Breastfeeding is a crucial period of a new mother’s life. It entails feeding your baby breast milk, usually directly from your breast. Also known as nursing, many medical experts strongly recommend exclusively breastfeeding a newborn for six months. As such, taking care of breast hygiene is as vital as the activity of breastfeeding itself. Proper care, awareness, and hygiene are especially important to help overcome some potential issues such as infection or sore nipples.
But does it mean women need to wash their nipples every time they breastfeed their baby?
Talking about the same, Dr Ramya Kabilan, Obstetrician-Gynaecologist said, “Some of the new mothers ask me whether they should wash their nipples using soap before every breastfeeding session,” adding that washing your nipple before breastfeeding is “not necessary.”
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Explaining further, she said that there are three main reasons for this. “First, the mother’s milk produces a substance a baby can smell and recognise her. This helps in bonding and better latching. Secondly, good bacteria from the surface of the breast helps to build your baby’s immune system. And lastly, fresh breast milk can help heal damaged nipples, so try massaging a few drops into the nipple after feeds.”
Adding, Dr Kabilan said, “You don’t need to thoroughly clean your nipple after each and every feed, but you can use warm water to rinse the saliva, followed by pat drying with a clean towel after every three or four feeds throughout the day.”
Concurring, Dr Jagriti Varshney, a gynaecologist told indianexpress.com, “It is very important to maintain and care for your nipples when women are breastfeeding. However, it is not required to wash your nipples with shower gel or soap. Instead, one should use clear water to wash breasts during bathing.”
“The little bumps you see on your areola during breastfeeding are opening of the milk glands that have a lubricant over them. It is the oil that moisturises and protects the nipple. Soaps and shower gels can strip these natural oils and cause soreness, dryness and inflammation of nipples,” she added.
Elaborating that there is no need to clean the nipples ahead of breastfeeding, she said, “It is only advisable to wash the nipples when you’re bathing or taking a shower. This is because the bacteria from the nipple’s milk helps develop the baby’s microbiome.”
On similar lines, Dr Ritu Sethi, Director, The Aura Speciality Clinic, Gurgaon and Senior Consultant-Gynecology, Cloud Nine Hospital, Gurgaon said, “Fresh breast milk has been suggested as a potential remedy for healing damaged nipples. It is rich in antibodies, growth factors, enzymes, and other bioactive substances that can have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and wound-healing properties. These components may help protect the damaged nipple from infection, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue repair.”
However, she disagreed with the claim that the act of not washing nipples before breastfeeding directly impact the bond between a baby and their mother or the quality of their latch. “The bond between a baby and mother is built through consistent care, nurturing, and interaction, while a good latch during breastfeeding is influenced by various factors such as positioning, technique, and the baby’s ability to latch properly.”
Concluding, Dr Varshney said, “Establishing a proper breastfeeding routine is extremely important. One should always wear a supportive bra, especially at night. It is best to avoid wearing a tight or underwire bra as there is collection of milk in the ducts, which can cause soreness of breasts. During nursing period, it is also advisable to wear cotton fabric, which dries quickly and does not retain moisture.”
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