As all women know, bodies come in different shapes and sizes, and our nipples are certainly no exception.
If you're one of the roughly 20 percent of women with flat or inverted nipples, you might be wondering how that might affect breastfeeding. The good news is even if you have both or just one inverted nipple, breastfeeding is still very possible. It just makes things a bit trickier — at least initially anyway.
Like anything, breastfeeding is a skill, and skills take time to master, especially if your nipples are a little quirky.
But, with the right support, whether that be a lactation consultant, the right tools (Kin's Breastfeeding Essentials kit, for example) or just a few handy hints, breastfeeding your bub will be breezy and beautiful no matter your nipple shape.
What are inverted nipples?
Inverted or flat nipples protrude inward toward the areola or sit flat against it. The degree to which nipples are inverted or flat varies not just from person to person but even from nipple to nipple.
You might have fully flat or inverted nipples, or you might have one typical nipple and one which is wholly or partially flat or inverted.
No matter the cause of this anatomical anomaly, whatever way your pointers point is completely fine.
What causes inverted nipples?
Most women with inverted or flat nipples are born with them, and it is entirely normal, common and medically safe. If you're born with inverted or flat nipples, it is generally caused by tight bands or adhesions of connective tissue pulling the nipple inwards beneath the skin.
They can be permanent or temporary, depending on the cause, but if you have developed a flat or inverted nipple later in life, you might want to get it checked out.
It is no cause for alarm; sometimes, pregnancy can even trigger this change, among other things. Changes to breast tissue can also be caused by menopause, mastitis, breast surgery or trauma and lead to inverted nipples.
But with all breast changes, in some cases, it can indicate something more severe, so it is best to get the gals checked.
How to tell if you have flat or inverted nipples?
One or both nipples may be flat or inverted, and to the naked eye, an inverted nipple may not be super noticeable. You might not even know that you have them, but if your nipple does not become erect when stimulated it might be flat or inverted.
To check, gently squeeze around the nipple if it retracts into the areola, and your nipples are probably inverted.
Can inverted nipples affect breastfeeding?
The good news is it is still entirely possible to breastfeed if you have flat and inverted nipples. In fact, nurses and lactation consultants often remind new mums that it is called breastfeeding, not nipplefeeding.
That being said, inverted or flat nipples can impact breastfeeding, so you just might need a little help along your breastfeeding journey. As the nipples don't respond to stimuli typically, it can be more challenging to get the baby to latch.
While this can be very distressing for a new mum, it is important to remember that practice (and a little help) makes perfect.
Do inverted nipples affect milk production?
An inverted or flat nipple won't affect your milk ducts, so your ability to breastfeed, your milk supply and milk flow are not hindered by your nipple shape.
So while your breast milk is not affected, the delicate balance of supply and demand of milk can be impacted by flat or inverted nipples. This is due to the difficulty some mums experience getting the baby's mouth to latch, which has a ripple effect.
Typically our bodies instinctively know how much milk to produce based on how much your baby needs to eat and the strength of their sucking reflex. But, this isn't as simple if you have flat or inverted nipples.
As your baby might have difficulty latching, they may not be able to feed as freely or get as much milk as they want. This can confuse the milk supply as your body may have difficulty discerning how much milk to produce based on how much the baby is drinking.
Meaning inverted nipples can, in some cases, reduce the overall milk supply.
Tips for breastfeeding with flat or inverted nipples
From using nipple stimulation tools to consulting a breastfeeding specialist and more, there are lots of ways you can make breastfeeding with inverted nipples easier.
Here are our top tips for breastfeeding with inverted nipples:
- Lactation consultant: One of the biggest mistakes mums make after their baby is born is trying to do everything without help. We get it. Asking for help can be challenging, but seeing a breastfeeding specialist can be one of the best ways to get around the difficulties caused by feeding with flat nipples. If you don't want to speak to a consultant specifically, your nurse, midwife, or doctor will also be able to offer helpful advice and resources.
- Breast pumps: Using a breast pump will stimulate the nipple before feeding making it easier for the baby to latch. You can also use it to stop breastfeeding altogether and pump for bottle feeding.
- Breast shells: These are firm plastic cups made to be worn between feeds. Women wear breast shells to keep the nipples in an outward position to reduce inversion.
- Nipple care: We love babies, but breastfeeding is hard, So caring for your nipples and breasts is essential. Most nipples become engorged, cracked, leaky or sore during breastfeeding, and unfortunately, this can be exasperated if you have inverted ones. Kin's Breastfeeding Essentials kit is perfect for soothing sore nipples and other common breastfeeding issues. Our all-natural nipple cream helps build elasticity, soothes dry skin and prevents painful cracking. Additionally, our comfortable and lightweight breast pads help absorb excess moisture and relieve nipple sensitivity.
- Nipple shields: These are flexible silicone devices worn over your nipple and areola during feeding that simulate the nipple and make it easier for your baby to latch.
- Nipple extractors or Nipple formers: These are small suction cups designed to be worn underneath your clothing which sit over the nipple and extract it before feeding.
- Reverse pressure softening: This is a very effective technique for breastfeeding with flat nipples. Rub your fingers in small and gentle circles around the base of your nipple and areola, pushing it toward your chest wall. Do this for a few minutes before feeding. It will help soften breast tissue while also increasing nipple protrusion and milk flow.
Is there a way to reduce flat or inverted nipples?
Flat or inverted nipples can be reduced in a number of ways. Depending on the cause and degree to which the nipple is inverted, it can naturally begin to protrude over time as you go through typical hormonal and bodily changes.
Menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can all reduce flat and inverted nipples.
In some cases, breastfeeding itself can aid this too. The repeated breastfeeding pressure from the baby's mouth can cause the tight bands to loosen over time causing the nipple to protrude naturally and become less inverted.
Techniques to reduce inverted nipples
If you find your nipples don't change on their own, there are many ways to try and encourage them to reverse their inverted direction.
- The Hoffman technique: This massage technique is designed to encourage and train the nipple to protrude. Pressing slightly inward, place your thumbs on either side of the areola, then pull them gently outward. Perform this process about four times, then place the thumps at the top and bottom of the nipple and repeat.
- Suction techniques and Nipple extractors: As they can be used to aid with feeding, suction tools and techniques, as well as nipple extractors, can be useful to correct inverted nipples. Extractors effectively place pressure on the nipples and train them in an outward direction, while suction works similarly in a more gentle manner.
- Surgery: for severely inverted nipples, you can seek medical attention, and in some cases, surgery can be performed to correct the condition.