Weaning: Is it normal for breasts to itch while weaning?

I am weaning my son and only have one feeding a day. I empty both breasts during that feeding and have been using ice and cabbage compresses to reduce my supply as well. My breasts have been itching a lot and it's driving me crazy. Should I be worried, or is this normal?

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Kathy Kuhn

Kathy Kuhn is a registered nurse who has been working with breastfeeding families since 1981. She has been an International Board Certified... Read more

Itchy breasts are not a normal part of the weaning process. It's possible that you are reacting to the ice compresses you are using. Hiemalis pruritus is the medical term for severe skin itchiness from exposure to cold temperatures. When using ice compresses you should carefully protect your skin with a cloth. Never apply ice directly to skin surfaces and only leave the compress on for 30 to 60 minutes. Then remove it for at least 60 minutes before reapplying (Craven & Hirnle 1992.)

It's also possible that you are reacting to something else, such as the cabbage or even your laundry detergent. At this point I would recommend stopping the ice compresses and cabbage to see if the itching stops. If discontinuing the compresses does not bring a quick resolution to your symptoms call your physician.

When weaning your baby it is always healthiest to do it gradually so that you don't need to use ice or cabbage compresses. When actively initiating weaning, its best to start by eliminating one breastfeeding from your baby's daily feeding schedule. You should then wait until your breasts have adjusted before eliminating the next. Repeat this process, eliminating no more than one feeding every few days until your baby is weaned.

If engorgement occurs, that's an indication that the weaning process is moving too quickly. Engorgement is most effectively treated by breastfeeding or expressing with a high quality pump, as often as needed to relieve symptoms. After the engorgement resolves, the weaning process can begin again, but more slowly this time.

Trust what your body is telling you. If your breasts are uncomfortably overfilled, you need to remove more milk. Your baby's nursing is the most efficient way to drain your breasts -- a good pump would be the second choice.

Don't forget to check with your pediatrician for recommendations for foods and liquids to replace the breastfeedings and check with your doctor if your itchiness or engorgement do not resolve within a day or two.

Reference: Craven, R. and Hirnle, C. Fundamentals of Nursing, Lippincott, New York, 1992 p. 972.

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