Women's Health

What Causes Nipple Pain?

What Causes Nipple Pain?


Most women may have experienced soreness in their nipples at some point in time or another. This soreness or pain can be due to various reasons which may include an imbalance in the hormones, skin conditions, pregnancy, itching, allergies or infections, breastfeeding, and much more. The chances of nipple cancer are quite rare, but if both nipples are sore, it could be a rare case of breast cancer since most breast cancer usually affects one breast at a time.

What Causes Nipple Pain?

Nipples are quite sensitive parts of the body that can be easily irritated and stimulated. Below are some of the causes of painful nipples:

1. Friction

Nipples can become painful due to friction while running or by carrying out sports activities. The nipples can be easily irritated when they are frequently rubbed against clothes while doing certain activities. This is also known as jogger's nipple or nipple fissures. Nipples also become sore when women work out without a bra or wearing a poorly fitted sports bra. 

The usual symptoms of nipple problems are pain, soreness, irritation, bleeding, and dryness. Women who carry out long-distance runs are often prone to experiencing nipple pain. Women surfers who do not wear proper breast support while surfing may also experience nipple and breast pain. The following tips can help prevent friction that often leads to nipple pain:

  • Use a waterproof plaster or surgical tape while working out or carrying out exercises.
  • Make sure that you wear a properly fitted sports bra when doing strenuous activities. 
  • Use nipple shields or apply a barrier cream if the skin near the nipple region is damaged.
  • Try wearing a synthetic fabric instead of cotton. 
  • Make use of rash guards, especially when doing water sports or swimming.

If the issue still persists, it is highly recommended to seek immediate medical advice. 

2. Hormonal Imbalances or Changes

As part of a woman’s monthly cycle, pain or discomfort in the nipples is quite common. It is often triggered by the changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body. Before menstruation, some women may experience pain or tenderness in their nipples and breast. There is usually nothing to worry about this occurrence. However, consult a doctor if the soreness tends to continue for a longer duration and does not get better. The doctor may carry out hormone tests to confirm the underlying cause of your condition.

3. Allergic Reactions

The nipples are considered to be one of the most sensitive areas of the body since they almost react to any kind of subtle changes in the environment. The nipples are known to show sensitivity to stimuli, which include lotions, hot or cold weather, wool, laundry detergents, soap, or shower gels. Few of the symptoms that women may experience if their nipples hurt due to allergy are nipple redness, chafing, and itching.

4. Paget’s Disease

In very rare cases, soreness in the nipples may be one of the symptoms of Paget’s disease, which accounts for 1 percent of all breast cancer in women. It is also said to be associated with an underlying breast cancer. However, the exact cause of the rare condition is still not clearly known. Few of the early symptoms on the nipple skin would include crusting and redness. The symptoms can advance and may lead to tingling, painful, or burning sensations along with itching and sensitivity. Surgery is the most common form of treatment. Based on the severity of the condition, surgery may include a radical mastectomy, radiotherapy, or a simple form or modified version of mastectomy and lumpectomy.

5. Sexual Activity

While carrying out sexual activities, instances of vigorous nipple rubbing can lead to soreness. However, in such cases, soreness or pain is mostly temporary and tends to go away once the nipples get the chance to heal. To relieve nipple pain, barrier creams, moisturizers, or antiseptic gels can be applied.

6. Pregnancy

Sore breasts and nipples are usually normal among pregnant women. Breast tissues are quite sensitive because of hormonal changes in the body. As pregnancy hormones start to flood the body, blood volume also increases, thereby making the breasts feel fuller and heavier.

A woman may notice breast and nipple soreness around the 6th to 8th week of pregnancy or during the 1st trimester. The areola or the pigmented circle around the nipples tend to become bigger and darker than usual. At such instances, it is a good idea to wear well-fitted bras to minimize any chances of chafing, itchiness, or any kind of pressure. While choosing clothes to wear, opt for breathable clothes with cotton fabric instead of those made from synthetic materials. By the time the pregnancy reaches the 3rd trimester, a good maternity or nursing bra may be used. 

7. Dry or Cracked Nipples 

The nipples can get dry and cracked when there less moisture in the nipple area. Dryness along with nipple friction and the effects of breastfeeding can also lead to painful nipples. To find relief, you can:

  • Apply moisturizers to dry nipples
  • Change the technique of baby feeding (if the issue is due to breastfeeding)
  • Avoid excessive drying

8. Breastfeeding and Latching Problems

Around 80 percent of women who breastfeed during the first few days after giving birth have at some point in time experienced soreness and pain in the nipples. For this reason, few mothers tend to give up on breastfeeding their babies because nipple soreness often becomes aggravated and difficult to overcome. When having breastfeeding difficulties, a breastfeeding counselor can help deal with the problem.

Nipple soreness is also a result of poor latching and positioning during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding should never be a painful experience. In case if your nipples hurt while breastfeeding, you can gently remove the baby's mouth from your breast by slowly sliding a finger into the corner of the baby's mouth until he releases the grip of your nipple. You try again later, but if the pain still continues or if your nipples tend to crack and start to bleed, then you can reach out to a breastfeeding counselor to help your baby latch properly. In case if the nipple pain does not go away in a period of two weeks or so, you may notice an unusual nipple discharge. In such cases, it is important to immediately consult a doctor.

9. Teething Baby

When the baby’s teething period starts, he may change in the way how he eats, which may lead to unintentional nipple biting. Bitten nipples are painful and can sometimes bleed. 

10. Candidiasis or Thrush on the Nipples

When your nipples are damaged, an opportunistic microorganism called Candida may cause an infection that results in a nipple thrush. The infection is called candidiasis, which is a type of fungal infection.

The symptoms of thrush may develop after several weeks of breastfeeding the baby. Few of the symptoms associated with nipple thrush are:

  • Sore nipples
  • Cracked or flaky nipples
  • Stinging pain
  • Burning sensation that mostly develops in one or both breast
  • Excruciating and shooting pain that may last up to an hour after breastfeeding the baby

At times, a woman may not experience any of the symptoms even after having candidiasis, thereby making this condition difficult to diagnose. However, in certain cases, the baby may show signs of oral thrush in the mouth. Thrush is caused by a fungal infection. It is important to treat both the mother and her baby by using antifungal creams, oral medications, or gels prescribed by the doctor to avoid recurring fungal infections.

11. Mastitis

It is a condition where ducts in the breast are inflamed due to poor milk drainage while breastfeeding the baby. This condition is said to develop rather quickly. The symptoms of this condition would include redness in one part of the breast, which becomes quite painful along with a certain lumpy feeling in the breast which becomes too hot to even touch. This condition is said to be also accompanied by certain flu-like symptoms. However, redness does not always indicate that there is an infection. Antibiotic treatment would help treat the infection.

12. Breast Abscess

This condition occurs when there is a painful collection of pus forming in the breast. It is often known to be linked with mastitis and can affect breastfeeding women. However, it is also known to occur as a result of nipple piercing. This issue can arise when bacteria enters the tissues of the breast or through the milk ducts becoming blocked. It would result into pain in the nipples or breast.