Montgomery’s tubercles are sebaceous (oil) glands that appear as small bumps around the dark area of the nipple. Studies have found between 30 and 50 percent of pregnant women notice Montgomery’s tubercles.
Their primary function is lubricating and keeping germs away from the breasts. If you’re breastfeeding, secretion of these glands may keep your breast milk from becoming contaminated before being ingested by your baby.
You can identify Montgomery’s tubercles by looking for small, raised bumps on the areola. The areola is the dark area surrounding the nipple. They can also appear on the nipple itself. They usually look like goosebumps.
The size and number of tubercles varies for each person. Pregnant women may notice between two and 28 tubercles per nipple, or more.
Changes in hormones are often the cause for Montgomery’s tubercles to enlarge around the nipple, especially:
- during pregnancy
- around puberty
- around a woman’s menstrual cycle
Other common causes include:
- hormonal imbalances
- breast cancer
- physical body changes, such as weight gain or loss
- stimulation of the nipple
- tight fitting clothes or bras
Breast changes are often an early pregnancy symptom. Montgomery’s tubercles around your nipples may be one of the first symptoms of pregnancy. They may be noticeable even before you’ve missed your period.
Not every woman who experiences Montgomery’s tubercles is pregnant. If you notice these bumps and have other pregnancy symptoms, you should take a home pregnancy test. If the test is positive, your doctor’s office can confirm your pregnancy.
Other early symptoms of pregnancy may include:
- tender or enlarged breasts
- implantation bleeding
- morning sickness
- mood swings
- frequent urination
Later in pregnancy, you may notice increasing tubercles on your nipples as your body prepares for breastfeeding. Your nipples may become darker and larger as your pregnancy progresses. This is completely normal and not cause for concern.
Montgomery’s tubercles allow for smooth, lubricated breastfeeding. These glands secrete an antibacterial oil. This oil serves an important purpose to moisten and protect the nipples during breastfeeding. For this reason, it’s important for breastfeeding moms not to wash their nipples off with soap. Also avoid any disinfectants or other substances that could dry or damage the area around your nipples. Instead, just rinse your breasts with water during your daily shower.
If you notice any drying or cracking, apply a few drops of healing lanolin. Avoid non-breathable plastic lining in bra pads or in your nursing bra.
Montgomery’s tubercles can become blocked, inflamed, or infected. Look out for redness or painful swelling around the nipple area. See your doctor if you notice these or any other unusual changes.
Let your doctor know if you experience any itching or a rash, as they may be symptoms of a yeast infection. If you experience discharge and you aren’t breastfeeding, make an appointment with your doctor. See your doctor right away if you notice any blood or pus.
In rare cases, changes in appearance around the nipple area may be a symptom of breast cancer. Notify your doctor right away if you notice any other symptoms of breast cancer, including:
- hard lump on your breast
- dimpling, or an “orange peel texture,” known as peau d’orange, on the surface of your breast
- changes in the shape or size of your nipple
- enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit
- unintentional weight loss
- changes to the shape or size of one breast
- discharge from your nipple
Montgomery’s tubercles are usually normal and mean your breasts are functioning as they should. The tubercles will usually shrink or disappear completely on their own following pregnancy and breastfeeding.
If you aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding and want the tubercles removed, your doctor may recommend surgery. This is a cosmetic option, and may be recommended if they are causing pain or inflammation.
Surgical removal of Montgomery’s tubercles involves your doctor making an excision (removal of the bumps) around your areola. This is an outpatient procedure that takes around 30 minutes. Hospitalization is not usually required. You will likely notice scarring after the procedure. Work with your doctor to determine if this is the best option for you.
If you want to reduce the size of Montgomery’s tubercles at home and aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding, you can try the following home remedies:
- Press a towel that’s been dipped in warm water on your nipples for about 20 minutes each night.
- Apply aloe vera gel, shea butter, or cocoa butter around your nipples.
- Increase your water and reduce sugar intake.
- Eat a healthy diet, and reduce sugar and salt to reduce blocking conditions that may increase size of tubercles.
Most of the time, there’s nothing special you need to do if you notice Montgomery’s tubercles. To keep the area free from infection and inflammation:
- Keep your nipples clean. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, wash your breasts daily with warm water. If you aren’t breastfeeding, a gentle cleanser is usually safe to use daily.
- Avoid oils and other lubricants.
- Don’t attempt to pop the tubercles, as this can be dangerous.
- Wear a comfortable, clean bra daily.
If the appearance of tubercles bothers you and you aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about options for surgically removing them. This may affect your ability to breastfeed later on.
Montgomery’s tubercles are a normal part of breast function. They’re usually nothing to worry about.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, they’re likely benefiting you and your baby. The tubercles shouldn’t cause pain, in fact, you probably won’t even notice them most of the time. See your doctor if you notice any signs or symptoms or redness, inflammation, or bleeding around the nipples. Also let your doctor know about any pain you might be experiencing.
Can men develop Montgomery’s tubercles?
Yes, as Montgomery’s glands are sebaceous glands and present in both men and women.Janet Brito, PhD, LCSW, CSTAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.