Pierced nipples

What do I do with my nipple rings and piercings?

If mothers are considering breastfeeding, it is recommended they remove any nipple rings or studs and allow the nipples as much time as possible to heal and limit the risk of problems. During pregnancy, bacteria can enter the body through the piercing tract, cause a breast infection, and even reach the baby in the uterus. The unborn baby would be exposed to any medication needed to treat infection. Once breastfeeding, rings and studs can cause nipple pain, damage, and infection and will likely make it difficult for the baby to latch and get enough milk while breastfeeding. They may also injure the baby's mouth or be swallowed. Mothers with previously-pierced nipples are at an increased poor milk emptying and their baby may have latching problems. 

A) Reasons for removing piercing jewelry

Piercing jewelry should be removed for the duration of pregnancy and breastfeeding to give the nipples as much time as possible to heal and to limit the risk of other problems. The walls of the piercing tract, the path that the piercing takes, can take months to heal, and complications are most common during this time (Holbrook 2012).

Nipple jewelry can:

  • Cause an allergic reaction (Warshaw 2017).
  • Cause damage and blocking of the milk ducts, resulting in poor breast emptying and the baby growing slowly.
  • Cause scar tissue to grow in the nipple root, resulting in latching problems.
  • Allow bacteria to enter the body, causing:
    • An infection along the piercing tract. 
    • Mastitis (Jacobs 2003).
    • A breast abscess (Bengualid 2008; Jacobs 2002; Kapsimalakou 2010; Leibman 2011).
  • Allow bacteria to spread through the blood and into other parts of the body, including the lungs and the valves of the heart (Armstrong 2008; Holbrook 2012).

In addition, if left in while breastfeeding, nipple jewelry can: 

  • Prevent the baby from latching properly.
  • Injure the baby’s mouth.
  • Be swallowed by the baby (Jones 1999).
  • Cause nipple pain.

There are estimates that up to 20% of women with pierced nipples develop an infection (Jacobs 2003). This may increase the risk of scarring of the nipple root and damage to the ducts.

Nipple piercing can result in infection around breast implants so it is recommended that anyone with breast implants avoid piercing (Cornelissen 2017; de Kleer 2001; Javaid 1999).

During pregnancy, bacteria may spread to the baby in the uterus (Holbrook 2012). The unborn baby would also be exposed to any medication needed to treat any resulting infection.  

B) Difficulties caused by previous nipple piercings

A small number of breastfeeding mothers who have had pierced nipples may have breastfeeding difficulties, such as poor breast emptying resulting in areas of fullness, or scarring of the nipple root, making latching harder or impossible. Both can result in an underfed baby. 

It is very common for milk to leak from previously-pierced nipples.

If you notice any changes in a previously pierced nipple, such as increased swelling or pain, please see your health-care providers.

References

Armstrong ML, DeBoer S, Cetta F. Infective endocarditis after body art: a review of the literature and concerns. J Adolesc Health. 2008 Sep;43(3):217-25
 
Bengualid V, Singh V, Singh H, et al. Mycobacterium fortuitum and anaerobic breast abscess following nipple piercing: case presentation and review of the literature. J Adolesc Health. 2008 May;42(5):530-2
 
Cornelissen AJ, Solberg L, Qiu SS, et al. Breast Implant Infection After Nipple Piercing. Aesthet Surg J. 2017 Jan;37(1):NP3-NP4.
 
de Kleer N, Cohen M, Semple J, et al. Nipple piercing may be contraindicated in male patients with chest implants. Ann Plast Surg. 2001 Aug;47(2):188-90
 
Holbrook J, Minocha J, Laumann A. Body piercing: complications and prevention of health risks. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2012 Feb 1;13(1):1-17
 
Jacobs VR, Golombeck K, Jonat W, et al. Mastitis nonpuerperalis after nipple piercing: time to act. Int J Fertil Womens Med. 2003 Sep-Oct;48(5):226-31
 
Jacobs VR, Golombeck K, Jonat W, et al. [Three case reports of breast abscess after nipple piercing: underestimated health problems of a fashion phenomenon]. Zentralbl Gynakol. 2002 Jul;124(7):378-85
 
Javaid M, Shibu M. Breast implant infection following nipple piercing. Br J Plast Surg. 1999 Dec;52(8):676-7
 
Jones L. Pierced nipples and breastfeeding. Achieving compromise. Pract Midwife. 1999 Dec;2(11):16-7
 
Kapsimalakou S, Grande-Nagel I, Simon M, et al. Breast abscess following nipple piercing: a case report and review of the literature. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2010 Dec;282(6):623-6
 
Leibman AJ, Misra M, Castaldi M. Breast abscess after nipple piercing: sonographic findings with clinical correlation. J Ultrasound Med. 2011 Sep;30(9):1303-8
 
Warshaw EM, Aschenbeck KA, DeKoven JG, et al. Piercing and Metal Sensitivity: Extended Analysis of the North American Contact Dermatitis Group Data, 2007-2014. Dermatitis. 2017 Nov/Dec;28(6):333-341