Like any piercing, nipple piercings need some TLC so they heal and settle in properly.

While other commonly pierced areas like your ears are tissue-dense and heal without much detailed care, your nipple tissue is delicate and adjacent to a number of important ducts and blood vessels.

Piercings go through your skin — your main defense against infections.

Having a foreign object like a metal piercing under the skin can increase your chances of getting an infection.

Nipple piercings also take a long time to fully heal. The average piercing takes about 9 to 12 months to heal. Healing time depends on your body and how well you take care of the piercing.

Let’s get into the best practices for taking care of a nipple piercing — some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind, what kind of pain to expect, and when symptoms should alert you to seek medical help.

The first few days and weeks after a nipple piercing are crucial for aftercare. The piercing’s fresh and may stay open for some time, making the area susceptible to infectious bacteria introduced through the air or through contact with skin or other objects.

Your piercer will give you detailed aftercare instructions after you get your piercing. Follow all of these instructions as closely as you can.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to taking care of your nipple piercing to help prevent any infections and complications:

A nipple piercing can take up to a year to fully heal.

For the first few weeks and months, you can expect to see the following:

  • Bleeding. Your nipple skin is thin, so bleeding is a common sight for the first few days. Rinse and dry the piercing regularly to wipe away any blood and keep the area clean. See your piercer if bleeding continues after the first few weeks with no apparent cause.
  • Swelling. Swelling is pretty much a given with almost any piercing. This is why many piercers will recommend long barbells in your nipple — it lets your nipple tissue swell up without any obstruction. See your piercer if swelling is especially noticeable or painful. Uncontrolled swelling can actually cause your tissue to die and increase your chances of infection.
  • Discomfort during your period. People with vulvas may experience some extra sensitivity around the nipple during menstruation, especially in the first few months after the piercing. The discomfort tends to become less severe the longer you have the piercing. Using a cold compress and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce your discomfort.
  • Crusting. This crust is totally normal — it’s a result of lymph fluid that your body makes to help heal wounds. Just rinse and dry it away whenever it builds up.

Pain from a piercing is different for everyone. It tends to hurt more than an ear or nose piercing, where the tissue’s thicker and not as dense with nerves.

Many people with nipple piercings say that it’s a sharp, intense pain at first because the tissue’s so thin and delicate. The pain will also quickly go away.

Here are some tips to ease the pain from your nipple piercing:

  • Take pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil), to reduce discomfort.
  • Apply an ice pack or cold compress to the area to reduce swelling.
  • Use your sea salt soak to promote healing.
  • Try tea tree oil to reduce swelling and pain.

Here are some possible side effects that can happen after a nipple piercing:

  • Hypergranulation. This is a ring of thick, fluid-filled tissue around the piercing holes.
  • Scarring. Thick, hard buildup of scar tissue can form around the piercing, including keloid scars that can grow much larger than the pierced area.
  • Infection. Bacteria can build up around the pierced area and infect the tissue, causing pain, swelling, and pus. Untreated infections can permanently damage or destroy your nipple tissue and spread to other parts of your body.

See your doctor if you don’t think your piercing is healing properly or if you have an infection.

Look for the following symptoms:

  • bleeding that doesn’t stop
  • hot skin around the piercing
  • unusual or bad smell coming from the piercing
  • severe, unbearable pain or swelling
  • cloudy or discolored green, yellow, or brown discharge or pus around the piercing
  • excessive tissues growing around the piercing
  • rash
  • body aches
  • feeling exhausted
  • fever

Nipple piercings can add a cool look and proper aftercare will make sure it heals well and stays looking cool.

See your piercer if the jewelry falls out or if you’re not sure if it’s healing properly.

Seek medical help right away if you notice any symptoms of infection.