A nipple piercing is a form of self-expression. But if you’re breastfeeding (or thinking about breastfeeding), you might wonder how a piercing will affect nursing.
For example: Can I breastfeed with a pierced nipple? Can a nipple piercing cause problems while breastfeeding? And most importantly: Is it safe to breastfeed with a nipple piercing?
The short answer to this question is, yes. So if you have a piercing or you’re thinking about getting one, this likely doesn’t affect your ability to nurse, although you should wait until the piercing fully heals before breastfeeding.
You should be okay to breastfeed because nipple piercings typically don’t damage milk production. Breast milk is produced in your mammary glands, which are located in the breast tissue of female mammals, behind the nipple.
After giving birth, these glands produce milk whether or not you have a piercing. But while having a nipple piercing doesn’t stop the production of milk, having a piercing could slightly interfere with your milk flow.
This doesn’t happen to everyone. But it might happen if a piercing blocks or causes damage to ducts in the nipple and, as a result, milk doesn’t flow as easily.
You should also be aware of other issues that can arise when breastfeeding with a nipple piercing.
Again, some women breastfeed fine with a piercing, and they don’t experience any adverse effects. Others, on the other hand, do run into problems — even if only temporary.
Along with a piercing possibly blocking the tiny ducts that carry milk from the nipple, some women experience scarring inside of the nipple after a piercing.
Scarring might not be visible to the eye, but its presence can block milk ducts and stop or inhibit the flow of milk from the breast. The likelihood of scarring is higher when there are multiple piercings in a single nipple.
Another thing to keep in mind is that nipple piercings can lead to breast problems such as mastitis or a breast abscess.
Mastitis is a type of inflammation that develops as a complication of a blocked milk duct. It can also occur if you have a bacterial infection in the breast, such as a staph infection (Staphylococcus aureus). Symptoms include breast soreness, redness, and swelling.
The staph bacteria is normally found on the skin, so mastitis might develop if you frequently touch the piercing site with your hands. Infections can also occur when piercings take place in unhygienic conditions, or when the skin isn’t properly disinfected prior to piercing.
A breast abscess can form as a complication of a bacterial infection. These can cause a painful, swollen pus-filled lump. Mastitis typically improves on its own, but you’ll need antibiotics to treat a breast infection or a breast abscess.
Also, if an old piercing leaves a hole in your nipple, you may have milk leakage from the piercing site. This can generally be addressed by using breast pads to absorb the leaking milk, but this change to the flow may cause difficulties for some infants.
It can take anywhere from 6 months to 12 months for a nipple piercing to fully heal. Because saliva contains bacteria, wait until the piercing fully heals before breastfeeding to reduce the risk of infection.
Once a nipple piercing fully heals, make sure you take measures to breastfeed safely. Even when nipple jewelry appears secure in your nipple, it is preferable to remove the jewelry prior to breastfeeding.
This eliminates choking hazards, as the jewelry could accidentally come out in your baby’s mouth. Also, removing jewelry might make it easier for your baby to latch onto your breasts and prevent any possible damage to their mouth.
Ideally, jewelry should be removed completely for as long as you intend to breastfeed. This decreases the chances of infection or other complications.
If you decide to only remove nipple jewelry for individual feedings, it is essential that you properly clean the jewelry before reinserting after every single feeding:
- Always wash your hands with antibacterial soap before handling a nipple piercing, whether you’re putting in or taking out jewelry.
- Before reinsertion, thoroughly clean the nipple jewelry with warm water and a gentle unscented soap. You can also soak the jewelry in sea salt since it’s a natural antiseptic.
- Allow the jewelry to completely dry before reinserting.
Even though it’s okay to breastfeed with a nipple piercing, you shouldn’t get a piercing while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Actually, most piercers will not pierce the nipples during this time, considering that it takes up to 12 months for the nipple to fully heal.
If you’re thinking about getting a piercing — and you also want to have a baby — get a piercing at least one year before you’re ready to conceive. Or, wait until after you’ve given birth and preferably after postpartum healing before getting one.
There’s always the risk of infection, which can happen when piercings happen in unhygienic conditions. For this reason, only use reputable piercing establishments.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. What measures does the piercing establishment take to reduce the risk of infection? Make sure the establishment and piercer are licensed with your state’s department of health. Ask to see these credentials.
Your piercer should use sterile piercing needles, wear gloves, wash their hands before beginning, and sterilize your skin.
Also, take aftercare precautions to prevent infections after a piercing. This involves not touching your piercing with dirty hands, and not allowing others to touch your piercing either.
Don’t put lotion, soap, or chemicals on the nipple until it fully heals. And don’t change out your nipple jewelry until your piercer says it’s okay.
Limit the use of cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol, and aspirin after a nipple piercing. These substances can act as blood thinners, making it harder for your blood to clot. This can prolong the healing process.
Keep an eye out for signs of an infection. You can expect some discomfort or tenderness after a piercing. However, signs of an infection include increased pain, discharge from the piercing site, odor from the piercing site, and developing a fever.
See your doctor if you develop any signs of infection.
A nipple piercing can be a fun form of self-expression. But if you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, take precautions to limit how a nipple piercing affects nursing.
As a general rule of thumb, don’t get a piercing if you plan on having a baby within the next year or if you’re currently breastfeeding. It can take up to 12 months for the piercing to fully heal.