Mother and Baby

What causes dark nipples during pregnancy?

Section: Symptoms
darker nipples during pregnancy side effect

Pregnancy causes your body to change in all sorts of ways. When you look in the mirror, you might start to notice subtle changes in areas you weren't quite as prepared for. Alongside other physical pregnancy side effects like morning sickness, swelling and stretch marks, your nipples may suddenly appear darker.

Although this is a change that might be very noticeable to you, remember that everyone's body is different and it should not be something that makes you feel self-conscious. It is important to be kind to yourself, as pregnancy can also take it's toll on you mentally by causing fatigue, stress, anxiety and mood swings. To put your mind at ease, we fill you in on everything you need to know about darker nipples during pregnancy - whether they are common, what causes them, will they fade and is there anything you can do about it?

Are darker nipples common during pregnancy?

The areola, the hyper-pigmented area surrounding the nipple, often becomes darker during pregnancy and it is a common side effect. Most women find that their breasts change in some way throughout pregnancy. As well as nipple darkening, they could become larger and your breasts may increase in size or become tender. Some women find their nipples develop bumps which are called Montgomery’s tubercles. These bumps are sebaceous (oil) glands which lubricate the nipple to ease the process of breastfeeding and protect your baby from germs.

5 surprising ways your breasts change in pregnancy:

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1) Sore boobs

If this is your first pregnancy, you’re probably wincing when you put on your bra as your breasts will no doubt be quite sore for the first few weeks – one of the first clues that you’re pregnant.

The most tender part is probably your nipples, because of the increased levels of the hormone progesterone and the growth of the milk ducts. Even cold temperatures may cause your nipples to tingle, so try to keep them warm.

Trade in your usual bra for one that isn’t underwired and is designed for pregnancy and encourage your partner to keep his hands off your chest, until the pain subsides.
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2) Bigger breasts in pregnancy

Your breasts will obviously grow bigger during your pregnancy (think of it as a free temporary boob job). Throughout your pregnancy, you’ll probably find that your cup size will increase by at least one and possibly two sizes. If you have additional breast tissue, you may also find that this growth extends up into your armpit.

‘This growing can cause your breasts to become really itchy,’ says Dr Dib Datta, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. ‘This is because the skin is stretching and can mean that you are left with stretch marks.’ Avoid this by using oils and creams that are designed to fight against stretch marks and pregnancy scarring. 

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3) Changes in breast appearance

As you get further into your pregnancy, your nipples and the areola (the area surrounding the nipple) may darken noticeably. Your nipples may become puffy and swollen looking.

Don’t stress if your breasts start to resemble roadmaps as the veins on the surface become more noticeable. This is perfectly normal and due to the increased supply of blood to your breasts.
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4) Leaking milk

By the time you’re around 16 weeks pregnant, your nipples may start to leak.

‘Your breasts might secrete colostrum, a thick and yellowish fluid,’ Dr Datta explains. ‘This is the first type of milk that you’ll produce and is completely normal.’

Simply pop a breast pad inside your bra to avoid an embarrassing wardrobe faux pas when the leaking occurs.

You may spot small amounts of blood leaking from the nipple. While this is common – it’s just happening because of the sudden growth of blood vessels – it’s best to get this checked by your GP.
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5) Lumps in your breasts

Finding a lump in your breast is scary, but during pregnancy, this is often nothing to worry about and has only developed because of all the hormones in your body.

Usually, pregnancy breast lumps are cysts of some description. The most common cysts are fluid-filled sacs, but galactoceles (milk-filled cysts) and fibroadenomas (fibrous tissue) can also occur during pregnancy.

Get your lump checked out by your GP, who will be able to tell you if it needs treatment or not. 

What causes nipple darkening during pregnancy?

It is unclear exactly what causes nipples to darken during pregnancy. However, as with all changes that occur during pregnancy, it is likely to be down to your hormones. Hormones are responsible for helping the body grow and adapt to effectively prepare you for carrying and giving birth to your baby. During pregnancy, hormones appear to cause an increase in the production of melanin, the pigment which makes our hair, skin and eyes darker. 

The areas which are most affected by this increase in melanin, are parts of the body where the pigment is already present in high quantities, such as the areolas. From an evolutionary perspective, some believe that the body causes an increase in melanin and the subsequent nipple darkening so that the baby will easily spot the nipple for breastfeeding even before their eyes are fully developed.

During pregnancy, some women find their body develops dark patches in other areas, often scars of freckles. Another key example of skin darkening during pregnancy is melasma which is otherwise known as the pregnancy mask. Melasma (from the Greek word “melas” meaning black) is hyperpigmentation or discolouration of the skin, with dark brown, greyish or tan-coloured patches covering the face. Another skin darkening condition caused by increased melanin is the linea negra. The linea negra is a dark vertical line that appears on your belly during pregnancy. Although they may seem alarming, these skin changes are common, perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

Do dark nipples fade after pregnancy?

In most cases, darker nipples will fade back to their original colour after pregnancy. It is unlikely to be immediate but it should happen during the first few weeks and months after you give birth. However, for some women, changes which occur during pregnancy may become permanent. If you decide to breastfeed, this may also cause changes in your breasts and nipples. Breasts and nipples may become more sensitive, sore, cracked and you can develop thrush.

Is there anything I can do?

As the darkening of your nipples and skin is caused by an increase in melanin, it is important you stay safe in the sun. The NHS recommends mums-to-be always use a high SPF suncream as your skin is more sensitive to sun damage. If you are in a hot climate, seek shade where possible and make sure you stay hydrated. Hot weather can cause overheating and dehydration, as pregnant women's bodies are already at a higher temperature as they pump blood around the body for the baby. If you do get hot and flustered, make-up and skincare expert Joyce Connor recommends using "cooling thermal water which helps to soothe irritation on the skin and keep you cool".

Using pregnancy safe skincare and beauty products is important. This will ensure you are using products that are not only safe for you and your skin but your unborn your baby. You do not want to irritate the skin or make it inflamed which could make the skin appear darker. You can use concealer to cover dark patches if they make you feel insecure.

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Catriona originally joined the team as an Editorial Assistant to work on the 2019 M&B Awards. As a Digital Writer, she has written and updated hundreds of articles on the site from medical explainers to celebs news and shopping galleries.

Catch her running along the Thames or eating her way around London's restaurants.


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