Our presumptions about all our body parts and how they work can be loaded, but perhaps no body part evokes quite as much mixed emotions as the breast – for men and women alike.
In the midst of an unceasing onslaught of nipple bans, breast augmentation ads, and boob-lifting bras, it’s pretty easy to dismiss that the purpose of women’s breasts (and particularly the nipples) goes way beyond the evolutionary use of breastfeeding their young. ( for sure, it doesn’t stipulate if women should, can, or want to have children). It’s also easy to neglect the fact that male nipples might not be too different as well.
And yet, nipples can be as distinctive as we are, with all manner of surprising anomalies up their sleeve. So sit back and do yourself a favour by getting to know more about your nips – even the littlest info could be a conversation starter about health, or pleasure.
- Women’s health used to be diagnosed through the nipples
The colour of a woman’s nipple was a significant element that doctors and nurses considered when reading into her health. The English midwife Jane Sharp, in 1671, published a book titled “The midwives book or whole art of midwifery.”
As stated by a Stanford course on the female body, Sharp once penned, “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 get old.” Thankfully, this method has long been discontinued.
- There are 4 to 8 kinds of nipples
Your nipples could be inverted, protruding, flat or unclassified (divided or multiple). It’s also likely to have one breast with an inverted nipple and another with a protruding nipple, making the total amount of nipple combination up to eight.
- Your nipple is different from your areola
The nipple is the middle part of your breast and is connected to the mammary glands, where milk is produced. The areola is the darker coloured portion around the nipple.
- Inverted nipples are normal
Inverted nipples which fold inward instead of projecting out, works the same as “normal” protracted nipples. It’s possible to have one inverted nipple alongside a non-inverted one, and it’s also possible that inverted nipples might pop out later.
Inverted nipples tend to pop out after breastfeeding a baby and won’t get in the way of breastfeeding. Cold temperatures or stimulation can also temporary protrude nipples. Surgery and piercings can turn “innie” nipples to “outies”.
- You can have two nipples occupying one areola
This is called bifurcated or double nipple. Both nipples may be able to produce milk depending on the ductal system. However, when breastfeeding, infants may find it hard to fit both nipples in their mouth.
- Nipple hair is real
The tiny bumps surrounding your nipple are hair follicles which can be found both in men and women. So it’s only logical that hair grows in them.
These hairs might appear darker and more coarse than other body hairs, but you can trim, pluck, shave or wax them, just as other hairs if they inconvenience you.
- In height, the average nipple is the size of a ladybug
A 2009 research of 300 women’s areolas and nipples, found out that the average areola measures 4cm in diameter ( which is smaller than a golf ball), an average nipple measures 1.3cm in diameter( equivalent to the width, not length of an AA battery), and an average nipple height of 0.9cm(similar to the size of a ladybug).
- Breastfeeding wasn’t always the norm
Though breastfeeding is now a usual thing among upper-middle-class, educated women, the same category was actually against breastfeeding their young.
In the Renaissance era, aristocratic women employed wet nurses to feed their babies. And in the early 20th century, infant formula was considered most suitable because its price tag was an implication of wealth.
Since then we’ve learned that formula can never provide all the required nutrients as human milk does.
- Nipple pain is common among women
It’s normal for breastfeeding moms to experience pain in their nipple for different reasons, including problems with positioning when breastfeeding. But breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful.
Feeling pains and sore nipples can also affect non-moms, and can be a sign of PMS or other hormonal changes, as well as;
- Skin irritation
- Friction from a sport bra
Nipple cancer is uncommon, but it should be checked by a professional if pain persists or you notice any discharge or blood.
- Nipples can change in size
This usually occurs during pregnancy. A 2013 study on 56 pregnant women reported that during the length of their pregnancy and the study, their nipples grew in both width and height. Also, their areola significantly increased in diameter.
- Have all abnormal nipple discharge checked out
Nipple discharge from one or both breasts could be a symptom of health issues such as cysts and hypothyroid and cysts, and also things like medication changes.
But if you experience bloody discharge, make sure to see a doctor immediately as it could be an indicator of something more serious.
- Of course, there’s an “ideal” nipple position
A study which polled 1,000 women and 1,000 men reported that the most liked nipple-areola position for both genders is “in the middle of the breast gland vertically and slightly lateral to the midpoint horizontally.”
But that doesn’t imply that your nipples position isn’t ideal – the study also reported that the choice of nipple placement is greatly affected by the media where men “tend to have a more youthful breast in mind,” while women may have “a more realistic image in mind”.
- Nipple tattoos aren’t unfamiliar with breast construction
Most people don’t have a say over how their nipple looks like, but the information for the above research is beneficial especially for cosmetic and breast reconstructive surgeons.
Nipple-areola tats are believed to be the final step in breast reconstruction surgery. These tattoos are gaining popularity among people who undergo construction surgery as it’s a relatively fast and simple procedure with visibly realistic results.
- There’s a rare ailment that causes people to be born without nipples
It is called athelia. To treat it, one would undergo breast reconstruction. And depending on preferences and body habits, the surgeon might take tissues from the glutes, dorsal or abdomen.
- It’s possible to have more than two nipples
Multiple nipples are called supernumerary nipples. It’s evaluated that 1 in 18 individuals have supernumerary nipples (spoiler alert, Mark Wahlberg has one!), but it doesn’t end there, one man had seven: two normal ones and five extra supernumerary nipples.
A 22-year-old woman even had a nipple on her foot with fat tissues, glands, hair follicles and all. On top of that, there’s one reported case of a woman who had a nipple and full breast tissue on her thigh which produced milk after she had a baby.
- Nipples can chafe and crack
In one Brazilian research, 32 percent of women agreed to have cracked nipples as a result of breastfeeding in the first month after childbirth. But if you’re not breastfeeding, your workout could be the cause of your nips getting red, itchy, or flaky.
Make sure to protect your nipples with a little petroleum jelly to reduce friction between them and your clothes or wear the right sports bra.
- Nipple piercings can bring positive sentiments
In a 2008 study that polled 362 people, 87 percent of women and 94 percent of the men voted about their nipple piercings said they’ll do it again – and not because nip piercings were kink stuff. They liked how it looked. Less than half of the sample said it was connected to sexual relief from pain.
- Nipple stimulation boosts sexual arousal
For a lot of men and women, nipple play is satisfying foreplay. A study that polled 301 men and women (ages 17 – 29) reported that nipple stimulation increased sexual arousal in 82 percent of women and 52 percent of men.
While only 8 percent said, it reduced their arousal. Anyway, it’s always a great idea to ask before assuming.
- Nipples can change colour
You may have been told to look to your nipples for your matching lipstick colour, but the jury is still out on that.
Despite a lot of publications (from Marie Claire to Refinery29) testing this theory, it’s not 100 percent reliable as your nipple can change colour due to pregnancy, temperature and time (it gets darker).
- Nerves to the nipple and breast are different in women and men
In 1996, researchers dissected cadavers to study the nerve supply to the areola and nipple. They discovered that the nerves were spread more widely in women than in men.
- Breast surgery can affect sensitivity in the nipple
One of the most popular surgeries of the 21st century is breast augmentation which has increased with 30 percent from 2000 to 2016.
However, the operation does have its own risks, one of which is sensation loss. One 2011 study reported that 75 percent of women who participated in the survey had noticed changes in sensation after surgery, while 62 percent admitted to experiencing pain when touched.
- You should have bumps surrounding your nipple
They’re known as Montgomery glands, although scientifically, they’re called areola glands. These glands secrete a fluid called lipoid fluid which helps lubricate the entire areola and nipple area and makes them comfortable.
- Breastfeeding women can impulsively leak milk if they think about or hear their babies crying
For some women, this can occur if they hear the cries of someone else’s baby! Mothers whose babies are too premature and in NICU or are too sick to eat, have a better chance of pumping if they have an image of their baby close by.
- Nipples attract women as much as they attract men
A study at the University of Nebraska found that men and women follow the same eye pattern when looking at women: They swiftly look at breasts and “sexualised parts” before going on to look at other parts of the body.
- It’s uncommon, but male nipple can lactate
Inappropriate lactation, otherwise called galactorrhea, can happen to men, but it’s remarkably rare. Some experts believe it’s often as a result of hormone surges.
Older researches in the 70s and 80s show records of males producing milk that resembles that of lactating women, but since then, there hasn’t been a more recent study.
So now you know: when it comes to nipples, there’s a really vast range – from size to bumps and even amount! The worth of a nipple isn’t how much it lactates, but in how you treat and care for it because there’s no one model of “normal”.
But just like any other part of the body, if you’re ever worried about something your nipples are doing (or not doing), you are advised to see an expert ASAP!