SUMMARY: Nipple inversion can be a difficult topic to discuss for both men and women. Understanding what can cause this issue can help an individual decide on the best course of action.
Do your nipples turn inward, rather than project outward?
It’s an admittedly personal question. But if they are, you might be curious about why they’re that way, whether you should be worried, and what – if anything – you can do about it.
A Sensitive Issue
The condition, known as “inverted nipples,” is often present at birth. In fact, the Columbia University health-related blog Go Ask Alice equates them to having an ‘innie’ or ‘outtie’ bellybutton. The blog goes on to offer the reassurance that this congenital condition is not inherently a medical problem.
In this case, the “outtie” is of course the norm. As a result, people with naturally inverted nipples often find themselves feeling embarrassed about a physical characteristic they’ve simply always had.
Kids can be cruel – and so, unfortunately, can adults. Males young and old who have inverted nipples may feel too ashamed to take off their shirts in public. Women with the condition may feel apprehensive in intimate situations.
“Ask Alice” cautions its readers that inverted nipples may indicate a deeper health issue when what was previously an “outtie” becomes an “innie.” Women older than 50 who experience this phenomenon should have themselves checked for underlying conditions that include mammary duct inflammation and a specific form of breast cancer.
Though not as common, breast cancer can also occur in males. To be safe, men who develop inverted nipples should also have themselves checked by a physician.
Inverted nipples can present further problems when it comes to breastfeeding, although they do nothing to suppress the actual production of milk. The issue occurs because the infant has to latch onto the mother’s nipple to draw milk. An inverted nipple can hinder this action, thereby preventing the baby from feeding.
Websites such as What to Expect® recommend breast pumps or plastic shells to expose the nipple for feeding. Another common method involves the use of the hands to achieve the same purpose. These techniques may prove effective for some women. However, What to Expect warns that plastic shells can cause skin discomfort and, for the image-conscious, show through thin clothing.
Numerous breast surgeons specialize in inverted nipple surgery. One such practice, The Plastic Surgery Group in Albany, NY, offers the procedure both as a cosmetic correction and as an alternative to the aforementioned methods. According to the practice’s website, any type of self-manipulation can sometimes be painful and ineffective.
Surgical correction of inverted nipples requires only a small incision. Depending on the patient’s goals, the surgeon may or may not detach the milk ducts. In the case of detachment, breastfeeding becomes impossible. However, procedures that can leave the ducts attached – or even partially attached – can help women breastfeed more effectively.
The hour-long procedure typically requires only local anesthesia. Both male and female patients can experience some tenderness and swelling for a few days after their surgery.
As is the case with any medical condition, the best solution will differ from person to person. And of course, surgery isn’t for everyone. If you want to correct your inverted nipples, just know that you have options – even if your best one happens to be doing nothing at all.