Breast Care for Nursing Moms: Hygiene & Moisturizing Guide

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

Maintaining cleanliness while breastfeeding is relatively easy compared to bottle feeding, which requires sterilization, washing, and drying.

When it comes to safety, however, there are still some useful things to know about your breastfeeding skincare routine, such as moisturizing.

Can you lotion breasts while breastfeeding? Yes, moisturizer can be applied to breasts twice a day in the morning and at night. It’s important to use body lotions containing natural ingredients such as coconut oil and shea butter. Lactation experts also specifically recommend nipple creams to treat soreness/dryness throughout breastfeeding.

Like lips and hands, breasts need to be soothed and moisturized regularly after being washed and routinely covered in your little one’s saliva!

Not all moisturizers and skincare products are considered safe to use while breastfeeding, however. Below, you’ll discover which ingredients to avoid and find advice on keeping breasts clean plus nipple care info, FAQs, and more.

Breast Hygiene During Breastfeeding

Good breastfeeding hygiene involves keeping your breasts clean enough in between feeds and using gentle skincare products to care for your skin and limit the spread of germs to your baby.

However, you want to make sure you’re not overkilling it with your cleansing routine as this risks damaging the skin around your nipples.

Importance of Breast Hygiene

Unclean breasts, especially the underside, can be a breeding ground for bacteria or yeast, and for those with larger chests, sweat can be a frequent issue.

Therefore, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your nipples clean and dry right before breastfeeding, making sure to hop in the shower for a more thorough clean if you’ve been working out.

Also, be sure to change your nursing pads frequently if they become damp to lower the risk of thrush or other fungal or bacterial infections of the breast.

How To Clean Breasts While Breastfeeding

According to Byram Healthcare, you don’t need to clean your breasts or nipples thoroughly before each feed:

“In addition to your daily shower, a good rule of thumb is a warm water rinse of the breasts followed by patting dry with a clean towel. Do this after every three feeds to remove traces of saliva.”

You can also air-dry your nipples if they’re sore.

To keep further dryness and irritation at bay, wash your breasts with only water in the bath or shower as the little Montgomery glands on your areolae (small bumps surrounding your nipple) produce oils that naturally keep the area protected and moisturized — something certain soaps and gels can strip away over time.

Should I Clean My Breast Before Feeding?

There’s no need to clean your breasts before every feed.

It can actually be beneficial for the baby if you hold off cleaning them until every third feed as a degree of bacteria on the surface of your breast is known to help in the development of your baby’s gut microbiome!

How Often Should You Wash Your Breasts While Breastfeeding?

A warm-water rinse around 3-4 times throughout the day is generally recommended, though depending on how often your baby feeds, you may wish to wash them more/less frequently.

Newborns, for example, feed around 8-12 times or more in the first few weeks, so depending on your activity level, hot weather, etc., you may decide 4-5 quick rinses are necessary.

As your baby gets to 1-12 months old, feeding tends to dip down to 7-9 times a day, so 2-3 washes a day (including your daily shower) should be fine at this stage.

What Soap To Use While Breastfeeding

Avoid scented or perfumed soaps and shower gels as these tend to contain alcohol and other chemicals that may cause an allergic reaction in your little one and can be harsh and drying on delicate breast and nipple skin.

Instead, opt for gentle soaps with natural ingredients that help your breasts retain their natural oils.

Moms on the Baby Center community advocate unscented soaps by Dove and Aveeno as these are normally free of dyes and perfumes.

Moisturizing Breasts

Much like hands that are repeatedly washed and used, your breasts can become dry and sore throughout the cycle of breastfeeding and washing, so be sure to keep the skin well nourished with a gentle moisturizer application twice daily in the morning and evening.

After allowing your skin to fully dry after bathing, apply a light layer of gentle moisturizing body lotion. Many baby-friendly nipple creams and butters, like this one, also double up as general skin moisturizers for breasts and body.

A mother wearing a white shirt breastfeeds her newborn baby.

How To Moisturize Nipples

Due to its natural moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties, some mothers swear by rubbing fresh breast milk into the nipples after breastfeeding and allowing it to air dry, providing a sore nipple treatment and general moisturizer.

Otherwise, you can soothe and moisturize nipples by applying a pea-sized amount of baby-approved nipple cream to the area.

Some products will suggest applying the cream before and after breastfeeding, though children’s educator Catherine Crider at Healthline recommends applying “after feeds so the nutrients have a chance to absorb into the skin before baby latches again.”

Safe Skincare Products During Breastfeeding

Lactation consultant Hali Shields shares that “most skincare products are safe as they are not readily absorbed into the bloodstream, making them safe for breastfeeding.”

Even so, it’s a good idea to keep skincare products that aren’t nipple/breast creams clear from your chest area to prevent your little one from ingesting them.

Look for skincare with these safe, breastfeeding-friendly ingredients:

  • Shea butter
  • Cocoa butter
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Glycerin
  • Jojoba oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Almond oil
  • Olive oil
  • Beeswax
  • Sunflower oil

Natural Moisturizer for Breasts

Coconut oil is a highly nourishing natural moisturizer for breasts as is any moisturizer product with “natural ingredients that you’ve heard of before, like coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, and Vitamin E,” advises Shields.

Look for USDA-certified organic products like this Pumping Lubricant that is made with a coconut-oil base specifically to make nursing and pumping more comfortable.

Skincare Products To Avoid While Breastfeeding

Skincare products that are great for reducing acne and wrinkles are far from great during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Research at the Infant Risk Center at Texas Tech University has linked some of these product types to birth defects, and although the same research hasn’t been applied to use while breastfeeding, experts inevitably do not recommend products with the following ingredients:

  • Retinol and derivatives
  • Vitamin A
  • Salicylic acid
  • Fragrances
  • Essential oils
  • Parabens
  • Paraffins
  • Petroleum
  • Lead
  • Aluminum
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Oxybenzone
  • PFAs (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl)
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
  • Phthalates or “plasticizers”

Breastfeeding-Safe Skincare Routine

Always use clean hands to apply the product, and start with a gentle face-foaming cleanser in the morning that won’t strip your face of its natural oils. Follow this up with an organic moisturizing day cream for face and neck.

For your body, use a natural sensitive-skin body wash, followed by a daily moisturizing body lotion with olive oil to keep the skin flexible.

To end the day, a great overnight moisturizer is Aveeno Active Naturals, made with soothing oatmeal.

Common Questions from Breastfeeding Moms

A mother seated in a room with plants and soft light breastfeeding her baby.
  • Can You Use AHA BHA While Breastfeeding? Safe to use as long as you avoid the breast area.
  • Can I Use Vitamin C Serum While Breastfeeding? Nontoxic and safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • Is Hyaluronic Acid Safe While Breastfeeding? Generally considered safe as it does not absorb into the bloodstream.
  • Is Niacinamide Safe for Breastfeeding? Considered safe. However, do a skin test first in case of sensitivity/breakouts.
  • Salicylic Acid While Breastfeeding: Safe, but avoid application on areas of body where an infant’s skin may come into contact or they may ingest it.

Related Questions:

Why Are My Nipples Dry and Itchy?

Like any other body part, nipples can feel dry and itchy due to skin sensitivities, dry skin ailments, or irritation from certain clothing or laundry detergents.

If your nipples feel persistently dry and itchy, this may be the result of eczema or mastitis (an inflammation of the breast that is usually a result of an infection).

Why Should You Moisturize Your Breasts?

The skin on your breasts is quite thin and delicate. It also takes a lot of wear and tear with age, exercise, and breastfeeding, so it’s wise to keep the skin well moisturized.

This helps prevent dryness and inflammation, particularly around the nipples as some women can suffer from soreness and eczema in this area.

Closing Thoughts

In summary, it’s a good idea to clean your breasts around 3-4 times a day while breastfeeding, and while gentle, all-natural soap products are fine, good old warm water will suffice for quick cleans between feeds.

Look for natural ingredients in your breast and nipple moisturizer too.

Many breast- and nipple-specific moisturizers are certified organic, but always be sure to check the label on any skincare products you use while breastfeeding for absolute peace of mind.