Do nipple piercings affect breastfeeding so much that you can’t do it? Can you still breastfeed with nipple piercings? New moms worry that their personal choices may affect their ability to breastfeed and it may be a valid concern.
Piercings. Tattoos. Wild hair dyes. There are many ways that women may choose to express their personalities and add some fun to their lives, but some of those decisions may have not-so-fun consequences when it’s time to make the transition into motherhood.
Can You Breastfeed with Nipple Piercings?
One issue that many women encounter is the impact of nipple piercings on breastfeeding. Whether you’re considering a piercing and want to make an educated decision with your future babies in mind or you had your nipple pierced years ago, this guide will help you make healthy decisions for your body and the babies depending on you for nourishment.
Nipple Piercing and Breastfeeding Problems
Most young women do not just ask themselves “Does nipple piercing affect breastfeeding in the future?” when they decide to get a piercing. Many times that is the last thing on their mind.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association does a good job of outlining what can potentially go wrong when a breastfeeding mother has pierced nipples:
- Nipple piercings may reduce the amount of milk effectively withdrawn from the breast. This results in diminished milk supply because they body believes that there is a limited demand for the milk.
- When nipple jewelry is worn while breastfeeding, many babies struggle to attach properly. Some may struggle to stay attached.
- The risk of a baby choking when nipple jewelry comes loose during a feeding session is high.
- Babies are more likely to choke and gag when nipple jewelry is worn during a feeding session.
- Babies may cut or otherwise injure their tongues or cheeks when nipple jewelry is worn during a breastfeeding session.
Note that most of these risks only apply when nipple rings are worn while breastfeeding. The research has shown that those risks are eliminated by simply not wearing the jewelry while feeding. The Association does acknowledge that many women do breastfeed successfully with pierced nipples as long as they take their jewelry out for the safety of the baby.
Does Nipple Piercing Interfere with Breastfeeding Even After Removing Jewelry? Is Removing Nipple Jewelry Enough?
Many women can breastfeed without complication after removing their nipple jewelry, but others experience problems no matter how long they give their nipples to heal. This is because the piercings often leave behind scarring that may block the milk ducts. This limits the free flow of milk through the ducts, reducing the amount of milk produced for your baby. In some cases, a complete blockage may occur, preventing you from breastfeeding at all.
If you have only pierced one of your nipples, there’s a good chance that you will produce milk from the unpierced nipple even if your ducts are blocked on the other side. Some women who have pierced both nipples may experience greater milk flow from one side than the other. Others experience no problems from either nipple, so it’s a personal adventure for every woman.
Breastfeeding With Nipple Rings or Bars
While breastfeeding after nipple piercing can definitely go well, we would caution that breastfeeding with nipple rings or bars still on your breasts can be dangerous for your baby for a number of reasons:
1) The nipple ring could come off into your baby’s mouth while breastfeeding and cause the baby to choke.
2) Your baby may have latching problems because their mouth is sensitive and bothered by the nipple bar or ring.
3) The metal in the piercings (especially nickel) may cause an allergic reaction in some babies even AFTER the piercing is removed if it has been in recently.
It is up to you whether to try remove your jewelry or not, but most pediatricians would prefer you remove them until you have weaned your son or daughter.
How Nipple Piercings Affect Breastfeeding and Infections
There is always a risk of infection when you first have your nipples pierced (JAMA, Corbin, MD: 2009). These infections can lead to swollen, irritated skin that is painful. They may also come with bleeding or open sores that would make breastfeeding extremely painful and unhealthy for your baby.
This is why it’s generally recommended that women don’t have their nipples pierced within one year of a planned pregnancy. This gives your nipples time to heal completely before the hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy set in. it also ensures that you have time to overcome any initial infections or soreness before you start breastfeeding. The more established your nipple holes are, the more likely they are to stay open when you start removing your nipple jewelry for breastfeeding sessions.
If your piercing holes are completely healed and well-established, you’re not at heightened risk for infection while breastfeeding. Some women do experience nipple tenderness and extremely dry skin from breastfeeding, but there is no research that suggests piercing holes create a heightened risk for these uncomfortable side effects.
Breastfeeding with Newly Pierced Nipples
If your pregnancy occurs less than a year after your nipples were pierced, there are some things that you should do to limit the risk of breastfeeding complications and mastitis (Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine; 2006). Start by determining whether you want to maintain your piercings or allow the holes to close. If you decide to allow the holes to close, you should remove the nipple jewelry as soon as possible. This will give your nipples the maximum amount of time possible to heal, hopefully without scarring and blocking the milk ducts.
If you decide to maintain your piercings, do everything possible to avoid infections. Make sure that your nipples are healed before you start breastfeeding to prevent unnecessary pain or complications. Newborns typically breastfeed every two or three hours, so you will likely want to leave your nipple jewelry out for the first few weeks of breastfeeding. You may want to put the jewelry in between some feedings to prevent the holes from closing.
Since many babies are sensitive or allergic to nickel, you may want to use only surgical stainless steel, platinum or nickel-free gold nipple jewelry. This may eliminate some of your jewelry options, but it may also limit complications once your baby starts feeding. Even if you take the jewelry out before feeding your baby, traces of the metal may remain on your nipples.
Can Nipple Piercings Affect Breastfeeding Pumping Effectiveness?
Usually the same issues that a new mom would have with breastfeeding will be the same if she is pumping her breasts to express milk. There may also be some pain if the piercings have scar tissue or are fairly recent. For most moms, it is not a problem at all.
What to Do If Problems Arise
If you do experience problems breastfeeding your baby, try working with a lactation consultant before you give up and switch to bottle feeding. A professional will know how to determine the cause of the problem, and it may have nothing to do with your nipple piercings. From clogged milk ducts to inadequate milk supply, there are many common breastfeeding obstacles that have simple solutions for many women.
The early days of breastfeeding are the most challenging for all women, pierced nipples or not. If you can get into a natural rhythm with your baby, chances are high that your body will respond by producing an adequate amount of milk to meet your little one’s demand. You may want to do some research into the creams and lotions that will help you prevent dry, cracked nipples without introducing dangerous chemicals to your breastfeeding sessions.
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