How we feel about our bodies and all its working parts can be loaded, but perhaps no body part elicits quite as much mixed emotion as the breast — for both men and women.
Amid a perpetual onslaught of breast augmentation ads, boob-lifting bras, and nipple bans, it can be easy to dismiss that women’s breasts (and specifically nipples) serve more than an evolutionary purpose to feed offspring. (Of course, this doesn’t dictate if women can, should, or want to have kids.) It’s also easy to forget that male nipples might not be too different either.
And yet, nipples are as individual as we are, with all kinds of surprising quirks up their sleeve. So do yourself a little favor and get to know your nips more — even the smallest detail could be a conversation starter about health, or pleasure.
1. Women’s health used to be diagnosed via nipples
Color was a major factor doctors and nurses considered when reading into a woman’s health. In 1671, the English midwife Jane Sharp published a book called “The Midwives Book or the Whole Art of Midwifry.”
According to a Stanford course about the female body, Sharp once wrote, “The Nipples are red after Copulation, red as a Strawberry, and that is their Natural colour: But Nurses Nipples, when they give Suck, are blue, and they grow black when they are old.” Thankfully, this practice has been discontinued.
2. There are 4 to 8 types of nipples
Your nipples can be flat, protruding, inverted, or unclassified (multiple or divided). It’s also possible to have one breast with a protruding nipple and the other with an inverted, making the total combination of nipple types up to eight.
3. Your nipple isn’t your areola
The nipple is at the very center portion of your breast, and is linked to the mammary glands, where milk is produced. The areola is the darker colored area surrounding the nipple.
4. Inverted nipples are normal
Inverted nipples, which tuck inward instead of protruding out, function the same as “regular,” protracted nipples. It’s possible to have one non-inverted nipple alongside an inverted one, and it’s also possible to have inverted nipples that pop out later.
Inverted nipples tend to go away after breastfeeding a baby and won’t interfere with breastfeeding. Stimulation or cold temperatures can also temporarily cause nipples to protrude. Piercings and surgery can convert “innie” nipples to “outies.”
5. You can have two nipples on one areola
This is called double and bifurcated nipple. Depending on the ductal system, both nipples may be able to produce milk for infants. However, when breastfeeding, infants may find it difficult to fit both in their mouth.
6. Nipple hair is real
Those tiny bumps around your nipples? Those are hair follicles, which both men and women have, so it only makes sense that hair grows there! These hairs might look darker and more wiry than other hairs on your body, but you can pluck, trim, wax, or shave them the same way as other hairs, if they bother you.
7. The average nipple height is the size of a lady bug
In one 2009 studyTrusted Source of 300 women’s nipples and areolas, results showed a mean areola diameter of 4 cm (which is a little smaller than a golf ball), a mean nipple diameter of 1.3 cm (similar to the width, not length, of an AA battery), and a mean nipple height of 0.9 cm (the size of a lady bug).
8. Breastfeeding wasn’t always the standard
Though breastfeeding is now commonTrusted Source among educated, upper-middle-class women, the same group actually used to oppose breastfeeding their babies. In the Renaissance period, aristocratic women used wet nurses to feed their offspring. And in the early 20th century, infant formula was considered idealTrusted Source because its price tag was a signifier of wealth.
Since then we’ve learned that formula can never provide all the same ingredients as human milk does.
9. Nipple pain is common among women
It’s not unusual for breastfeeding moms to experience pain in their nipples for various reasons, including positioning problems during feeding. But breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful.
Experiencing pain or soreness in your nipples also afflicts non-moms, and can be a symptom of PMS or other hormonal changes, as well as:
- skin irritation
- friction from a sports bra
Nipple cancer is rare, but get it checked out by a doctor if your pain is persistent or you notice any blood or discharge.
10. Nipples can change in size
This happens frequently during pregnancy. One 2013 studyTrusted Source of 56 pregnant women showed that their nipples grew in both length and width during the course of the study and their pregnancy. Their areola width also increased significantly.
11. Report all abnormal nipple discharge
Nipple discharge from one or both breasts can be an indicator of health concerns like hypothyroidism and cysts, as well as things like medication changes. But if you notice bloody discharge, be sure to have it evaluated by a doctor right away as it could be a sign of something more serious.