What Are Inverted Nipples?

Do your nipples point in instead of out? Don't worry, it's actually quite common.

Nipples can look all sorts of ways—light, dark, big, small, flat, or protruding. But do yours point in or lie flat? Called "inverted," nipples like these are common and usually harmless.

Adhesions beneath the nipples that bind the skin to the underlying tissues often cause nipples to invert. Stat Pearls explained an estimated 10 to 20% of people (both males and females) have them. Sometimes, they're called "retracted" nipples.

Can Inverted Nipples Be a Sign of a Health Problem?

A study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery - Global Open in 2020, explained that if they are congenital, meaning you were born with them, inverted nipples usually aren't a health concern. However, if they are acquired, meaning you developed them and were not born with them, your healthcare provider may rule out conditions such as periductal mastitis, breast cancer, or other health concerns.

According to Stat Pearls, a nipple that changes like this over time may be normal, but it can also be a red flag for certain breast diseases, such as Paget's disease of the breast, a rare type of cancer that involves the nipple and the areola, the darkened circle that surrounds the nipple. If you notice you have inverted nipples, and didn't have them previously, or you are concerned, your healthcare provider is a great resource to reach out to.

Can I Nurse With Inverted Nipples?

Yes, you can likely breastfeed or chestfeed with inverted nipples, but you may need some extra help getting started. For example, babies may have trouble latching onto an inverted nipple, according to La Leche League International, a breastfeeding organization, which offers suggestions for helping the process. The baby may need to latch onto the entire areola, and you may have to be more patient.

Johns Hopkins Medicine also explained that you can also ask your health care provider about special nursing devices, such as breast shells that help pull out and position an inverted nipple in a way that makes it less difficult for the baby to nurse. Also, some people find that the milk flows better with a breast pump. After nursing, you may notice that your nipple has protruded, though it will likely return to its usual position.

Can Inverted Nipples Be Corrected?

The 2020 study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery - Global Open explained that if you don't like the shape of your nipples, the only way to permanently change them is to have plastic surgery. There are two types: one that keeps the milk ducts intact and one that does not. So, if you are planning to become pregnant and breastfeed, surgery may not be recommended.

Otherwise, there are a few non-invasive strategies that may temporarily alter the shape. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences and Research found that a method called Hoffman's technique, which includes manipulating the nipple by hand, was effective in fostering successful breastfeeding in mothers with variations in nipple shape.

Also, there are devices that sometimes draw the nipple out from its flat position, including retractors, extractors, and suction devices.

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