Nipples 101

Nipples 101

Breasts are complicated things. They can swell or shrink depending on the time of the month, catch fallen food, and make going downstairs an ordeal. And the most complicated, yet most amazing, thing they do is make nourishment for the tiniest and most precious person in your life.

We know that sometimes breastfeeding can really suck (no pun intended). In order to help you navigate the often overwhelming world of breastfeeding, we’re here to give to answer some of the most common questions about nipples, nursing, pumping, and everything in between.

What even is going on down there?

Short Answer: Look at this image

Longer Answer: This image is a breakdown of main parts of the breast, but for our purposes, we are mainly concerned with the nipple, areola, mammary glands, and ducts (sorry fatty tissue).

  • Areola: The areola is the darker circle around your nipple. Your areola may have gotten darker and larger during pregnancy and that’s all part of Mother Nature’s plan. Those dark circles help your nearsighted little newborn find its way to food.

    But, wait, there’s more! The areola is also home to the Glands of Montgomery. These glands appear to be small raised bumps on the areola and nipple and produce oil to keep the nipple protected. (why the regal name? why not?!) Montgomery’s glands serve an important job of secreting scents that scientists believe help the baby get started eating. The Glands of Montgomery vary in visibility from woman to woman, but they do tend to become more prominent during late pregnancy.
  • Mammary Glands: Mammary Glands are where the milk is actually produced. The glands are made up of alveoli, which are hollow cavities that are a couple of millimeters long. The glands are then grouped into lobules, as you can see in the image.
  • Ducts: While the glands are in charge of milk production, the mammary ducts are what delivers the milk from the lobules to the nipple so it can get out into the world! We know that breastmilk is pretty much divine, so you can think of the milk ducts as the highways to heaven.

How do I know my flange size? Is it close enough to assume my bra size corresponds to my flange size?

Quick Answer: Heck no, bra size does not equal flange size!

Longer Answer: Bra size is based on the size of the breast, while flange size is based off the size of the nipple. To find the correct size of flange for you, measure the diameter of your nipple in millimeters (not including your areola) and use this handy sizing guide:

Not all companies will measure flanges in the same way (e.g. a Pumpin’ Pals’ medium equals a Medela 24mm, obvi). However, if you base your sizing off the dimensions in the product description, you should be good. A good rule of thumb is that your flange should be at least 4mm bigger than your nipple diameter.

To see if your flange is fitting right, follow this guide. Ideally, your flange should not be so small that your nipple is rubbing the sides (ouch), but not so big that your areola is pulled into the tunnel along with the nipple (double ouch).

Is this supposed to hurt?

Quick Answer: Nope!

Longer Answer: Some discomfort when the baby first latches on (lasting about 30-60 seconds), especially during the first few weeks of nursing is common and should not be cause for alarm. However, more severe or prolonged pain could be the signs that something is wrong. Some of the common causes for nipple pain are:

  • Clogged Milk Duct: If your breast is hot, painful, or red with a small, sore lump, it is very possible that you have a clogged milk duct. To treat a clogged duct: nurse or pump and keep at it! Counterintuitively, you might want to nurse your baby on the painful side first. This is because the baby will suck the strongest at the beginning and this might help dislodge the clog. Warm showers, hot compresses and massage can also help work out the clog. If you feel feverish, it may be a sign that the clogged milk duct has become infected and you should see a doctor as it can develop into mastitis if left untreated.  
  • Thrush: This is a fungal infection that can develop in your baby’s mouth or on your nipples or both (yay). Sign of thrush in mom include painful, itchy, red, shiny, or cracked nipples while thrush can appear in babies in the form of white patches on the inside of the mouth. While painful, thrush is common and harmless, but you should see your doctor for treatment. It can be persistent if left untreated and you and your baby may end up passing it back and forth for a looooong time.
  • Shallow Latch: If your nipple looks creased, flattened, or has a pale line across it when your baby finishes nursing, then it is possible that pain is due to shallow latching during nursing. If your nipples become cracked or (heaven forbid) bloody, you probably have a latch issue and should work with a lactation consultant pronto! Watch this video for a step by step walkthrough of establishing a deep, pain-free latch or call a local LC.

  • Ill-fitting flanges or nursing bras: We’ve been over how to find a correct fitting flange, but if you’re looking to upgrade your nursing bra, we’ve put together this life (and boob) saving guide.

Visit here for more info on common causes for nipple pain. Remember, the internet (even Moxxly’s blog) can only go so far, so don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you think that you may have an infection.

What's the heck is a milk bleb?

Quick Answer: Backed up milk!

Longer Answer: A milk bleb or blister looks like a small white spot on the nipple and is formed when skin grows over a milk pore and milk gets “backed up”. To treat it, there are many different home remedies that you could try involving everything from epsom salts to essential oils. We recommend a more straightforward, three-step approach to treating blebs:

  1. Soak the nipple in warm water to soften

  2. Rub gently with a damp washcloth until it loosens

  3. Nurse or express to remove any hardened milk

You could choose to apply antibiotic ointment afterwards to help with healing, but make sure that you check with your doctor that the one you’re using is safe for nursing.

if nothing is working, see your doctor to make sure something more serious isn’t wrong.

Where exactly is my milk coming out? Is there one spot or many?

Quick answer: Many

Longer answer: The nipple is more showerhead than straw in this sense. Unlike a bottle nipple, the nipple will anywhere from four to twenty “spouts” called milk duct orifices. The baby’s mouth should cover the whole areola if latched correctly, so don’t worry about milk spraying everywhere.


Will my boobs ever go back to their pre-baby glory?

Quick Answer: Maybe  

Longer Answer: One of the best thing about us ladies is that we are all different. Unfortunately, this means that we can’t give you a definitely answer on how your individual body will look or feel after you stop nursing. Some women say that their nipples and breasts looked pretty much the same after they stopped breastfeeding. Others say that they stayed larger, got smaller, sagged a bit, or anything in between. Other factors such as genetics or weight gain during pregnancy can also affect breast and nipple size after nursing. See this article for more information or ask your mom and other women in the family how their bodies reacted after they stopped breastfeeding (bonding time!).

Back to blog