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Can You Breastfeed with Pierced Nipples?

Body modifications such as branding, piercing, and tattooing have been around for over 5000 years, and have experienced a resurgence in popularity recently. Throughout history, men and women have pierced their nipples for religious or spiritual reasons, beautification, decoration, protection, and social rank or status. Since it is increasingly common for mothers to have a tattoo or want to get their nipples pierced, you may be wondering if you can breastfeed your baby once a piercing is in place. The good news is that you can, but here are some important items you should know.

Plan ahead. The best time to pierce your nipples is 18-24 months before pregnancy, or 3 months after weaning. That way, the piercing can fully heal before the bodily and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy take place. This time frame also allows for the removal of jewelry during breastfeeding without the worry of the hole closing up. Saliva must not enter a freshly pierced nipple, and jewelry must remain in place during healing – making piercing while frequently nursing a young baby near-impossible.

Well-healed piercings allow many mothers to breastfeed without any problems. Nipple piercings can take up to a full year or more to heal completely – with infections and jewelry rejections (due to metal allergies) being the most common problems. Proper piercing depth, width and diameter (gauge), and using the appropriate procedures, tools, and jewelry (titanium, nickel-free gold, platinum, niobium or surgical stainless steel) can minimize the chances of rejection. Be sure to go to a reputable piercer who is a member of the Association of Professional Piercers. It is also a good idea to know your piercing rights and to follow all aftercare instructions.

Know the risks. Associated risks of nipple piercing include HIV, hepatitis, infection, scar tissue, keloids, damaged milk ducts, and mastitis. Trauma to nerves in the nipple during piercing can result in the loss of sensation, negatively affecting the milk-ejection reflex and leading to inadequate milk supply. If sensation in the nipple is lost, the release of oxytocin can be inhibited, causing a delay or absence of milk let-down, also affecting milk supply. Worth mentioning – while some women prefer a vertical piercing, many sources state that horizontal piercings seem better suited for breastfeeding.

Remove jewelry before the sixth month of pregnancy, and then each and every time baby breastfeeds. If possible, remove your piercing during pregnancy to prevent possible nipple stimulation and premature contractions. And definitely leave jewelry out while breastfeeding, as it can lead to latch problems, damage a baby’s mouth, and increase the risk of choking. Since frequent removal of jewelry can lead to increased risk of infection and tenderness, many women insert a ‘taper’ or retainer between feedings to keep the piercing open. If you must keep jewelry in place, use a flexible PTFE barbell and tighten the ends before every breastfeeding session.

Inform your healthcare team (including your lactation consultant!) that a nipple piercing is (or was) present so that a complete assessment of breastfeeding and milk supply can be done and appropriate education provided. Your baby’s growth should also be monitored until weight gain and milk supply are firmly established. If you have any problems with breastfeeding, be sure to contact your doctor or IBCLC immediately.

Keep breastfeeding. If you are a mother who has or wants a nipple piercing, you should feel safe knowing that you can still successfully breastfeed if you follow the precautions outlined above. Follow the “rules” and make sure your piercer does too. Beautiful body art and breastfeeding are not mutually exclusive!