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A retracted nipple is a nipple that turns inward instead of outward, except when stimulated. This type of nipple is sometimes referred to as an inverted nipple.

Some experts make a distinction between retracted and inverted nipples, referring to a retracted nipple as one that lies flat against the breast, rather than indenting in.

You can have one or two retracted nipples. Read on to learn more.

Unlike inverted nipples which pull inward, retracted nipples lie flat against the areola. They don’t appear erect.

Retracted nipples can become erect with manual or environmental stimulation, such as being touched, suckled, or feeling cold.

Picture of a retracted nipple

A retracted nipple is a natural variation of nipple type. That means you may be born with retracted nipples. You can also develop a retracted nipple later in life.

There are multiple causes for this condition. Some are more serious than others.

Causes of retracted nipples include:

Aging

Nipple retraction can occur slowly and gradually as you age. This is a benign process, meaning it may be unrelated to cancer or any other medical condition.

Mammary duct ectasia

This noncancerous condition occurs most commonly during perimenopause. It’s caused by a milk duct that widens and thickens, becoming blocked and causing fluid to build up in the breast.

This inflammatory condition may also cause redness, tenderness, and nipple discharge to occur.

Paget’s disease of the breast

This rare, cancerous condition occurs in the nipple and areola. It’s often accompanied by ductal breast cancer.

In addition to nipple retraction, some symptoms of Paget’s disease of the breast may mimic eczema or skin irritation. They include:

  • dry
  • flaky skin
  • itching
  • oozing
  • redness

You may also feel a lump on your breast.

Carcinoma

Nipple retraction can be a symptom of more common types of breast cancer, such as carcinoma. This symptom may occur when malignancies are large enough to be seen on a mammogram and felt during a physical examination.

Retracted nipples that have been apparent since birth and those that occur gradually over time are typically not cause for alarm.

If your nipples suddenly appear retracted or inverted, see your doctor. Remember that there are many causes for this symptom.

Other symptoms of the nipple which may need medical attention include:

  • a lump or swelling of the nipple
  • pain or discomfort
  • dimpling or thickening of the skin
  • irritation, oozing, or redness
  • nipple discharge

Can you breastfeed with a retracted nipple?

Having this condition doesn’t mean you can’t nurse. Many women with flat nipples breastfeed successfully.

See your child’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant if you’re having trouble breastfeeding. A lactation consultant can help you adjust the way you hold your baby while nursing to see if that improves breastfeeding. They can also check to see if you’re producing milk.

Your child’s pediatrician can do a physical exam of your child to see if they’re gaining enough weight and if they have any underlying conditions that may affect breastfeeding.

Your doctor will note your medical history and do a physical exam of your nipples and breasts. They may also order a diagnostic mammogram and sonogram to get images of the breasts and nipples. These images can help your doctor determine the root cause of your condition. You may also need an MRI.

If cancer is suspected, a needle biopsy will be done. This test removes a sample of breast tissue from the nipple or areola, which is analyzed under a microscope.

Retracted nipples that aren’t caused by a medical condition don’t require treatment. However, you may find that for aesthetic reasons you wish to alter the appearance of your nipples.

There are manual solutions such as the Hoffman Technique, as well as suction devices, which may provide a temporary fix. There are also surgical treatments which can produce a longer-lasting or permanent solution. Don’t attempt any of these treatments without first seeing your doctor so that they can rule out underlying conditions that require treatment.

Mammary duct ectasia may dissipate on its own or with at-home treatments, such as warm compresses. Sometimes, surgical removal of the duct is required to correct this condition. Once resolved, your nipple should go back to its normal shape.

If the appearance of your nipple has been altered by a condition such as cancer, your doctor can discuss aesthetic treatment options with you after the underlying cause has been addressed.

Retracted nipples can be a normal variation of nipple type. They may also signal an underlying condition which could be benign or cancerous. If your nipples suddenly become retracted or inverted, see your doctor.