Another name for inverted nipples is retracted nipples. Some people are born with them, and others develop them later in life.
Both males and females can have them. Sometimes, only one nipple is inverted.
Inverted nipples are not a cause for concern. Also, they do not necessarily make breastfeeding difficult, as the baby can latch over the entire areola.
However, depending on the degree of inversion, a person may face challenges with breastfeeding or be unable to do so.
In this article, we look at the causes of nipple inversion, its impact on breastfeeding and sensitivity, and the treatment options.
Is it normal to have inverted nipples?
Approximately 2–10 percent of women have at least one inverted nipple.
Image credit: BruceBlaus, 2016
Inversion is a normal variation in nipple shape, and it is usually not a cause for concern. Doctors agree that there is generally no need to treat inverted nipples.
However, a doctor may recommend treatment if the underlying cause of the inversion is harmful, such as a malignancy or inflammation of the breast.
An estimated 2–10 percent of women have at least one inverted nipple, and men have them too.
Some people think that inverted nipples make it difficult to breastfeed. Stimulation can cause the nipple to stick out, and depending on how much the nipple protrudes, the baby may need to latch over the entire areola. Some people find that their nipples are less inverted after breastfeeding.
How to treat an inverted nipple
A person may wish to change the shape of their nipple due to concerns about breastfeeding or for aesthetic reasons.
Talk with a doctor before trying the methods below:
- Hoffman's technique: This consists of a manual home exercise for drawing out the nipple. Place the thumbs on either side of the nipple at its base. Press the thumbs firmly into the breast tissue, and separate them gently. This should cause the nipple to point outward. The amount of time it stays out will vary from person to person.
- Suction devices: These represent a noninvasive way to draw out the nipple.
- Piercings: A piercing may help to keep the nipple in an upright position.
- Cosmetic surgery: Healthcare professionals can use several different surgical procedures to change the shape of the nipple so that it points outward.
In any procedure, the doctor aims to preserve the nipple's usual sensation, avoid visible scarring, and maintain the functioning of the breast duct to enable breastfeeding.
What causes an inverted nipple?
A person should consult a doctor if one or both nipples invert in a short period.
A person may have inverted nipples from birth, which doctors call congenital inversion. Or, a person may develop inverted nipples later in life, which is an acquired inversion.
Acquired inversion can indicate an underlying medical issue, such as inflammation of the breast tissue. People should see a doctor if one or both nipples invert in a short period.
Medical conditions that can cause nipple inversion include:
- mastitis, which is an infection of the mammary gland
- duct ectasia, which is an abnormal dilation of a duct in the breast tissue
- an abscess under the areola
- complications of breast surgery
- breast cancer
Breast cancer also causes other breast changes. If a person notices any of these changes, such as a scaly, swollen nipple, or nipple discharge, they should see a doctor.
Grades of nipple inversion
There are three grades of nipple inversion, depending on the degree of inversion and mobility of the nipple:
- Grade 1: A person can easily pull out the nipple, and it maintains its projection. This grade of inversion causes no major problems with breastfeeding.
- Grade 2: A person can pull the nipple out, but not as easily, and the nipple tends to retract. They may find it difficult to breastfeed.
- Grade 3: A person may not be able to pull out their nipple. When pressing the nipple outward, it immediately retracts. Breastfeeding may be very difficult or impossible.
Impact on breastfeeding
While inverted nipples can make breastfeeding challenging, a baby can latch over the entire areola, bringing the nipple to the back of the throat. This means that breastfeeding is usually possible with inverted nipples.
Also, nipple stimulation often causes the nipples to protrude, and there are various techniques to try.
Some women find that their inverted nipples may begin to protrude naturally during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
How do inverted nipples affect sensitivity?
Nipple sensitivity varies from one person to the next, but a person with inverted nipples often experiences the same degree of sensation as a person with protruding nipples.
For most people, inversion does not affect nipple sensitivity.
When to see a doctor
In most cases, an inverted nipple is nothing to worry about and does not require treatment. Many males and females have inverted nipples from birth.
However, if a person notices a change in the shape of their nipple, they should see a doctor. Changes, especially those that occur over a short period, can signal an underlying health condition.
Nipple inversion usually has no impact on a person's health and is not a cause for concern. It is fairly common and can often be temporarily corrected with manual stimulation. Some people prefer permanent correction with cosmetic surgery.
Anyone who notices a change in the shape, size, or texture of the breast or nipple should see a doctor.