Pierced nipples do not cause issues for a breastfeeding mother. Generally speaking, the piercing will not affect the ability to produce milk for the baby or the milk supply. That being said, some mothers notice blocked ducts, milk leaking through the holes of the piercing site and infections.
So, let’s look at the risks and recommendations to be aware of when breastfeeding with pierced nipples and how it might affect breastfeeding.
Risks for pierced nipples:
In addition to the breastfeeding related issues nipple piercings can carry risks. They include bacterial infection, scar tissue including keloid scars, hepatitis, tetanus, transmission of HIV and hyperprolactinemia (high prolactin levels). There are also two possibilities of rejection (the body rejects the jewellery and the wound doesn’t heal). Some women can develop allergies to the metal in the jewellery.
To reduce the likelihood of infections and other complications, it is very important to choose reputable licensed practitioners, and follow our precautions.
Precautions for breastfeeding with a nipple piercing:
Nipple piercings must be fully healed before breastfeeding starts
Nipple piercings take a long time to heal and breastfeeding is not recommended until healing is fully completed. Saliva should not enter the wound during the healing process as this could increase the risk of infection.
In view of the long healing time, it is usually recommended that a piercing is best done at least 12 to 18 months (a year or more) before becoming pregnant. This ensures that jewellery can remain in place for six to ten months after a piercing to allow for healing and the hole will be less likely to close when jewellery is removed for breastfeeding (Martin, 1999). Robyn Roche-Paull recommends getting a piercing done 18-24 months (almost 2 years) prior to pregnancy.
Most piercers will not pierce a pregnant or breastfeeding woman. Nursing a baby on an unhealed piercing could be problematic. Some nipple piercings can take up to 18 months to heal completely. Close follow-up with doctors or prenatal specialists can ensure that any potential problems can be averted or minimized.
Do not get a nipple piercing during pregnancy
As we discussed above, it’s never okay to have your nipples pierced during pregnancy due to the lengthy healing time needed. For existing piercings, Robyn Roche-Paull advocates removing jewellery before the sixth month of pregnancy to prevent the possibility of nipple stimulation or premature contractions. She also notes that hormonal changes and the increased nipple sensitivity of pregnancy could cause rejection or embedding of jewellery. Rejection is when the body rejects the foreign body (the jewellery) and the wound doesn’t heal properly, and embedding of jewellery involves skin growing over a piercing.
REMOVE the jewelry all together for breastfeeding
Jewellery should always be removed before and during breastfeeding as it poses a choking hazard for your baby (or older toddler) and could damage a baby’s gums, palate or tongue. Jewellery could also make it difficult for a baby to latch on to the breast correctly. It could make them gag and could increase the risk of infection for the baby. Constantly removing and replacing jewellery could increase the risk of bacterial infection or tenderness of the nipple. So, women find it easier to leave jewellery out for the duration of breastfeeding.
Since a period of 12-24 months is the healing time, some piercings may still close once jewellery is removed for breastfeeding. To avoid the piercing closing up, some mothers use an insertion taper or temporary jewellery called a retainer to keep the holes open between feeds.
This smooth plastic tube can be removed and reinserted easily throughout the day. Thereby facilitating breastfeeding and “retaining” or preventing the closure of a piercing.
Blocked ducts or mastitis
In some cases, piercings can cause damage to the little ducts that carry milk within the nipple. There are several nipple pores in a nipple so it is unlikely that they would all be damaged with a single piercing. However, scarring inside the nipple could cause duct obstruction. When the milk can’t flow from all areas of the breast it can lead to blocked ducts, mastitis, or abscess. These issues can potentially reduce the milk supply in that breast. Several piercings in one nipple are more likely to increase scarring and be associated with difficulty breastfeeding.
Fast flow, slow flow
Breast milk can leak out of the sides of the nipple at the piercing site and the milk flow could be affected causing a faster flow. A faster flow is something babies may struggle with. Sometimes milk can flow from the piercing site and not from the natural nipple pores that nature intended at all. On the other hand, if any of the ducts have been damaged, milk flow from that breast could be reduced causing slow flow which may be frustrating for some babies.
Reduced milk supply, low weight gain
Certain mothers may notice a reduced milk supply in the breast with a nipple piercing and this can be associated with low weight gain for the breastfed baby. Antenatal information to get breastfeeding off to a good start, and a postnatal breastfeeding assessment by a lactation consultant will help to maximise your baby’s available milk. Regular weight checks will monitor whether your baby is getting enough milk. One sided breastfeeding from the other breast is possible if issues develop with one of the pierced nipple. This means that the other breast can generally increase milk production to compensate.
There is an increased risk of bacterial infections and infective mastitis with pierced nipples so mothers will need to be vigilant for any signs of infection coming from the nipple (e.g. a discharge) or breast (redness, pain, engorgement). It is recommended that saliva should not enter a piercing wound as this could increase infection risk and is one of the reasons complete healing is preferred before breastfeeding starts.
Loss of sensitivity or increased sensitivity
Certain mothers may lose sensitivity in their nipples following nipple piercing or others may have higher levels of sensitivity. A lack of feeling could affect let-down of milk (milk ejection) and hypersensitivity could cause breastfeeding to be painful.
Continued milk production after weaning
Some mothers may find that their nipple piercings continue to stimulate milk production after weaning. Nipple piercings have also been associated with spontaneous milk production unrelated to breastfeeding.
- While you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor and be sure to let them know about any piercings you may have on your breasts or nipples. If you have ever had an infection at the site of the piercing, tell him/her that, as well. Your doctor should also examine your breasts and your piercing site to see if there’s any reason for it to interfere with successful breastfeeding.
- Remove your nipple piercing or any other jewelry from your nipples or breasts before your baby is born and keep them out while you’re breastfeeding.
- In a situation where the milk leaks out of your piercing site once you remove the jewelry, you can wear nursing pads in your bra to help soak up the leaking breast milk.
Breastfeeding with a pierced nipple is fully do-able if you follow these guidelines. If any of the above difficulties do occur, a breastfeeding specialist such as a lactation consultant, or a doctor who you trust can be of great support to help you.