Pregnancy arrives with a whole bunch of symptoms you probably expected… and then there are those you weren’t expecting.
A common but rarely mentioned irritant in early pregnancy is incredibly dry, sore, or cracked nipples — so what’s behind this sensation?
Fluctuating hormones are often the cause of dry, irritated nipples in early pregnancy. This is due to the hormone progesterone preparing the breast for milk production, leading to swelling and stretching of the skin. Perfume, detergents, and other irritants can exacerbate dryness.
This surge of hormonal changes can also trigger skin conditions like eczema to appear on and around your nipples, and you may find yourself highly sensitive to certain soaps and skincare products.
Let’s look at each of the common causes behind dry nipples in this early stage of pregnancy and how to treat them.
Dry Nipples in Early Pregnancy – Causes
There can be quite a few culprits behind dry nipples in your early pregnancy from the ebb and flow of hormones to the changing physical nature of your breasts and heightened sensitivity to certain products and clothing.
1. Hormone Changes
Hormones are often the main culprit behind dry nipples. According to pediatric nurse and writer at Wonder Baby Sarah Viillavicencio, BSN:
“Progesterone prepares the milk ducts for initial milk production and breast milk flow. As the skin expands, you may experience stretch marks, itchy skin, or dry, irritated nipples.”
Due to all these hormonal changes, it’s quite common for eczema to appear on your skin for the first time during pregnancy, though it’s more likely if you’ve experienced atopic dermatitis in the past.
Eczema will often appear in patches over your body, and occasionally, you may notice dry, scaly patches around your breasts and nipples.
3. Nipple Thrush
Nipple thrush is a fungal infection caused by a natural microbiome in your body known as Candida albicans.
When you become pregnant, your immune system becomes suppressed, which makes warm and dark environments on your body, like your nipple, a perfect haven for Candida to thrive.
Nipple thrush commonly feels like a burning or shooting pain in your nipple, and the skin can appear dry and cracked on or around the nipple.
4. Increased Sensitivity
Pregnancy can make your skin quite sensitive (in areas that were already pretty sensitive to begin with!)
For this reason, your nipples can experience contact dermatitis from using perfumes, lotions, soaps, and laundry detergent.
Nipples can also become dry as a result of friction from rubbing against certain clothing materials or clothing items that are worn tightly against the body like bras and sports bras.
5. Stretching of Skin & Increased Blood Flow
To gear your body up for breast milk production, the progesterone hormone causes your breasts to swell by increasing blood flow in the area.
With all this expanding and stretching, the skin on and around your nipples may develop stretch marks, often resulting in quite dry and irritated nipples.
Dry Nipples in Early Pregnancy – Treatment
Dry nipples can be a pain, but thankfully, it only takes a few simple changes in your routine to get some much-needed relief.
Using soothing nipple-specific creams, being less abrasive while showering, and making some easy wardrobe changes are all great ways to fight dryness.
A great way to soothe dry and irritated nipples is to apply a mild, gentle, and fragrance-free moisturizer.
“During your pregnancy, any moisturizing creams that you usually use on your body should also be safe on the breasts,” advises long-time midwife Kate from Naytal.
She also says that “You only really have to worry about what you are using on your breasts as and when you start expressing colostrum or breastfeeding.”
Opt for simple products that contain all-natural ingredients like cocoa butter, shea butter, and coconut oil. Here are a few moisturizers recommended by dermatologists and OB-GYNs:
- Belli Skincare All Day Moisture Body Lotion
- Natura House Mommy Natural Nipple Cream
- Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter
- Mommyz Love Organic Nipple Balm
2. Lanolin Nipple Cream
Nipple cream containing lanolin (yellow fat taken from sheep’s wool) is a well-loved cream for treating dry and sensitive patches of skin.
This is commonly used to treat sore and cracked nipples during breastfeeding, but it’s great for relieving dry and itchy nipples in early pregnancy.
3. Avoid Soaping Nipples
Most shower gels and soaps can strip your skin of its natural moisture, making your nipples feel dry and itchy.
If you must use soap, opt for an all-natural irritant-free soap like a goat’s milk bar. Otherwise, stick with warm water when washing your breasts, and gently pat (never rub) them dry.
4. Wear Loose, Comfortable Clothing
Try to wear comfortable loose-fitting clothes as much as possible during your pregnancy.
Excessively tight bras and shirts can decrease blood circulation to your breasts, increasing irritation, so opt for floaty tees, oversized shirts, and maternity bras that don’t feel too compressing.
5. Switch to an All-Cotton Bra
A bra made from 100% cotton will feel super soft and breathable, delivering greater airflow to your dry, sore nips. All-cotton bras are also more absorbent, which is a bonus when you start expressing milk!
Don’t forget to ditch the bra on certain days too! As long as you’re comfortable and don’t need the extra support, let your nipples breathe and go braless at home.
6. Use All-Natural Detergents
Common laundry detergents contain harsh chemicals and fragrances that could be irritating the skin around your nipples further.
Look for detergents that are best for sensitive skin, or better yet, make your own 100% natural detergent!
7. See Your Doctor if You Suspect Thrush or Eczema
If you notice symptoms of eczema around your nipples or suspect you have nipple thrush, it’s wise to speak to your doctor about the best course of treatment.
It’s tempting to reach for over-the-counter meds for these issues, but not all medications will be suited for pregnant women.
Other Early Pregnancy Symptoms No One Tells You About
As is societies’ M.O. there are dozens of early pregnancy symptoms like dry, itchy nipples that just never get a mention.
We’re all aware of morning sickness and brain fog, but what about headaches, stuffy noses, and tasting metal?!
Here are some other odd symptoms you can expect in early pregnancy…
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Urge to pee
- Gray or brown patches on the face (caused by hyperpigmentation)
- Spotting (false period)
- Cold or flu-like symptoms
- Losing weight
- Increased sense of smell
- Stuffy nose
- Heightened (or decreased) sex drive
To sum up, dry nipples are typically the result of the strong onset of hormones produced during early pregnancy and the skin on your breasts and nipples stretching as your chest becomes engorged in preparation to feed your little one.
You can also experience dry and irritated nipples due to contact dermatitis from perfumed products and chafing from harsh clothing material.
Be sure to give your poor nipples a breather by using all-natural soaps and detergents, moisturizing the area, and switching to an all-cotton bra!
Rebecca is a seasoned copywriter and researcher with over a decade of experience, specializing in parenting topics. With a passion for all aspects of raising children, from breastfeeding to potty training.