the baby to find it to latch on to breastfeed. Since milk production requires blood circulation, the entire breast area will be more vascular, and the blood vessels will be noticeable through the skin. The Montgomery glands, which are responsible for the lubrication of the skin of the breasts, will also be thickened.
Why do my armpits itch when I breastfeed? – Causes
Under normal conditions, the breast tissue is located from the armpit to the breasts themselves in adulthood. This branching is the Tail of Spence, the axillary process, or the super-extreme Tail. Certain studies claim that it exists in 95% of women. This breast tissue is connected to the central mammary system and reacts like the rest of the breast to hormonal stimuli, and can also suffer from the same diseases.
This partly explains why my armpits itch when I breastfeed. The itch could be due to a breast obstruction, mastitis, or dermatitis in the Tail of the Spence area. In general, these diseases affect the nipple and its closest surroundings, but, without a doubt, they can also occur in that most distal area of the breast. The symptoms that also accompany these conditions will depend on each one:
- Dermatitis: various reasons such as absorbent pads, synthetic fiber bras, stress, and hormones, among others, can give rise to this dermatological condition while breastfeeding. It is characterized by irritation and inflammation of the area from rubbing or an allergic reaction. Generally, some topical treatment is applied.
- Breast obstruction: it occurs when one of the ducts is blocked with a milk plug, sometimes due to a lengthening of the time between feedings, insufficient suction, or even a poor position of the baby when breastfeeding. It causes burning, pain, inflammation, and redness of the area. You can help decongest the region by applying heat, massaging, and changing the baby’s position. This occurs most often in the projection of the breast towards the armpit.
- Mastitis: if it is impossible to decongest the breast obstruction, an infection may occur in the area, accompanied by increased body temperature and more significant discomfort. It is necessary to continue implementing methods for the milk to flow, but it will also be required to take antibiotics.
Previously, we also mentioned that itchy skin could be exacerbated by skin stretching due to breast enlargement. On the other hand, hormone levels in women increase as the baby has more important milk requirements derived from its development. This hormonal increase can also generate particular itching in the armpits as a reaction of the body; it occurs because the breasts adjust the quality and quantity of the milk they produce for the infant as it grows.
In addition to the Tail of the Spence, which is the normal tissue connected to the central mammary system, there are malformations of the breast that are characterized by the presence of residual breast tissue in the armpits. Female hormones will also stimulate all residual breast tissue throughout a woman’s life. Because of this, it is common for the person to notice that they have residual breast tissue from puberty, especially during pregnancy and lactation when the tissue is activated under the effects of female hormones.
In some women, remnants of this tissue may also remain along both milk lines (two bands of glandular tissue located on the sides of the embryo’s midline, whose cells will give rise to the breasts). This residual tissue can develop in different ways; in fact, nipples and residual breast tissue can appear that produce milk, as it will also be stimulated by female hormones. The residual tissue changes during pregnancy and lactation will depend on the type and amount present. These congenital breast malformations are frequent and can appear in up to 10% of the population, both in men and women, although they are more frequent.
This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.
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I am a Surgeon with a diploma in comprehensive ultrasound and surgical care residency, an area I am specializing in. During the exercise of my profession, I have realized the need for patients to know the diseases they suffer, and I can tell you that a large part of their complications is due to a lack of information. Being a health web writer allows me to transmit my experience, without borders, to all those readers eager for knowledge, educate them in the prevention of diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle.