Why Shiny Nipples Happen During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding


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A woman’s pregnant body goes through changes that may seem out of a movie, but are all part of preparing for the baby. The most noticeable change is in the nipples, which can grow, soften, and even appear shiny.

Shiny nipples are a phenomenon where oils or discharge appear on the nipples, softening them and giving them a shiny look. This usually happens during the late stage of pregnancy into the breastfeeding stage. However, it can start in early pregnancy or in other instances outside of pregnancy.

Keep reading to learn causes of shiny nipples during pregnancy as well as other medical instances where this can happen. You can also learn tips and treatments to take care of this.

What Causes Shiny Nipples?

A lot happens to a woman’s breasts as she goes through pregnancy and especially after the baby has been born. While breastmilk and its precursor, colostrum, get much of the attention there is actually something else happening as well with Montgomery glands that can cause the nipples and areolas to look shiny.

As the breasts grow during pregnancy, the Montgomery glands will begin to activate. These glands, commonly identified as the textured dots on the breast’s areola, are a combination of lactiferous (milk-production) and sebaceous (oil-production) glands that release an oily substance meant to coat the areola and nipple. This substance helps to soften the nipples and protect them from cracking and other breastfeeding-related issues.

This substance is different from colostrum, which is the first milk that comes in, which can make your breasts look crusty and even cause you to leak a little. The oils also prepare your nipples for breastfeeding as the nipple area is sensitive and can be a cause of discomfort, particularly for first-time moms. 

Can Shiny Nipples Be A Sign of Cancer?

It seems to be a common question and can make women fearful, especially if it happens when they are not pregnant. While shiny nipples are seldom a cause for concern, it should be mentioned that there is a very serious condition to be aware of as well.

Shiny nipples could be a symptom of Paget’s disease and can be a precursor to breast cancer of the area behind the nipple. Paget’s disease causes an eczema-like condition to the nipple including pain, redness, discharge, and ​shininess.

If this is diagnosed, they will do a biopsy and do their best to treat it right away. When the woman is pregnant, they take extreme precautions to make sure the mother and baby stay safe and healthy. Breast Cancer can appear during pregnancy rarely (1 in 3,000 cases or up to 3%) and is usually caught in the later stages.​

Only about 1-4% of women who have breast cancer have the symptoms of Paget’s disease, but if there is any concern, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. Awareness and diagnosis are the key and can save your life. 

Are Shiny Nipples A Sign Of Pregnancy?

Most of the time, yes.

Under normal circumstances, the Montgomery glands will only activate and secrete the oily substance that makes nipples shiny during the later stages of pregnancy and during the breastfeeding stage.

With that said, these glands react to hormones just like everything else in the body so it is possible for them to secrete oil outside of pregnancies. For instance, some women have even experienced it during their premenstrual symptoms (PMS), as well as going through menopause. Other causes include eczema and reactions to soaps or certain irritants if the areola and nipple become extremely dry or damaged.

Shiny Nipples During Early Pregnancy

Shiny nipples mostly occur later in pregnancy, but they can show up early depending on each woman’s body.

There are many changes going on throughout pregnancy with a woman’s body and there is no set timeline as to when things should happen. Typically, women should expect for their breasts to grow heavier. They will become more tender and even tingle. The nipples will become more sensitive, grow, and the areolas will become darker.

Moist nipples during early pregnancy

Some women will experience wetness and even leakage from their breasts as the colostrum forms.

Moist nipples caused by leaking colostrum is completely normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. It’s just your body getting ready to feed the baby a little earlier than it needs to be.

This is the first milk that develops and protects the baby the first few days after they are born until the regular supply comes in. It contains antibodies and nutrients that are essential to the little one’s survival. However, the estrogen in the placenta surrounding the baby works to keep the actual milk from coming into the breasts until the baby is ready to be born.

Shiny Nipples During Late Pregnancy

Most of the time, this is where the shininess on the nipples comes in because the body is closer to birth.

The breasts will become larger, which can even cause itchiness from the growth and stretching. Accompanying this can be pain, which can be solved with a well-fitted bra for sleeping as well as an everyday one. The veins in your breasts will become darker because of the increased blood supply. The nipples and areolas will become larger and the nipples will stick out more, making it easier for the newborn to find and suckle.

At this time, the colostrum should be coming in strong and there may be some leakage.

Shiny Nipples While Breastfeeding

During breastfeeding, the breasts will be working to produce milk but taking a lot. A nursing mother can experience pain, chafing, shiny nipples, cracked and bleeding nipples, and overall achiness. Some mothers can produce more milk than the baby can eat, resulting in engorgement.

Breast engorgement can be incredibly uncomfortable because the breasts are so full, it even makes it hard for the baby to nurse. They are hard, sensitive, painful, and even hot. It can be easily treated at home but must be done as soon as possible. ​ If left untreated, this can develop into mastitis. Mastitis is an infection inside the clogged milk ducts and includes fever, extreme pain, red streaks on the breasts, and flu-like symptoms. This can only be treated with antibiotics.

Preventing mastitis at home

The steps taken can include a warm shower, massaging the breasts, hand expressing the milk out, and a warm compress.

According to the La Leche League,​ an old wives tale remedy seems to be a great relief for engorgement and overall discomfort. Wash a couple of fresh green cabbage leaves under cool water and place them inside the bra, resting on the breasts. They can be left for as long as you want and can be replaced as often as necessary. 

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help, by the way.

Ladies, if it is too uncomfortable, ask your significant other for assistance in hand expressing the milk or massaging. If it’s too painful for yourself, it always helps to have someone else comfort and support you.

How to get rid of thrush on your own

Another phenomenon that can occur is Thrush,​ which is a type of yeast bacterial infection that can form on the nipples and in the mouths of breastfed babies. On the nipples, it can cause pain, chafing, and shininess. In the infant’s mouth, there are white patches, bleeding, red skin around the mouth, and other symptoms. 

Thrush is highly contagious and can spread easily through breastmilk and whatever the baby puts in its mouth. It can be contracted because of a compromised immune system as well and if left untreated, can be passed back and forth between mother and child numerous times. A diaper rash can also transmit the bacteria.

Treatment through antibiotics is the only way to get rid of thrush. It can take up to two weeks for the thrush to go away. In some cases, it can reduce your milk supply and make it hard, in general, to nurse during that time.

However, prevention is the best course of action:

  • Wash your hands in between feedings and diaper changes
  • Reduce stress
  • A healthy diet and low sugar
  • Sterilize everything the baby touches
  • Keep nipples dry in between feedings
  • No plastic liners on breast pads
  • Increase good bacteria intake

Shiny nipples appear in different stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding. Though some symptoms can be scary, this phenomenon is a regular part of a woman’s changing body. They are a journey to experience. If there are ever any health concerns, talk to your doctor.

The La Leche League is an organization that offers free resources as well from pregnancy to breastfeeding and beyond.

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Josh

I'm the dad in charge of Natural Baby life. With 10 years of parenting experience across three children, I am constantly learning how to raise children more naturally. I'm passionate about doing whatever it takes to raise a happy and healthy baby! Find out more about me here.

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