What Are Those Small Bumps on Your Nipples?

Montgomery tubercles are completely 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. And, yes, it's totally normal. 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.

About 9% of women in a 2017 study had them, although much older research indicated as many as 30% to 50% of pregnant people develop Montgomery tubercles. The number of bumps varies from person to person, too. Some have just a few, while others may have dozens. (Everyone's breasts are different.)

What Are Montgomery Tubercles?

You may notice that your hair becomes greasy if you don't wash it for a few 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 skin areas surrounding 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, keeping them from drying out. That's just one of several benefits for you, your breasts, and your baby if you are breastfeeding.

The small bumps can provide big benefits, including:

  • Preventing infection by lubricating skin
  • Keeping germs out of breast milk
  • Preventing cracked or chapped nipples
  • Helping babies breastfeed by emitting a scent that attracts them to the nipples

What They Look Like

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

They are:

  • Small, 1-2 millimeters
  • The same color as your areola or red, white, or yellow
  • On areolas or nipples
  • Sometimes more numerous on one breast than the other

Causes

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

  • Pregnancy
  • 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 typical 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 usual and feeling tender. And according to the research, if you're pregnant, you may also notice Montgomery tubercles.

Not every pregnant person experiences Montgomery tubercles, though. And 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 professional 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. Lubricating your areolas prevents 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.

The little bumps also perform another purpose. Researchers in a 2019 study 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. In a 2020 study, researchers reported that increasing estrogen in the body facilitates the growth of Montgomery tubercles.

What Happens if They Become Infected?

You may want to pop Montgomery tubercles like stubborn pimples to get rid of them quickly. However, popping Montgomery tubercles may cause infections. Other factors, such as diabetes, smoking, or having your nipples pierced, can also increase your risk of infection. And 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.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

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 professional.

In some rare cases, Montgomery tubercles are a symptom of breast cancer. You should talk to your healthcare professional if you have Montgomery tubercles and other signs of breast cancer.

Some symptoms of breast cancer 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.

Healthcare professionals usually identify them in adolescents. Montgomery cysts are uncommon and usually painless, per a 2020 study. They often go away on their own and without medical intervention.

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

Should I Remove Montgomery Tubercles?

Because Montgomery tubercles are typical and provide several benefits during pregnancy and breastfeeding, healthcare professionals 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. Surgically removing the glands from your areolas may cause scarring, however. It's important to consult your healthcare professional 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 several reasons.

Montgomery tubercles should not hurt. 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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Sources
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