Like boobs, nipple pain comes in all shapes and sizes. Most of the time, the issue is just wearing a bad bra. Other times it could be something serious.
Possible reasons why your nipples hurt
You might feel pain in your nipples due to:
- breast cancer
- allergies to detergent
- Paget’s disease of the breast
- skin conditions like dermatitis
- friction from poorly fitted clothes
- hormonal fluctuations (i.e., PMS or when you have your period)
- switching medications
Here’s a deep dive into the causes of nipple pain and how to treat them.
This cause applies to anyone with nipples. Friction is the number one suspect on the “Nipple’s Most Wanted” list. A tight shirt or loose bra can cause nipple pain.
- pain or discomfort
- dry, red or discolored, scabby, or crusty nips
Nipple friction during exercise
“Jogger nipple” (or nipple fissure) is also a legit thing. Nipple fissures can also happen as a result of breastfeeding or chestfeeding.
One study showed that nipple fissures are more common in long-distance runners. The constant collision of sweaty skin and fabric can be super irritating.
The best solution is to reduce the risk of friction. You can:
- Wear sweat-wicking shirts.
- Apply nipple balm or petroleum jelly.
- Surf? Wear a tight-fitting wetsuit or rash guard.
- Use waterproof tape on your boobs before a workout.
- If you wear bras, make sure they fit properly. It’s all about support and breathability.
Cranky nipples are often linked to skin conditions in anyone with nipples. One common culprit is dermatitis (aka eczema).
Dermatitis is pretty common (about 16.5 million peeps in the United States have it). An overreaction in your skin’s immune cells triggers it, leading to inflammation. Harsh soaps and fragrances can also set it off.
- pain or discomfort
- crusty, flaking nipples
Causes of dermatitis that might affect your nipples
The following might trigger dermatitis in areas that cause nipple pain:
- body lotion and shower gel
- laundry detergents
- scented soaps
- shaving cream
- fabric softener
- certain fabrics, like nylon or wool
The best way to treat dermatitis is to keep your nipples hydrated. You can:
- Apply soothing lotion.
- Switch to paraben- and fragrance-free soaps and creams.
- Avoid scrubbing the area too hard when you’re in the shower.
If these remedies don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream or another topical solution.
As if the cramps weren’t bad enough. Ugh. Periods can also cause an array of other less-than-pleasant symptoms in people with ovaries, including nipple effects.
Discomfort tends to flare up right before your period — But it can pop up during Aunt Flo’s visit as well. It happens because of fluctuations in your hormone levels.
- pain or discomfort
- increased sensitivity
- tender breasts and nipples
Sometimes, you just have to ride out the crimson wave. But there are some ways to reduce your discomfort. You can:
- Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain killer like ibuprofen (Advil) oracetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Try a hormonal birth control (i.e., the pill). This might help reduce your PMS and period symptoms.
Baby on board? A lot happens to your body when you’re pregnant. That means swollen ankles, morning sickness, and (yes) sore nipples. In fact, breast soreness is one of the first signs that an eggo is preggo.
Fluctuating hormones cause this. It can also be a result of your breasts preparing themselves to become lactation stations.
Other signs you’re pregnant include:
- missed periods
- peeing more than usual
You might also see changes to your nipples like discoloration and small bumps around the areolas.
Breast and nipple soreness should get better the further along you get. But that’s not the case for everyone. To ease the discomfort, you can:
- Try a cold compress.
- Wear a more supportive bra.
- Take a warm bath or shower.
- Use a calming nipple cream.
You can also opt for an OTC pain reliever. But be sure to ask your doctor first. They can give you a list of safe options for you and your baby.
Nip pain can happen in early nursing. This is usually because your baby is not latched deep enough. Your nipple should be at the back of your baby’s throat, not being scraped by their hard palate.
Seek help from a lactation consultant to improve your baby’s latch. Your hospital can help you find one.
- pain during feeding
- pain after feeding
Nursing-related nipple soreness usually improves over time. In the meantime, here are some ways to enhance your nursing experience:
- Avoid latching your baby until their mouth is wide open. If you feel pain, remove your baby and try to latch again, deeper.
- Try breastfeeding or chestfeeding in a new position so your baby’s hard palate isn’t on the same spot.
- Seek help from a lactation consultant if you’re unable to get your baby to take enough breast tissue in their mouth.
- Use creams or ointments.
- Let your nips air dry after feeding.
- Avoid harsh soaps and body washes.
- Apply a cool compress after nursing.
Pump PSA: If you’re using a breast pump, make sure that you’ve positioned the shield correctly and that the suction isn’t on too high.
When you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding a baby, the milk travels down ducts to the nipple. If these clog up, it can cause painful lumps anywhere on the breast — including the nipple.
A clogged milk duct can happen if:
- A birthing parent is nursing.
- If they’ve given birth and chosen not to breastfeed or chestfeed their baby.
- They’ve been nursing for a while and stopped.
Other risk factors include:
- not fully draining the breast (i.e., if bébé doesn’t latch fully)
- not having a regular nursing schedule or skipping feeds
- putting too much pressure on the breasts with a tight bra, seatbelt, or purse
While clogged milk ducts can be painful and a little worrying, you can usually resolve symptoms in 2 to 3 days by adjusting your feeding position and using home remedies.
- switching positions so that your baby’s nose and chin faces the blockage
- letting gravity do the work, and leaning over your baby on all fours while feeding
- massaging the painful lump during nursing
- keeping your clothes loose and comfortable
Just before you nurse, you can also try bathing your breasts in an Epsom salt bath (made of 4 liters of water and 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts) for 10 minutes. Try massaging the clogged area during the soak for the best results.
Give yourself a rinse before you feed — baby might not like the taste of salty boobs.
If symptoms don’t improve after 2 to 3 days, it’s best to seek consultation with a doc and rule out an infection.
If you feel nipple pain after changing medications or starting a new course of meds, you’re not alone.
Some medications linked to nipple pain include:
- oral contraceptives, like the pill
- hormone therapies that contain estrogen and progesterone
- some antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
These side effects can affect anyone with nipples.
One 2019 case study found that labetalol, a drug that doctors use to manage hypertension during pregnancy, caused nipple pain in a woman during pregnancy. When she switched to a different drug, she no longer reported pain.
But this is pretty unusual and a report of a single case. A huge number of women take labetalol without experiencing nipple pain.
Flag any unwanted side effects from medication with your doctor. They may be able to recommend alternative prescriptions or other types of treatment that address your medical issues without causing sore nipples.
If your medication has been the cause of your nipple pain, symptoms should start to ease off once it’s out of your system. If symptoms don’t improve after changing your prescription, the cause might be something else.
Nips can get sick, just like the rest of your body. Two common nipple infections are mastitis and thrush. They happen the most if you nurse.
Mastitis can occur due to a clogged milk duct, which can cause bacteria to grow.
Massage that area during breastfeeding. If it doesn’t resolve and you begin feeling ill and feverish, it has moved to mastitis, an infection of your tissue around that area. Without treatment, mastitis can lead to pain and pus.
More symptoms include:
- warm breasts
- pain while nursing
Your vajayjay isn’t the only body part that has to deal with yeasty business. Thrush — a yeast infection — can occur if your nipples crack or get dried out.
If you’re breastfeeding, your baby can also get thrush inside their mouth. It’ll show up as white patches on the sides of their mouth, gums, or tongue.
Your symptoms can include:
- tiny blisters
- itchy, flaky, shiny, red or discolored nipples
- cracked skin on or around your nips
- sharp pain on your nipples or breasts
Treatment depends on the severity of the infection. It can sometimes be treated with an OTC option. But you’ll need to chat with your doctor if it’s more serious. If you’re running a fever, don’t delay seeing your doctor. They can prescribe:
- oral antibiotics
- antifungal creams
Keep it clean. Bacteria can linger on surfaces. So, be sure to totally sanitize your bottles, breast pumps, and pacifiers (or anything else your baby puts in their mouth on the reg).
Nipple pain can be an early indicator of breast cancer. In addition to pain, you may have:
- a lump in your breast
- changes in the shape or size of your breasts
- nipple changes (i.e., scaling, discoloration, or redness)
- discharge (this doesn’t include breast milk if you’re nursing)
PSA: The only way to know for sure that you have breast cancer is to be diagnosed by a doctor.
Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer along with other factors. Some treatment options include:
- radiation therapy
- hormone therapy
- targeted drug therapies
- surgery to remove the lump
- a mastectomy (when one or both breasts are removed)
Paget’s disease is a rare form of breast cancer. The exact cause is unknown but one popular theory is that your cells from a tumor transfer through your milk ducts to your nipple. Keep in mind, not all people with Paget’s have breast tumors. Since it’s rare, a correct diagnosis is often delayed.
- thickened skin
- flattening of the nipple
- increased breast sensitivity
- bloody or yellow discharge
- flaking, scaling, or crusting on or around the nipple
Like other forms of breast cancer, treatment depends on a variety of factors, which include the stage and status of the disease.
Treatment may be a combo of:
- a mastectomy
- radiation therapy
- hormone therapy
- surgery to remove the affected area
Nipple pain — though usually harmless — can be a symptom of something serious. So, don’t dismiss your pain. Your doctor can help you get to the root of the problem.
Call your doctor if:
- Pain lingers after you nurse.
- Breastfeeding pain is chronic.
- You feel a lump in your breast.
- You have a fever or swollen breasts.
- Your nipples are scaling, flaking, or cracking.
- There’s a red or discolored, bumpy rash on or around your nipples.
- Pus, blood, or yellow discharge is coming out of your nipples.
There are lots of ways to kick your nipple pain to the curb. It all depends on what’s causing the issue.
If it’s a friction issue
- Avoid tight clothing. Let your nips breathe!
- Moisturize. Use nipple creams and ointments on the daily.
- Cover up. Wear gauze pads or pasties over your nips if you’re going for a run.
- The right bra goes a long way. Make sure your bra fits properly and offers a good amount of support.
If it’s period related
- Stay active. Exercise can help you get rid of excess fluid.
- Avoid caffeine (maybe). Some folks think your morning cup o’ joe and other caffeinated drinks can affect breast tissue. But more evidence is needed in this area.
- Limit the salty snacks. Salt can lead to water retention. This can cause swollen, tender breasts.
- Consider the pill. Hormonal birth control methods can help alleviate PMS and period symptoms.
If it’s because you’re breastfeeding
- Try to get your baby’s latch deeper with a wider grasp of your breast. Reach out for help from a lactation consultant. They may recommend a nipple shield or other treatment.
- Make sure you dry your nipples after each nursing sesh.
- Use a bottle if needed. There’s absolutely no shame in swapping to formula for a bit (or for good). You can also use a breast pump which might be easier on your nips than nursing.
- Swap sides if one nipple is sorer than the other. Also, be sure to change your baby’s position frequently.
- Avoid harsh chemicals. A lot of soaps and lotions have parabens and fragrances that can dry your nips out in a flash.
Nipple pain is the pits. The good news: It’s usually harmless. But in certain cases, it could be a sign of something serious. Def call a doctor if you think something feels or looks off.