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:

Do’s

  • Rinse your piercing a few times every day. Use warm, clean water, a gentle unscented soap, and a clean, dry towel or paper towel, especially if you still notice bleeding. Try to rinse the piercing every time you bathe or shower.
  • Soak the piercing in a sea salt soak at least twice daily. Do this for a few months after the piercing. Put a tiny bit of non-iodized sea salt or a saline solution in a small glass (think shot glass). Then, press the glass against your nipple to immerse it in the solution. Hold the glass there for 5 minutes, then drain the solution. Repeat this process for the other nipple. You can also dip clean cotton balls in the solution and dab them on the nipples.
  • Wear loose cotton clothing for the first few months. Tight clothes can prevent the piercing from getting fresh air, which can make bacteria buildup more likely. Tight clothes can also rub against and irritate the piercing, which can be painful and damage the piercing.
  • Wear thick cotton clothes or sports/padded bras at night or during physical activity. This can help keep the piercing still and protect it from snagging on blankets or fabrics in bed. This also protects it when you’re doing activities like working out or playing sports, when the piercing can get hit or move around vigorously.
  • Be careful when you’re getting dressed. Fabric can catch on the piercing, pulling on it or ripping the jewelry out. This can be painful and increase your risk of infection.
Healthline

Don’ts

  • Don’t use any medications or substances that can thin your blood for the first weeks after the piercing. This includes, aspirin, alcohol, or a lot of caffeine. These can all make it harder for the piercing to clot and heal, making bleeding more likely.
  • Don’t smoke. Nicotine can slow down the healing process. Cut back on smoking or try using a nicotine patch or an e-cigarette with less nicotine if you’re not ready to quit.
  • Don’t immerse your piercing in pools, spas, or baths. These bodies of water can breed large amounts of bacteria.
  • Don’t use bar soap or harsh cleaning fluids. These can damage your piercing or cause your skin to become cracked and dry. This makes an infection more likely. This includes rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and any kind of antibacterial soap.
  • Don’t touch the piercing with your hands. Your hands carry a lot of bacteria from the various objects you touch throughout the day. This is especially true when you use devices like your phone or computer frequently. In fact, a 2017 study found that nearly half of all mobile phones carry colonies of infectious bacteria.
  • Don’t fidget or mess with the jewelry while it’s healing. This can result in tiny tears in the skin that can damage the area and make infection more likely.
  • Don’t move the jewelry around in the piercing to break off any crusting. Instead, use water and saline solution to soften the crusts and wipe them away.
  • Don’t use any over-the-counter creams or ointments before you ask your doctor. These can trap bacteria in the piercing and make it more likely to become infected.
Healthline

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.