Do your nipples change during and after breastfeeding?

Tags:woman age 25-34 nipples breast feeding

I had my son four years ago, and just had my daughter 5 months ago. I breast fed my son and am currently breast feeding my daughter, but just noticed my nipples and areolas are looking different, and not in a good way. Maybe it’s because I’m more observant now, but I swear they didn’t look like this before, after or during when my son was breastfeeding.

ArleneC

F, 35, Utah

Both pregnancy and breastfeeding can dramatically affect breast size and shape.  Pregnancy enacts hormonal changes in the body to prepare it for nurturing a growing fetus, and these hormonal changes are further accentuated by breastfeeding.

Women's breasts become enlarged as more estrogen and progesterone are produced, and glandular tissue also enlarges to facilitate the production of breast milk. To accommodate this increased breast volume, the breast skin stretches rapidly, sometimes causing stretch marks.

You mentioned you’ve observed changes in your nipples and areola, which is entirely normal. Changes in the areolae are common during pregnancy and breastfeeding and are linked to biological functions. Some changes that frequently occur include:

  • Darker color: the darkening of the areolae can occur throughout the pregnancy. This change serves to create a stark contrast between the breast and nipple, helping the baby to identify the milk source. Newborns have relatively weak eyesight and prominent difference in color may help them to latch on to the breast easier.
  • Increase in diameter: the areolae may become larger throughout the pregnancy up until delivery.
  • Thicker skin: the areola and nipple tissue becomes thicker in preparation for breastfeeding, offering protection from injury. Breastfeeding can be painful at first.
  • Enlarged, erect nipple: A larger, more erect nipple is easier for the baby to find and facilitates feeding.
  • Montgomery glands enlarge: the Montgomery glands are sebaceous mammary glands located on the areolae. They appear as small bumps and increase in size during breastfeeding to lubricate the breast and protect the area from infection. This lubrication also prepares the delicate skin for nursing.

The extent to which nipple and areola changes occur varies among women. The inherent genetic tendency of the breasts to increase in size and the length of time spent breastfeeding will influence the changes, and whether or not the breasts are likely to return to their pre-pregnancy baseline.

Most women can expect their areolae to return to their pre-pregnancy size once they finish breastfeeding, but some remain enlarged. While the color of the areolae will generally lighten, the areola are unlikely to return to the color they were prior to pregnancy.

These changes are evidence of the incredible transformation your body has been through since becoming a mother. However, if you feel self-conscious about your breasts, there are cosmetic surgery options you can consider which will restore your nipples and areola to their pre-pregnancy appearance. Nipple reduction surgery and areola reduction surgery can significantly improve the appearance of enlarged nipples or areola, rendering them more proportionate with the rest of the breast. However, it’s best to wait until you have finished breastfeeding your last child before considering surgery.

Many women experience body changes, particularly in their breasts, during pregnancy. The breasts may increase in cup size, feel painful, or begin to leak towards the end of the gestational period. However, some women do not experience significant changes during pregnancy, but rather, when their milk supply arrives after the baby is born.

The extent to which your breast tissue changes can be affected by genetics, weight gain during pregnancy, the number of pregnancies you’ve had, your skin elasticity and your age. Breasts are not necessarily affected by pregnancy or breastfeeding in the same way. While you may have noticed little change in your breasts after your first pregnancy, you can experience significant change following your second pregnancy.

Nursing mothers often notice that breastfeeding specifically affects the appearance of the nipple-areola complex. The areola is generally one - two inches in diameter for most women, and usually round or oval in shape. During breastfeeding, however, the areola becomes larger and darker, and the nipples become more erect. These changes help the baby's mouth to latch on to the milk source more easily. Denser tissue around the nipples and areolae is also common, easing some of the pain of breastfeeding.

Generally, these changes occur to help the infant identify the milk supply more easily. Once milk production has ended, the areola may return to a lighter shade, but it typically remains darker than it was prior to pregnancy. Areolae naturally vary in color among women, ranging in shade from beige to dark brown. Even if your areola are now darker than they were prior to pregnancy, they are most likely still within the normal range of color. Areolae and nipples may return to their original size, but in some cases they remain larger than they were prior to pregnancy.

If you feel uncomfortable about the changes you’ve noticed in your nipples and areola, there are cosmetic procedures available to address these issues. Consider scheduling an appointment with a board-certified plastic surgeon once you have finished breast feeding, and he or she will discuss possible treatment options with you. Procedures such as breast lift, breast augmentation and areola reduction surgery can help rejuvenate the appearance of your breasts and enhance self-confidence. A mommy makeover also offers women who have had children a combination of surgical procedures to help restore their pre-baby body.

It is not uncommon for nipples and areolas to change size, shape, and color during and after pregnancy, especially in the context of breast feeding.  The changes may be temporary, but they may not be.  I recommend waiting 6-12 months until you are done breast feeding your daughter to see how they look.  If you see no change back to how they were, you should consult with a board certified plastic surgeon to discuss what options there are to changing their appearance.  Rest assured there are some excellent options.  Good luck!