Breastfeeding Hygiene – Sweat, Germs, and Bacteria

Only a few more days of SER’s Breastfeeding Awareness Week, and today I thought I would tackle something that I have a heard a lot of questions about as a breastfeeding mom in Europe.

breastfeeding awareness hygiene

All over the world, hospitals are trying their best to keep germs and harmful bacteria from spreading from one person to another. However, this creates a whole new set of problems because you end up with strains of viruses that are resistant to antibiotics. In general, hospitals do not care whether a bacteria is good or not, they consider any bacteria as bad. They teach new mothers to constantly sterilize everything and everyone. But not all bacteria is bad. There are good bacteria that live in your body that protect you from harmful bacteria that wants to come in, take over, and make you very, very sick. When my brother was being treated for Lyme disease, he was taking extremely powerful antibiotics that killed every kind of bacteria in his body. So his doctor gave him a regiment of supplements to take that would replace the good bacteria in his system.

What does this have to do with breastfeeding? The answer is simple, you want your baby to build up good bacteria!! I have been asked by countless mothers about sterilizing their breasts after each feeding, and every time I tell them “no,” they look at me like I’m crazy. Not only does “sterilizing your breast” keep your baby from getting the good bacteria on the outside of you body, but it also causes nipple irritation that can lead a mother to stop breastfeeding altogether. First I want to deal with the myth that you can sterilize your breast. You cannot. It is part of your body, which is a living, breathing organism that comes into contact with various other organisms throughout each day of your life.

I am not saying you should go stick your breast around a bunch of sick people and then use it to feed your baby. Obviously you need to use wisdom with your newborn. However, I am saying that repeatedly washing your nipples with soap will not cause them to be free from germs, but it will cause your nipples to dry out, crack, and bleed.

Another thing I want to mention is that your sweat will not make your baby sick. We all sweat, including your baby. When I first moved to Europe I was surprised how many people asked me about this! In the US I have never heard a mother ask about the sweat on her breasts hurting her baby, so I needed to do a little bit of research to try to figure out why women were so concerned about this. Sweat is made up of sodium, chloride, and potassium. No bacteria is secreted in your sweat. The smell that your sweat produces is actually caused by your sweat mixing with the bacteria that lives in your skin (remember, this is good bacteria). There have also been studies that show that sweat has a natural antibiotic in it called dermcidin, which can even kill bacteria on the skin’s surface. In the end, I still do not understand why women think their sweat will harm their babies. If you have some cultural insights I am missing, please comment below. I am seriously interested in figuring this out.

Now that we got sweat out of the way, let’s talk about breast pads. You do not need to change your breast pads every thirty minutes, or every time you nurse. The only time you need to change your breast pads is if they get wet. The wet milk in the pads is what creates the danger of germs turning into a yeast infection or mastitis. When the milk is dry, the germs cannot grow! I personally like reusable cotton pads because they are affordable and easy to clean. I make them myself out of cotton flannel. Disposable pads that turn the wet milk into a gel do not dry and should be changed every time they get wet.

On this note, it is worth mentioning that cotton breastfeeding bras dry quickly, so they are more ideal for good breast care and hygiene.

If you need to use a nipple cream, using something you do not have to wipe off before feeding as it will cause further irritation to the already irritated area. I recommend something with Lanolin in it. My friend Autumn also suggested coconut oil. It is safe for the baby and it is naturally anti-fungal so it protects against thrush! If you are still having a lot of nipple pain, I would make sure you have a correct latch by researching it online, or even better, having a breastfeeding support person (like me!) or a lactation consultant watch you breastfeed.

I hope this clears up any confusion there is about breastfeeding hygiene.

Happy travels and happy nursing!!

Kristin Spencer


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2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Hygiene – Sweat, Germs, and Bacteria

  1. Good to know!:) I will certainly remember that and keep you in mind as questions will arise some day and I will need a piece of information:)

    1. Kasia!! I am so blessed you took the time to comment. All of us Spencers will be very excited for that “someday” you and Tomek welcome a little one into the world! Miss you both so much!!

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