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Why Are My Nipples Sensitive

by Lyndon Langley
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Why Are My Nipples Sensitive

Why Are My Nipples Sensitive

Do you ever feel like your boobs aren’t even yours? They’re attached to your body so firmly that it’s hard to imagine them existing on their own — or at least without some serious help from us. The truth is that our breasts are nothing short of miracles. Not only do they produce milk for infants, but they also keep everything else we need alive, especially when we engage in vigorous exercise. But just what makes our breasts so special? And how do those miracle glands work? Read on to find out about nipple anatomy and function.
Breast Anatomy 101
What Causes Pain In Your Nipple
Treating Irritated Nipples

Breast Anatomy 101
The first thing you should know about a woman’s breasts is that they’re made up of fat cells. No surprise there, right? However, these fatty cells aren’t distributed evenly across the two breasts. Instead, most of the fat is concentrated toward the lower portion of each breast. This helps support the weight of the mammary gland (the organ that produces milk) and allows gravity to pull the milk into the ducts. These large ducts lead down to the nipples, which sit atop the areola, a ring of darker skin surrounding the lighter colored flesh of the nipple.
A normal-sized human female has around 1,000 functioning lactation ducts leading down to her nipples. Each one of these tiny tubes contains between 500,000 and 750,000 lobules. Lobules are essentially small glands that release milk through the ducts. When a baby latches onto a mother’s breast with its mouth, he sucks on the nipple, pulling the lobule open and releasing milk inside. At the same time, the infant’s saliva enters the milk duct and dilutes it, preventing infection [Source: La Leche League]. Once the milk leaves the nipple, it travels down the duct under the guidance of specialized muscles called myoepithelial cells. These cells contract and expand as needed, helping the milk move smoothly along until it reaches the proper passageway [Source: Mayo Clinic].
Most people don’t think much about their nipples after birth. After all, they usually cover themselves with nursing pads or use bottles for feeding babies. But did you know that your nipples change over time? We’ll talk more about this later.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what goes on behind closed doors, let’s take a closer look at why your nipples might be hurting.
The average woman will menstruate every 28 days. Most women go longer than that, though, because not everyone gets regular cycles. If you get pregnant, you may experience irregularity once the child is born. During the perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopausal years, hormone levels fluctuate wildly, causing changes in your monthly cycle. While most women experience hot flashes and mood swings during this stage, some women actually suffer painful cramps in their breasts. It turns out that hormones play a role in nipple sensitivity, too. So, while you may not notice any changes in your monthly cycle, your nipples could still be dealing with hormonal fluctuations.
What Causes Pain In Your Nipple
Your breasts change throughout your life, and sometimes they can cause problems for your nipples. Let’s say you wear tight clothing, such as sports bras and T-shirts. Over time, repeated exposure to fabric can irritate the delicate skin. Clothing manufacturers have been quick to respond by designing fabrics that won’t aggravate sensitive skin. But if you already have sensitive skin, wearing tight clothing can burn and itch.
Pregnancy can also affect your nipples. As breasts grow larger with additional demand placed upon them, breasts become less firm. Pregnant women often complain of sagging breasts, and this happens to both breasts equally. Breastfeeding can also cause soreness in the nipples. Women who begin breastfeeding before being fully recovered from childbirth can experience extreme discomfort due to engorgement. Engorged breasts retain fluid, which causes pressure on the tissues. As the fluid slowly drains back out, the breasts return to their pre-pregnancy size, leaving behind scar tissue. New mothers must wait several weeks to give birth again before trying to nurse. Even then, the process isn’t guaranteed to go well, since another round of engorgement awaits them. Some women never regain full feeling in their nipples following childbirth.
Aside from physical factors, psychological stress can also contribute to nipple irritation. Anxiety can cause excessive tearing, and mental health disorders, such as depression, can trigger painful reactions to certain foods and medications.
While many women deal with irritated nipples, others develop severe pain within their breasts. A condition known as galactorrhea is where milk leaks from the breasts uncontrollably. Galactorrhea doesn’t occur in all women; however, it does happen in response to certain medical conditions, including pituitary tumors, thyroid disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, hypothyroidism, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovaries, prolactinoma, and hypothalamic lesions. Other possible causes include side effects of medication, dehydration, malnutrition, liver diseases, kidney failure, low blood sugar, leukemia, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, tuberculosis, trauma, cancer, radiation treatment, and autoimmune diseases such as Graves’ disease, sarcoidosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren syndrome, and dermatitis. Rare cases of galactorrhea result from brain damage caused by injury or head trauma. Although it sounds pretty scary, doctors treat galactorrhea with little fanfare. In fact, it’s considered a normal part of female physiology.
Next, we’ll explore how to relieve irritation and pain in your nipples.
Treatment for galactorrhea depends on the underlying cause. Many times, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, or antidiabetic drugs. Surgery may also be necessary to remove the source of the problem.
Treating Irritated Nipples
If you suspect that something is wrong with your nipples, you should consult a doctor immediately. You might see a specialist or family physician who specializes in obstetrics/gynecology or endocrinology. Your gynecologist or OB/GYN can perform tests that may help determine the root of the issue. To help narrow down potential causes, she may order a complete panel of lab tests that check cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, vitamin D, parathyroid hormone, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, thyroxine, and dopamine. She may also order x-rays to rule out other issues, such as cysts, bone density loss, osteoporosis, and breast cancer.
Once you’ve determined that a problem exists, your doctor will probably recommend treating the symptoms rather than the underlying cause. Medications may come in the form of topical creams or ointments designed to ease inflammation. Topical treatments can provide relief from minor burns and stinging sensations, but they won’t cure anything. Oral medications, such as corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, can provide temporary relief, but they may pose risks, including hypertension and stomach ulcers. Your doctor may also prescribe oral antibiotics to combat bacterial infections.
For more information on nipple sensitivity, visit the links on the next page.
When your breasts start producing extra fluids, new milk ducts appear. Within four months of giving birth, you’ll likely see a noticeable increase in the number of nipples you have. If you experience nipple soreness, you may want to consider increasing the flow of milk. One way to do this is to pump your breasts manually using a hand-operated device. Another option is to purchase a breast pump, which is used to extract milk from the breasts and store it in containers.
Since the 19th century, nipple stimulation has proven effective in relieving pain associated with breastfeeding. An old wives tale states that rubbing your nipples between thumb and forefinger can reduce pain and promote milk production. Experts disagree, citing no scientific evidence supporting this claim. Nevertheless, it remains popular among nurses and mothers alike.

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