Myth Buster: Is Breastfeeding Possible With Pierced Nipples?
Body piercing is a socially acceptable body modification and self-expression practice. But some myths say that pierced nipples prevent breastfeeding and lead to abnormal milk production. (1)
Thankfully, studies show that breastmilk production isn’t likely to be affected by nipple piercings. However, having piercings can increase the risk of infection, nipple irritation, and blocked milk ducts, possibly affecting milk flow. (1)
NOTE: Nipple jewelry poses the risk of choking if you don’t remove them before nursing your baby.
Potential Issues & Concerns: Is Breastfeeding Safe With Pierced Nipples?
Nipple jewelry of any form, including barbells, should always be removed before breastfeeding because they are choking hazards.
Milk Supply & Blockage: Can Nipple Piercings Affect Breast Milk?
Your breasts produce enough milk for your baby, but possible blockage from nipple piercings might affect the flow of milk. (1)
The blockage also increases your risk of infections.
Leakage Or Faster Flow
Your milk flow might be faster, or you can experience leakage, especially if you have many piercing holes.
Your piercing holes can get infected from exposure to bacteria in your baby’s mouth.
Having nipple piercings leads to a higher risk of mastitis, which is a common infection experienced by breastfeeding mothers. (2)
Symptoms of mastitis can include: (2)
- Wedge-shaped breast lump
- Burning pain in your breasts (constant pain or just during breastfeeding)
- A swollen area that’s red and painful to touch, usually in just one breast
- Nipple discharge (white or might have streaks of blood)
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches)
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics as treatment.
It’s a complication of mastitis caused by the build-up of pus (the liquid composed of dead white blood cells) in your breast tissues. (3)(4)
Symptoms can include: (3)
- Swelling or lump in your breast
- Red, painful, and warm breasts
An abscess doesn’t go away with a warm compress, unlike breast engorgement. (4)
Tearing, Scarring, & Changes In Sensitivity
Nipple piercings might be more prone to tearing. (5)
Infections can also lead to scar tissue or nerve damage that might affect your nipples’ sensitivity.
However, nipple sensitivity can also be caused by hormonal changes. It isn’t life-threatening, but the condition might make you feel uncomfortable. (6)
Scars aren’t always visible but can block the milk ducts, leading to a slower flow rate.
Galactorrhea & Milk Production Stimulation After Weaning
Wait at least 3-4 months after weaning before getting a piercing because it can stimulate continued milk production or a condition called galactorrhea (milky discharge unrelated to proper milk production). (5)
Other Piercing-Induced Diseases
It’s important to choose a reputable piercer because of these risks: (7)
- Infections such as tetanus (a bacterial infection that causes painful muscle contractions)
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
Can Nipple Piercings Affect Breastfeeding?
Yes. The piercing holes can make latching difficult and affect milk flow.
Milk production isn’t affected because the mammary glands are located in breast tissues that aren’t on the nipples.
However, breastmilk production is based on demand, so it might be reduced if your baby doesn’t draw as much as they need.
Can You Get A Nipple Piercing While Breastfeeding?
No. Piercings take as much as one year or more to heal.
Studies show that around 20% of nipple piercings can get infected. Because pregnancy and sleep deprivation after childbirth affect your immune system, you have a higher risk for infections. (8)
So, it’s best to wait until you’re done weaning your baby or after making a complete postpartum recovery before you get a nipple piercing.
Precautions & Breastfeeding Tips If You Have Nipple Piercings
Do You Have To Take Nipple Piercings Out When Breastfeeding?
Yes. Suction from your baby’s mouth might dislodge the nipple jewelry, making these items a choking hazard.
Also, the jewelry can damage the soft tissues in your child’s mouth.
Preventing Infections: What You Need To Know To Keep Piercings Clean
Practice good hygiene:
- Always wash your hands when handling your nipple jewelry.
- Clean (with gentle, unscented soap), sterilize (e.g., soak in sea salt), and completely dry the jewelry pieces before reinsertion.
- Wash nipples to remove old discharge and dead skin.
Check Breastfeeding Position
If milk flow is affected by the piercing holes, you can use a breastfeeding pillow to help your baby find a more comfortable feeding position.
Pump Before Breastfeeding
Pump for around 1-2 minutes before breastfeeding to remove the old discharge or dead skins that might be stuck to the piercing holes.
Ask For Help
Consult your healthcare provider or an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) for questions or breastfeeding assistance.
Do Nipple Piercings Close During Breastfeeding?
The piercing holes might close if you’re breastfeeding for an extended period (over one year).
Retainers & Insertion Tapers
Some moms use retainers and insertion tapers to prevent their piecing holes from closing.
IMPORTANT: These things still need to be removed before each breastfeeding session.
Past Infections & Current Risks
Nerve damage or scar tissue from a previous infection might affect your milk flow.
If you currently have mastitis or infected breasts, consult your healthcare provider before breastfeeding your baby because you might pass the infection to your child.
Piercings On Other Breast Parts
The areola (dark skin around your nipples) is also a common body modification site, but the piercings can also cause milk flow blockage.
Follow the safety procedures above to prevent infections and choking risks, especially jewelry removal before breastfeeding.
Nipple Piercings Before Having A Baby: Precautions & Risks
Choose A Reputable Piercer
Be sure that your piercer is licensed and practices proper hygiene and safety procedures throughout the piercing process.
Minimize Risks & Follow Safety Procedures
Make sure they follow these:
- Wash hands before starting the procedure
- Use gloves
- Use sterile piercing needles
- Sterilize your skin and nipples before the procedure
Aftercare procedures to follow:
- Avoid touching the piercings
- Avoid letting others touch the piercings
- Don’t put soap, lotion, or any chemicals on your nipples until they’re fully healed
- Don’t change the nipple jewelry unless your piercer gives the go signal
Before Breastfeeding: Piercings Must Be Fully Healed
Always make sure that your piercings are fully healed before you start breastfeeding. It might be a good idea to hold off getting pierced if you’re planning to have a baby within the year or next.
How Long Do Piercings Heal?
Healing of the piercing holes can take 6-12 months or longer. Factors such as infections and stress can prolong the healing process. (8)
Allow 12-24 Months For Nipple Piercings To Heal
Some nipple piercings might even take 18+ months to heal, and the holes can close easily if the jewelry is removed before the site heals completely. (7)
Limit Alcohol, Caffeine, Aspirin, & Cigarettes
These items can act as blood thinners, making it harder for your blood to clot, extending your recovery time.
Check For Signs Of Infection & Get Treatment
Watch for these signs of infections and seek treatment immediately:
- Increased pain on the piercing site or your breasts
- Odor and discharge from the piercing holes
Do I Have To Take My Nipple Piercings Out When Pregnant?
No. You don’t need to remove nipple piercings during pregnancy unless they’re making you feel uncomfortable.
(1) Garbin CP, Deacon JP, Rowan MK, Hartmann PE, Geddes DT. Association of nipple piercing with abnormal milk production and breastfeeding. JAMA. 2009 Jun 24;301(24):2550-1. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.877. PMID: 19549971. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/184139
(7) Martin J. Is nipple piercing compatible with breastfeeding? J Hum Lact. 2004 Aug;20(3):319-21. doi: 10.1177/0890334404266876. PMID: 15296586.