Although inverted nipples are common — in fact, it’s thought that 10-20% of the world population has inverted nipples — a lot of people are still worried about theirs and perhaps a little self-conscious.
There are a few things you might want to know about inverted nipples, including whether you can breastfeed and the instances experts say you should visit your GP for a check-up.
We’ve called upon two surgeons, who are experts in breast surgery, to explain precisely what inverted nipples are if you’re unfamiliar, why you don’t need to worry about them, what causes them, and what procedures are available should you decide to change their appearance.
What is an inverted nipple?
Inverted nipples, or retracted nipples, are basically nipples that point inwards instead of out. This can happen in one breast or both. “An inverted nipple is a nipple that lacks projection and, in fact, the nipple has gone in the opposite direction. So instead of sticking out, it is sticking into your breast tissue,” explains Dr Shehab Jabir, consultant plastic surgeon at Centre for Surgery.
What causes an inverted nipple?
“Inverted nipples usually occur around puberty, but can become more significant with repeated pregnancies and breast feeding,” says Dr Paul Banwell, a leading UK cosmetic surgeon and expert in breast surgery. But inverted nipples can also be congenital, meaning they’ve been that way since birth. “They occur as a result of shortened breast milk ducts, due to an overproduction of shortened collagen fibres,” he adds.
Do I need to worry about inverted nipples?
If you were born with inverted nipples then you have absolutely nothing to worry about, you were just born that way! “It is entirely harmless,” says Dr Banwell. “For some people it may be an issue in terms of confidence and self-esteem but not always. I would give lots of reassurance that it is completely normal.”
However, if you have noticed that your nipples have started inverting but they weren’t always like this, it’s best to visit your GP. In some cases, this can be a sign of breast cancer so it’s always best to get it checked out by a medical professional.
That’s not to say, however, that all inverted nipples developed over time are due to breast cancer. Dr Banwell assures that, “some people are born with inverted nipples but it can also develop later in life as you age. Retracted nipples since birth, or those that occur gradually over time, are typically not a cause for alarm.”
Can someone breastfeed if they have inverted nipples?
The answer to this isn’t so straightforward. In short: it depends. Dr Banwell explains that it comes down to the extent of the nipple inversion. “Inverted nipples do not necessarily make breastfeeding difficult, as the baby can latch over the entire areola,” he says. “Sometimes the nipple can easily be pulled outward and will stand on its own with cold or stimulation so a woman will be able to breastfeed in this case.”