Sore Nipples

Sore nipples, usually accompanied by tenderness in the breasts are a common problem, experienced by many women at some time of the other, during the reproductive cycle. Many people believe that sore nipples are a symptom of pregnancy. While this is true to some extent, soreness in the nipples does not always mean that the woman is pregnant. This sensation can be a bit worrisome for some women; however, it does not mean that there is a serious problem. In fact sore breasts could be an indication of many things, depending upon the changes that are taking place within the woman’s body. In order to understand what the different causes for sore nipples are, it is important to learn a few things about the hormonal changes that take place within the body.

During the course of the menstrual cycle, there are two hormones within the woman’s body that are very important. It is the estrogen that does most of the work before ovulation and progesterone that starts to act around the ovulation time. Progesterone causes the body to retain water. The objective of this is that the uterus needs to be primed for a potential pregnancy, by providing water and food. However, the effect of this preparation is felt through the entire body. The adverse effect of this is more severe in some women, as compared to the others; some of them may also find it difficult to get into their fitting clothes during the second half of their cycle. During the cycle the water gets stored in the breast tissues, causing them to stretch, which is one of the causes of painful breasts and sore nipples.

In case the woman does not get pregnant that month, the levels of progesterone begin to decline around a week before the next period is due. Gradually, the water stored by the body is eliminated in the form of urine. However, if a pregnancy does take place in a certain month and the fertilized egg begins to grow in the womb, the levels of estrogen and progesterone continue to rise, in order to sustain the pregnancy. Because of the surge in hormones, the tenderness in the breasts and nipples could actually get worse.

At times sore nipples could also be the result of an injury or other external factors. Sore nipples are a very common complaint for most women who are breastfeeding. Exposure to chemicals or the use of harsh laundry detergents has also been known to cause a tingling feeling, tenderness and soreness in the breasts. Many women begin to experience soreness of the nipples after undergoing treatment for certain conditions or because of the consumption of a specific medication. Unfortunately, in some instances sore nipples could also be an indication of health conditions like breast cancer.

The severity of the soreness may vary from one woman to the other, based on the causes, as well as the woman’s age and general health status. It is important for women to identify the factors that have triggered off the soreness in the breasts, by consulting a doctor.

Symptoms of Sore Nipples

Sore nipples are not a condition, but could instead be a symptom of certain underlying conditions or injuries. In many cases, health experts can identify the causes of the soreness, by observing some of the accompanying symptoms. Therefore, it is important for you to consult your doctor in case you notice any of these symptoms accompanying the soreness of the nipples:

  • Itchiness and swelling in the nipple
  • Tenderness and intense pain
  • Formation of cracks around the nipples
  • Bleeding
  • Heaviness in the breast
  • Appearance of lumps or bumps around the areola
  • Discharge from the nipple (which is neither pus, nor milk)

These are some of the most common symptoms that accompany soreness in the nipples. However, at times, certain underlying conditions, like climacteric syndrome may lead to more severe symptoms, apart from sore nipples. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to seek medical attention in case any of these additional symptoms are observed:

  • Frequent or severe headaches
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Weight gain or bloating in the abdomen
  • Hot flashes
  • Severe mood swings
  • Sleepiness

Causes of Sore Nipples

Try not to jump to any conclusions the moment you notice any soreness in the nipples, because there are various possible causes. More often than not, the symptom is caused by some condition that is not really a cause for concern, but at other times it could be quite serious and may require immediate medical attention. Given below are some of the factors that can lead to sore nipples:

  • Pregnancy: The levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone go very high during pregnancy. Estrogen causes the amount of breast tissue to increase and progesterone makes the glands in the breast mature, by enabling it to accumulate water. Therefore, it is absolutely normal for pregnant women to experience itchiness and soreness of the breasts, even during the initial stages of pregnancy.
  • Postmenstrual Syndrome (PMS): In case of women suffering from PMS, the dominance of estrogen leads to hormonal imbalances in the body. The levels of progesterone are quite low and do not balance the estrogen levels. This imbalance in hormones is one of the common causes for sore nipples in women.
  • Pre-menopause and Menopause: As you approach menopause, around 15% of your menstrual cycles may be anovulatory. This means that while you do get your period, no egg will be released by the ovary. As you continue to age, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body will decline, until you stop getting your menstrual cycle completely and reach menopause. However, the levels of progesterone drop faster than estrogen. Even though the levels of estrogen in your body are lower than before, it is the dominant hormone in your body, which in turn can lead to nipple soreness.
  • Medication: In case you take any medicines on a regular basis, they could be the cause of the nipple soreness. Some of the medicines and treatments that have been known to trigger off this problem include oral contraceptives, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) drugs and a few types of antidepressants.
  • Heart Problems: It is common for heart diseases to trigger off pain and discomfort, which can be felt in the surrounding area, including the breasts. You may experience breast pain, accompanied by some amount of soreness in the nipples because of this.
  • Heavy Breasts: Large breasted women often complain about soreness in their nipples, because of the pressure all the extra weight can put on them.
  • Breast Cancer: While this condition can lead to breast and nipple soreness, this usually becomes evident only in the advanced stages.
  • Chemical: The use of certain products like a body wash, soap or even laundry detergent, containing high amount of chemicals can irritate the skin around the nipples leading to soreness.
  • Breastfeeding: Physical damage to the nipple caused by incorrect suckling is one of the most common causes of sore nipples in women.
  • Infections: In some cases, women may experience severe itchiness and soreness in their nipples, because of a fungal infection on the skin.

Remedies for Sore Nipples

Regardless of what the causes of sore nipples are, this problem can be quite an uncomfortable one. When the discomfort gets too much, many women seek medical attention, to help them get rid of the problem. In case it is determined that the sore nipples are not the result of a serious underlying condition and do not require any medical treatment, your health care provider may advise you to use topical ointments, as well as certain home remedies for sore nipples. Women who are breastfeeding are often advised to try out certain helpful remedies so that they do not need to discontinue nursing their babies. Given below are some of the most highly recommended remedies for sore nipples:

  • Apply a cool compress on to your nipples, to bring down the swelling and to alleviate any of the other symptoms. Wrap a few cubes of ice in a towel and apply this on to the nipples, for around 10 minutes or so.
  • Wear the right bra, which fits well and provides an adequate amount of support to your breasts. It is important to ensure that a proper bra is worn, especially while engaging in any physical activity. It is advisable to remove the bra at night, just before bedtime.
  • Change your bras every day and make sure that you wash them thoroughly before you wear them next. Harsh chemicals could irritate the skin on your nipples and breasts, leading to sore nipples. Therefore, it is essential for you to use a mild, yet good laundry detergent.
  • To cleanse your skin only use soaps and body washes that are mild and completely free of any harmful or harsh ingredients.
  • Make sure that the nipple is clean and dry at all times. The skin on the area should be wiped thoroughly after a shower.
  • High levels of stress and anxiety have been known to increase soreness in the nipples and breasts. Therefore, relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and deep breathing or even massage therapy can be very effective in resolving the problem.
  • Pregnant women are usually asked to apply a small amount of olive oil to the nipples to alleviate the discomfort.

Diet for Sore Nipples

While there is no diet for sore nipples as such, following a healthy diet will improve your overall health and can allow your body to recover from the problem faster. If you consulted a doctor or a nutritionist because of your problem, you would probably be asked to increase your intake of Vitamin C rich foods, in order to keep your breasts and nipples healthy. Most citrus fruits are good source of Vitamin C and therefore, you should increase your consumption of oranges and fresh orange juice, limes, kiwis lemons, guavas, papaya, strawberries, garden cress, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peppers, thyme and parsley. However, before incorporating any dietary changes, it is essential to consult a doctor.

Suggestion for Sore Nipples

If sore nipples are not caused by any serious medical condition, they can be managed quite easily. However, in case it is the symptom of a grave underlying problem, then it may be important to get that condition treated first. In case you are on any medication, which you think could be the cause of the problem, you need to keep your doctor informed about it. Never make any changes to your prescriptions without getting the approval of your health care provider.

Sore Nipples Treatments - more information
Sore Nipples - Frequently asked questions