Have you ever looked at your nipples and asked yourself one of these questions, why do they look like that? What are those bumps? Why are they tucking inwards, and is that even normal?
Our body parts rarely escape being the center of criticism or sexualization. TV shows, ads, and social media have played a significant role in dictating the image of the “ideal“ body, for both men and women. From luscious abs to perfectly round perky breasts and small pink nipples, the little we know about our intimate body parts serves only one narrative, one crafted by exclusive “beauty ideals”.
I’m here to tell you there is no such thing as an ideal standard, and like all things in life, nipples too come in all shapes and sizes.
Here are 17 facts about nipples that will not only debunk misconceptions and unspoken mysteries surrounding them but will also have you embracing just how normal all nipples are:
1. They are as diverse as it gets.
There is no such thing as a “standard nipple”. Just like their closest BFF, the breasts, nipples come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be flat or protruding in shape, pale to very dark in color, and can range from a penny to a ladybug in size.
2. Your nipple isn’t your areola.
Vaginas are to vulvas as nipples are to areolas – ie, not the same thing. Let’s set the record straight… the nipple is at the very center of your breast while the areola is the pigmented area surrounding the nipple.
3. Nipplegasm is REAL!
Your nipples are capable of making you feel wonders if treated right! Many studies back that up, including a 2011 study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine that ranked nipples as the most sensitive alongside the clitoris. The same study also discovered, using MRI imaging, that when nipples are stimulated, the pleasure center that lights up in the brain is the same one that lights up after clitoris and cervix stimulation. And if studies aren’t enough, just Google “nipple foreplay”.
4. They can come in lucky numbers.
Three, four, and up to seven! Polythelia is the condition that describes having extra nipples, referred to as Supernumerary nipples. These nipples never develop into actual breasts and usually appear along the milk lines or on other parts of the body. One to five per cent of the population has supernumerary nipples and they are often mistaken for moles or marks.
5. And some people don’t have them at all.
Athelia is the name of the rare genetic disorder signifying the absence of one or both nipples. The disorder prevents the development of nipples in the womb causing the affected person to be born with one nipple or none at all. Athelia can only be treated through breast reconstruction.
6. The small whitish bumps on your areola are not whiteheads.
They are called areolar glands, also known as the glands of Montgomery. They are vital and are responsible for keeping your nipples and skin lubricated through the protective oily fluid they produce. So quit squeezing those little bumps!
7. Nipples become warmer after birth to help newborns breastfeed.
Newborns are quite helpless, yet they instinctively gravitate to the nipple to latch on. Research suggests that a nipple’s temperature rises after giving birth in order to guide a newborn’s cooler lips directly toward it. The study examined 41 women and found that there was an average difference of 1.7C (3F) between a mother’s nipple temperature and her baby’s lips.
8. Breast milk leaves the nipple through multiple openings.
The common misconception is that milk exits the breasts in a single stream or through one opening. In truth, there are usually between four and 20 tiny outlets known as milk ducts that are located on and around the nipple and through which breast milk comes out.
9. They are the first to develop in the womb.
Research shows that when it comes to fetus development in the womb, nipples are the first things to develop. In other words, breast tissue develops even before sex organs do, hence why both women and men have them.
10. Hair grows there.
Let’s say it all together: body hair is NORMAL! Hairy nipples are absolutely ordinary and yes, even if you are a woman. The bumps you feel around your nipples are actually hair follicles, which only makes it natural for hair to grow there. However, if these hair follicles become painful or are itchy, you should consult your doctor.
11. Outwards is not always the way they go.
Some nipples are inverted which means that they point inward rather than outward. Inverted nipples are fairly common and are caused by shorter than usual milk bearing ducts in the breast. This can make the nipple lie flat or tuck inward. They are not a matter of health concerns but can cause some obstacles to breastfeeding. In such case, they can easily be converted from “innies” to “outies” with a doctor’s help.
12. They can change.
Be it areola pigment or nipple size, your nipples are most likely to change, especially during and after pregnancy. While your areola might become larger and darken in hue, your nipples are most likely to become bigger to welcome the needs of a newborn.
13. Nipple discharge happens even if you are not pregnant or breastfeeding.
Occasional nipple discharge is very common. Anything from exercise and sexual stimulation to rubbing and chafing can cause these discharges. Nursing women can also accidentally leak milk when hearing baby cries. If you notice that the leak happens without any stimulation or if you notice any blood, call your doctor.
14. Men can lactate too.
While it is incredibly rare, there have been studies showing records of men producing milk similar to lactating women. The condition is known as galactorrhea and its cause is often referenced to major hormone surges.
15. Nipples can chafe and crack.
I know, that sounds painful! Many women experience nipple cracking in the first weeks of breastfeeding while nipple chaffing is common among gym-goers. The friction between nipples and a sport bra can cause red, itchy, or sore nips. Make sure you are wearing the right bra and protect your nipples with a barrier if you must. If the soreness and pain persist, it is important that you run this by your doctor.
16. Nipple piercing comes with health risks.
It might look cool and be all the rage, but according to a 2010 study, piercing your nipples can increase the odds of getting a breast infection. It can also damage the ducts that produce the milk for breastfeeding and cause rashes, swelling, and allergic reactions. You might even lose some, if not all, sensation in your nipples after piercing due to nerve damage.
17. They can help induce labor.
A 2005 analysis of multiple trials, involving 719 women, found that breast and nipple stimulation is an effective non-medical method to induce labor but should still be tested further to evaluate its safety.
Now, we hope you know that the world of nipples alone is so wide with much more to explore. And that a “normal” version of such an intimate and fascinating part of your body is nonexistent. So make sure you show your nipples some love because of how unique they are.