It's Time We Talked About Inverted Nipples
Surely you've seen for yourself the difference between innie and outie belly buttons. If you've never heard about inverted nipples, similar principles apply. Inverted nipples are turned inside out to varying degrees of severity. The biggest issue with inverted nipples is the idea that they're unusual, rare, and undesirable. We're here to tell you that they're none of these things!
First, 10 to 20 percent of women are born with them, making them a relatively common occurrence. If you think about it, that's far more common than people with naturally red hair, who make up only 2 percent of the population. In addition, they can become retracted over time due to weight loss, or in rarer cases, a disease affecting the breast tissue like cancer. Interestingly, inverted nipples may even be temporary for some women, and yes, men. It's also possible for one nipple to be inverted or not the other.
If you suspect your nipples have changed from normal to inverted, though, you should get it checked out. "If you ever notice something change with your breasts in general, it is always better to seek medical attention. Inverted nipples can be associated with infection, abscess formation, breast cancer, and trauma," said Shannon Clark, M.D. and OB-GYN.
What do inverted nipples look like?
Inverted nipples come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. How do you know if you have them? First, a cursory Google image search will reveal helpful side-by-side comparisons of what they look like. Inverted nipples appear to have a slit across the peak of the nipple when they're not erect, or are flat when "warm," or are visibly concave. The surrounding areola looks completely normal, and inverted nipples often protract when stimulated making it hard to tell. Because most inverted nipples do protract when stimulated, it's possible to have inverted nipples and not even know it.
One way to tell is to do the "pinch test." Putting your index finger and your thumb around your areola, pinch about an inch behind your nipple. If it stays out, you're normal. If it flattens or retracts, you probably have some degree of nipple inversion. Welcome to the club!
Can you breastfeed with inverted nipples?
If you think you have innies, don't fret—most sources maintain that they're simply a variation on the mainstream alternative, posing little to no health risks unless they were acquired due to side effects from a pre-existing condition.
The good news is that most women with inverted nipples can breastfeed. That doesn't mean, of course, that you won't face any breastfeeding challenges, but chances that they're due to inverted nipples are slim to none.
How do you "fix" inverted nipples?
It's rumored that nipple piercing can prevent inverted nipples from retracting. While it may work for some, there's no guarantee, and the reverse can happen—if your nipple cannot retract because the jewelry is physically blocking it, there's a chance it will look erect most of the time. Something to consider.
Breastfeeding or other stimulation.
Breastfeeding, foreplay nipple sucking, and other vacuum stimulation like a breast pump can stimulate the nipple to come out. Again, it may be temporary. One thing to note is that a 1992 study found that a self-manipulation called the Hoffman Method and using breast shells—plastic discs worn inside your bra to prep nipples for breastfeeding—may actually hinder your abilities.
Plastic surgery is needed for some nipple inversions, but most can do without. Even when plastic surgery is performed to protract the nipple, there's a risk of interfering with milk ducts and surrounding tissue although some innovative surgeons are working toward a new way of preserving them. Plus, there's a significant recurrence rate for nipple inversions; this observational study quoted 12.6 percent. When procedures cost upward of $2,000 and require downtime, a high recurrence rate isn't something to overlook.
It's worth noting that none of these methods are guaranteed to permanently change inverted nipples, and even if they do, there's a solid chance the nipple inverts later on. If we instead invested our resources in loving and accepting inverted nipples just the way they are, knowing they are "normal" and functional and beautiful, we'd be uplifting ourselves and one another.
For more radical self-love and body positivity, check out how this woman made stunning art from women's stretch marks.