6 causes of sore nipples, from chafing to breast cancer
- For women, sore nipples may be caused by hormonal shifts around your period or breastfeeding.
- Running long distances in a shirt can cause painful chafing on your nipples.
- Products like soaps or antibiotic ointments can irritate the skin on your nipples.
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There are a lot of reasons why your nipples may hurt. Many times, there's no reason to worry - you may just be having a shift in hormones, which is completely normal. But in some cases, nipple pain can be a sign of something more serious, like an infection or latching issues from breastfeeding.
Here are some reasons why your nipples may hurt and when you should see a doctor.
1. Hormone shifts during your menstrual cycle
Hormones like estrogen and progesterone increase and decrease in your body throughout your menstrual cycle. These hormone changes can stimulate your body to create more breast tissue and may cause nipple pain, depending on where you are in your cycle.
"In the second half of the cycle, usually the two weeks before you have your period, these hormones peak and cause growth of the milk glands in the breast," says Cara Delaney, MD, a gynecologist and instructor at the Boston University School of Medicine.
When this happens, your breasts and nipples may swell and feel tender. For some people, this pain can be severe, while others may not feel anything at all, Delaney says.
The process of learning to breast/chestfeed can be difficult and often painful, Delaney says. More than a third of people who seek help for breastfeeding report that they have ongoing nipple pain, and it's the most common reason parents give up on breastfeeding.
To properly latch, your baby should have some breast tissue in their mouth, with your nipple deeper in the mouth. If your baby doesn't latch onto enough breast tissue, your nipple can get painfully pinched and you may end up with chronically sore nipples.
If your nipples feel sore to a light touch and or you have burning pain when not feeding, these may be signs that you have a latching problem, Delaney says.
"If possible, seeking a lactation specialist can be helpful during this period," Delaney says. You can also try using different breastfeeding positions like the football, laid-back, and cradle positions described here.
Your breasts and nipples can become infected if bacteria get in through a break in your skin. This happens most often while you're breastfeeding, but you can get a nipple infection any time you have cracked or injured skin, Delaney says.
Infections can be painful, especially when your breast swells and pushes on the milk ducts attached to your nipples.
According to Delaney, some common signs of infection include:
- Increased pain in one nipple or breast
- Swelling, warmth, and redness in your nipple or breast
- Fever, chills, or flu-like symptoms
If you think you have an infection, it's important to see your doctor as soon as possible to get antibiotic treatment.
Nipple chafing usually happens when your nipples rub against your clothing and become irritated, but it can also happen from friction during sex.
"It is also called 'jogger's nipple' as it is more common for people that run long-distances," Delaney says. Nipple chafing is even more likely when you run in cold weather, when your nipples may be erect.
Delaney suggests a few easy solutions to prevent nipple irritation or chafing, including:
- Using lubricant on your nipples
- Wearing a well-fitted bra
- Using Band-Aids to cover your nipples
- Wearing moisture-wicking shirts, as moisture can make chafing worse
5. Breast cancer
In rare cases, nipple pain can be a sign of breast cancer, particularly if only one of your nipples is affected. However, although it is possible, nipple or breast pain is not usually caused by breast cancer.
Some more common signs of breast cancer to look out for are:
- A lump in your breast
- Breast swelling
- Nipple turning inward
- Skin on your nipple or breast turning red and scaly
- Discharge from your nipple
Related Article Module: Follow this 5-step guide to check for breast cancer at home
If you have any of these symptoms along with nipple pain, see your doctor as soon as possible to see if you need a breast cancer screening. You can also try doing a self breast exam to check for any new lumps.
6. Skin reactions
In some cases, products you use on your skin or clothes can irritate your nipples, causing soreness. This is especially true if you have allergies or a skin condition like eczema, which can make skin more sensitive.
Some people may also have allergies to preservatives in skin products like formaldehyde and methylisothiazolinone (MIT).
When you have an allergic skin reaction or nipple eczema, your nipples can become dry, scaly, itchy, and painful. If you have these symptoms, stop using any new skin products and visit your primary care doctor or dermatologist to work out the best treatment plan.
There are many different reasons why your nipples may hurt, ranging from normal hormone shifts to dangerous conditions like breast cancer.
If your nipples are sore, look out for other symptoms that may give you an idea of why they hurt.
If you have unusual symptoms or your pain is severe, see your doctor as soon as possible for an assessment and treatment.