Is It Normal To Have Small Bumps on Your Nipples?

They're called Montgomery tubercles, and they're completely normal.

Yes, it's totally normal.

The small bumps that you may notice around your nipples are Montgomery tubercles, and they lubricate your breasts and keep them clear of germs. Approximately 30% to 50% of pregnant people develop Montgomery tubercles. The number of those bumps varies from person to person. Some have just a few, while others may have dozens.

Here's what you should know about Montgomery tubercles—including what they look like, what causes them to pop up near your nipples, what to do if they become infected, and whether you should remove them.

What Are Montgomery Tubercles?

You may notice that your hair becomes greasy if you don't wash it for a couple of days. That's the work of sebaceous glands, also known as oil glands.

You have sebaceous glands all over your body—including your areolas, which are the dark circular areas of skin that surround your nipples. The sebaceous glands on your areolas are called Montgomery tubercles (named after obstetrician William Fetherstone Montgomery, who identified and described the glands in 1837).

And like the sebaceous glands on your scalp (and all over your body), Montgomery tubercles lubricate your areolas, which prevents bacteria from infecting them.

That is particularly important if you're breastfeeding because Montgomery tubercles keep germs out of your breast milk and prevent cracked or chapped nipples.

How To Identify Montgomery Tubercles

Have you ever been so spooked or cold that you noticed goosebumps on your arms? Well, Montgomery tubercles can appear a lot like that.

Montgomery tubercles look like small (about one to two millimeters) bumps, per the National Health Service. They may be the same color as your areolas or red, white, or yellow. You can typically find Montgomery tubercles on your areolas, but they also occasionally pop up on your nipples.

Some people have anywhere between two to 30 Montogomery tubercles on their areolas, while others have none at all. You may also notice more of those glands on one breast than on the other.

Cause

Montgomery tubercles may pop up because of a number of reasons, such as:

  • Stress
  • Changes in hormones
  • Medications
  • Changes in body weight
  • Arousal of the nipple
  • Tight-fitting clothes
  • Cold temperatures

But for the most part, Montgomery tubercles are common during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as around puberty and the menstrual cycle.

Pregnancy

Changes to your breasts and nipples are among the most common early signs of pregnancy. Breasts often swell, becoming bigger than normal and feeling tender. And according to the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, if you're pregnant, you may also notice Montgomery tubercles.

Though, it's important to remember that not every person who becomes pregnant experiences Montgomery tubercles. In fact, only 30% to 50% of pregnant people have them.

Also, if you notice new glands pop up near your nipples, it does not necessarily mean that you're pregnant. Take an at-home pregnancy test or consult your healthcare provider if you have Montgomery tubercles and other symptoms of early pregnancy. In addition to changes to your breasts and nipples, those symptoms include morning sickness, fatigue, and spotting.

Breastfeeding

Montgomery tubercles promote healthy breastfeeding. By lubricating your areolas, they prevent bacteria from entering your breast milk and infecting your baby. Because of their antibacterial properties, you should not wash your breasts with soap, which dries your nipples, if you're breastfeeding.

Those natural oils also protect your nipples from becoming cracked or chapped. You can also apply lanolin, a moisturizing cream, to your nipples to avoid damage while breastfeeding.

Additionally, in one study published in 2019 in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine, researchers explained that Montgomery tubercles emit a scent that attracts your baby to your nipple, aiding breastfeeding.

Puberty and the Menstrual Cycle

Changes in hormones during puberty and the menstrual cycle also cause Montgomery tubercles to pop up near the nipples.

That's because the amount of estrogen in your body increases during puberty and ovulation, as well as before menstruation. According to one study published in 2020 in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine, researchers reported that increasing estrogen in the body facilitates the growth of Montgomery tubercles.

What Happens if Montgomery Tubercles Become Infected?

Like a stubborn pimple, you may want to pop Montgomery tubercles to quickly get rid of them. However, popping Montgomery tubercles may cause infections. Other factors, such as diabetes and smoking, or having your nipples pierced, can also increase your risk of infection, per the National Library of Medicine. Also, cracked nipples during breastfeeding invite bacteria that create infections.

Montgomery tubercles may also become clogged or inflamed, especially if you touch your nipples, use certain creams or moisturizers, or wear tight clothing.

Signs of infection include red, swollen areas near the nipples. Additionally, if you notice itching and bleeding, as well as a rash or pus, consult your healthcare provider.

In some rare cases, Montgomery tubercles are a symptom of breast cancer. You should talk to your healthcare provider if you have Montgomery tubercles and other symptoms of breast cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those symptoms include:

  • Hard lumps on your breasts
  • Changes to one or both of your breasts—including changes in the shapes of your nipples
  • Discharge from your nipples not related to breastfeeding
  • Skin that looks like an orange peel, also known as "dimpling," on your breasts
  • Swollen lymph nodes near your armpits
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

What Is a Montgomery Cyst?

Montgomery tubercles that become clogged may lead to Montgomery cysts. Typically found in adolescents, Montgomery cysts are uncommon and largely painless, per one study published in 2020 in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine. They often go away on their own and without medical intervention.

However, if Montgomery cysts become infected, you may need treatment. To get rid of the infection, a healthcare provider will drain the cyst using a needle and syringe.

Should I Remove Montgomery Tubercles?

Because Montgomery tubercles are normal and provide several benefits during pregnancy and breastfeeding, healthcare providers do not typically recommend removing them.

But if you want to get rid of Montgomery tubercles for cosmetic reasons, you can opt for an outpatient surgical procedure. Excising the glands from your areolas may cause scarring, however. It's important to consult your healthcare provider about whether removing Montgomery tubercles is the best option.

A Quick Review

So, if you notice goosebumps on your areolas, it's completely normal. Although Montgomery tubercles are most common during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as around puberty and the menstrual cycle, people can develop them for a number of reasons.

Montgomery tubercles should not hurt. So, it's important to consult your healthcare professional if you do experience any pain, which can be a sign of an infection.

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