6 Nipple Facts Doctors Actually Want You to Know
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It’s easy to take your nipples for granted. After all, everyone has them and they’re just kind of…there. But not all nipples are the same, and you might wonder if something is off if you notice that your nips are different from a friend’s. Just like boobs, nipples vary from person to person, but it’s good to know the difference between something totally normal and something that you might want to get checked out. Here’s what is normal in the nipple department, and when you should talk to your doctor.
1. There is no “normal” nipple.
“This is no different than the various shapes of eyes or colors of eyes from person to person,” Susan Hoover, M.D., F.A.C.S., a surgical oncologist in the Breast Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, tells SELF. It’s part of the normal developmental and genetic process for there to be a variety of shapes and sizes of nipples, Dr. Hoover says. And just like there’s no one hair color that’s the best, there’s no “right” nipple color. So, even if your friend has a similar skin tone to you but you have completely different nipple colors, one isn’t better or more correct than the other.
However, if you find that your nipple color, shape, or size suddenly changes with no apparent reason, it’s not a bad idea to flag it for your doctor. It’s probably nothing, but it could sometimes be a sign of breast cancer, Dr. Hoover says.
2. Nipple hair is no big deal.
It’s completely normal to have hair growth in your areola (the flat, round part surrounding your nipple) and the skin around it, Gary Goldenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells SELF. The amount of hair you actually have is related to hormones and is hereditary, he says. Meaning, if your mom has hairy nipples, you have a greater chance of having them, too.
Again, it’s super common to have some hair on your areola, but if it bothers you, you can pluck it out—just know it’s not going to feel good in the moment.
3. You can still breastfeed with inverted nipples.
Inverted nipples are when the nipple points into the breast instead of popping out. It’s not super common, but it’s something that some women are born with, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. If you’ve been wondering whether or not you can breastfeed with inverted nipples, you can. In many cases, the baby can establish a normal suck which will bring the inverted nipple out, Dr. Wider says. However, she adds, if you have moderate to severe inversion, it might be more difficult for the baby to latch on. “Lactation consultants can help with deep latch techniques,” she says.
If you’ve always had inverted nipples, it’s no biggie—that’s just what your nipples do. But if you notice that you used to have outies and one or both are suddenly going in, it’s important to flag it for your doctor. “If the nipple is in fact retracted where it’s not able to be pulled out, that can be a more ominous sign of something growing behind the nipple and pulling it inward and not just a normal variant of nipple development,” Dr. Hoover says.
4. It’s actually possible to get acne on your nipples.
The area bordering your areola is just skin, and you may notice little blackheads here and there circling your areola. That’s normal, too, says Dr. Goldenberg. If you get them regularly and it bothers you, try washing with a gentle soap in the area. However, if you notice a rash or bump near your nipple or areola that’s red and scaly, call your doctor. It could be no biggie, or it could be a sign of something called Paget’s disease of the nipple, a rare form of breast cancer that causes cancer cells to collect in or around the nipple, Dr. Wider says.
5. Your nipples aren’t carbon copies of each other.
Nipples are like snowflakes—no two are alike, Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob/gyn and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California, and author of She-ology The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. The size, shape, perkiness, and color of your nipples depend on a lot of variables and it’s normal for them to be a little different, she says.
Your nipples can even change and become less similar as you get older or at certain moments in your life. “Puberty, PMS, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause are times in women’s lives where hormonal changes make nipples change in size, sensitivity, and appearance,” Dr. Ross says. But again, if you notice that your nipple or nipples changed suddenly, flag it for your doctor just in case.
6. Nipple discharge happens—even if you’re not breastfeeding.
If you’re pregnant, you may notice some yellow stuff on your nipples, which is likely colostrum, an antibody-rich secretion. And obviously if you’re breastfeeding, you’re going to be producing milk.
But it’s also normal to have a tiny bit of discharge during other times too, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of minimally invasive gynecology at The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, tells SELF. Normal discharge is white or clear-ish, and can happen due to hormonal changes, she says. But if you’re having brown, red, or greenish discharge, you need to call your doctor—it could be a number of things including a cyst or papilloma, a benign growth in the breast duct. And, if you’re having a lot of discharge of any color, it’s important to let your doctor know, too, she says.
So there you have it—nipples are cool and weird and wonderful. Keep an eye on them and if something changes, let your doctor know. “Pretty much any change in a woman’s nipple needs to be looked at and evaluated by a health care provider,” Dr. Hoover says. “It’s always better to be safe than sorry in the case of a nipple change.”
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