How to deal with nipple pain

When a 38-year-old woman from Bengaluru started having irregular periods, she was diagnosed with Polycystic ovarian disease, or PCOD. It can occur suddenly at any age after puberty and there is no known cause for it. She also gained weight and had excessive hair growth in different parts of the body including the nipples. She tried to shave the five, six strands of hair on her nipple. Unfortunately, this led to a nipple infection, causing shooting pain in her nipples.

Dr Teji Dawane, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist in Motherhood Hospitals, Bengaluru who treated the woman says that she was very conscious of the hair growth on her nipple. “Thankfully, she did not require any surgery and was treated using injections and antibiotics. It was a painful experience for her,” says Dr Dawane.

Although nipple pain is a common occurrence in breastfeeding mothers and during hormonal changes, an infected nipple is also one of the reasons why one might be experiencing nipple pain.

Nipple pain causes

Dr Dawane lists out the following reasons why nipple pain occurs:

  • During pregnancy

    The breasts and nipples become quite sensitive when one is expecting. Even undergarments can cause sharp nipple pain. In breastfeeding mothers, pain can occur if the baby latches improperly or due to oral thrush, a fungal infection passed from the baby to the mother during lactation.

  • During menstruation

    Some women have very sharp nipple pain during or just before menstruation due to hormonal changes.

  • Local infection or inflammation in the nipple area

    Any kind of pus collection in the breasts or nipple area is a sign of infection and can lead to nipple pain.

Prolactin hormone plays a major role in breast growth and milk formation during pregnancy. The levels of the hormone prolactin rise in some women (not pregnant) with PCOD and cause nipple discharge. “This hormonal disturbance can cause pus discharge, further leading to nipple infection,” adds Dr Ruchi Bhandari, consultant gynecologist at Mishka IVF Centre, Jaipur.

She adds, “Even allergic reactions to certain chemicals in creams and lotions can cause nipple pain. Allergies could also be due to deodorants or perfumes that you may have started using recently. It is advised to visit a doctor if you see lumps or some discharge in your nipples.”

Infected nipple: How bacteria causes infection

“A mild infection in the nipples can occur due to trauma to the nipples. Trauma can be either due to friction, often seen in athletes or due to sexual intercourse,” mentions Dr Bhandari. Trauma can open channels of the nipples allowing bacteria to enter the breasts and cause infection.

Dr Bhandari lists down the symptoms of an infection in the nipples:

  • Little spotting or bleeding
  • Bruised nipples
  • Persistent nipple pain
  • Dryness of nipples
  • Heaviness of the breasts
  • Formation of pus
  • Swelling or excessive redness of the areola (black area just behind the nipples)
  • Increase in temperature around your nipples or breasts

Anything entering the nipples can affect the ducts and the mammary gland. “A nipple infection, if not treated early, can quickly spread through the tissues. As a result, the entire breast gets infected,” explains Dr Bhandari.

Nipple hair removal causes recurring infections

Hygiene plays a crucial role in keeping nipple infections at bay. “Hygiene does not mean shaving or other hair removal techniques. It leaves micro aberrations on the skin, leading to repeated infections,” explains Dr Dawane.

The root of your nipple hair is under the skin and there are sweat glands under the roots which secrete oil. These secretions come out through the hair follicles and roots.

“When you shave those hairs, the secretions get accumulated in the empty slot of the root with no way for it to come out. This leads to a skin condition called folliculitis which can lead to nipple pain,” mentions Dr Dawane.

Hygiene involves taking a shower after working out to remove sweat around your nipples. “Accumulated sweat leads to recurrent infections. If you tend to sweat more, change your undergarments frequently,” advises Dr Dawane.

Nipple pain treatment

The treatment depends on the cause, says Dr Bhandari. “If the nipple is inflamed, then anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed. If it is infected, antibiotics are used to treat the infected nipple,” she explains. However, some women may also require a minor procedure to drain the pus in case of a serious nipple infection, says Dr Dawane.

She further adds, “Breastfeeding mothers can take a little bit of breast milk and apply it on the tip of the nipple, if you’ve developed any cracks or cuts. That is one of the natural moisturisers that we recommend.”

For severe breast and nipple pain during or before menstruation, Dr Bhandari says taking painkillers can help. If you think your nipple might be infected, wipe the area with a clean cloth and keep it dry to prevent bacteria from entering.


  • Nipple pain is a common occurrence in breastfeeding mothers and during or before the onset of menstruation. However, nipple infection can also be one of the causes.
  • Swelling, redness and tenderness around the nipples can indicate an infection. Visit a doctor if you notice nipple discharge. 
  • Experts say shaving your nipple hair can lead to recurrent nipple infections.
  • Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are used to treat nipple infection.