Nipple pain is one of the most feared symptoms forth breast pain. The very word elicits thoughts and worries about extreme causes, from an infection to disease and, let’s face it, most of us have at least once wondered, reluctantly so, if the random pain in the breast is breast cancer.

The good news is nipple pain, though it is one of the symptoms in breast cancer, does not point to such condition until it is associated with lumps, discharge and other unusual symptoms. In fact, it is one of the most common symptoms of a detergent allergy or the ill effects of using a sports bra for long.

So take a deep breath and let all your worries go and read on to know if you need to change some habits that might be causing nipple pain or is it time to visit a doctor.

  1. Nipple pain causes
  2. Diagnosis and treatment of nipple pain
  3. Tips to reduce and prevent nipple pain
  4. Home remedies for nipple pain

Nipple pain may be caused due to a number of lifestyle and physiological factors. Let us have a look at all of them one by one.

  • Menstrual cycle: If you are on or near your period, your hormones may be the culprit behind nipple pain. Fluctuations in the levels of estrogen and progesterone near the menstrual cycle cause tenderness and swelling in your breasts and nipples which then causes pain. This type of pain is mainly experienced by teenagers, though, adult women may also suffer from nipple pain right before their period. If you are aware of your monthly cycle changes, you may actually be able to predict this pain. (Read more: Female hormones and their functions)
  • Loose fitting clothes: You may be a lover of loose-fitting T-shirts, tops or innerwear, but they are definitely not friendly to your nipples. Such clothes constantly rub against your skin, leaving it sore, cracked and painful. In fact, Jogger’s nipples is a common condition found in regular runners and is marked by chaffing, soreness, redness and irritation in the nipples.
  • Menopause: Just like the time around your periods, your reproductive hormones go through major changes during the pre and postmenopausal phase, which, in turn, could cause your nipples to turn sore and be hurt.
  • Breastfeeding: Nursing mothers often complaint about sore and tender nipples, especially in the first few weeks of delivery. A lot of women opt out of breastfeeding to avoid this condition. However, it is best to understand the cause of your pain instead of depriving the newborn from their first dose of immunity. According to a study published in ‘Breastfeeding Medicine’, nipple pain in lactating mothers may be caused due to poor positioning of the baby, poor latching or a tongue tie. Poor latching or improper positioning of the baby can also cause nipple vasospasm, which is pain caused in the nipples due to a reduction in blood supply. Furthermore, the excessive vacuum caused by some newborns is a major cause of nipple pain in nursing mothers. Additionally, women who undergo a C-section report more nipple pain. (Read more: Pros and cons of natural delivery vs C-section)
  • Mastitis: Mastitis is a condition marked by swollen and tender breasts and is most commonly experienced by breastfeeding women. It is caused by clogging of the breast ducts with milk due to poor or infrequent breastfeeding or avoidance of breastfeeding. Milk accumulation may also cause a white discharge to leak from the nipples along with blood. To avoid this condition, it is important that you don’t skip feeding your baby. Though it is most commonly seen in lactating women, mastitis can also affect non-breastfeeding women. In such cases, the cause of pain is an infection, though, such infections are associated with other symptoms like fever, swelling and redness in breasts and chills.
  • Thrush: If you have already ruled out baby positioning and you are breastfeeding regularly, thrush could be the cause of your nipple pain. Thrush is a fungal infection that is caused by the growth of the yeast Candida albicans. The pain in such condition could either be mild or intense. White rashes and flakiness on nipples is yet another sign of thrush. If you notice any of these signs, it is advisable that you talk to your doctor and get immediate treatment.
  • Breast cancer: Breast cancer is one of the much-feared causes of nipple and breast pain. However, the chances of its occurrence are rarer than the other causes. Undoubtedly, breast cancer risk increases with age but more often than not it is the hormonal changes that cause all the fuss. Your nipple and breast pain may be caused by cancer or a tumour only if you experience other associated signs like breast lumps, changes in the colour of nipples, nipple inversion, yellowish or bloody discharge from your nipples. If you notice any of the additional signs, check in with your doctor immediately. Also, in case of prolonged pain, it is advisable to visit your doctor.
  • Paget’s disease: Paget’s disease is a type of cancer affecting nipples and areola (dark skin around nipples) and it is found in about 1-4% of breast cancer cases. Paget’s disease mostly affects women, however, it may also develop in men. Its symptoms are somewhere in between skin infections and breast cancer and mainly include swelling or itching in the nipple and areola, flattened or inwardly turned nipples, dry or crusty areola, and yellow or bloody discharge from the nipples.
  • Some other causes of nipple pain include:
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Nipple pain is easily diagnosed by looking at the symptoms. However, to determine a breast cancer or abnormalities in the breast tissue, you need to undertake a self-examination of your nipples and breast in an area under sufficient light. Make sure to use your hand and fingers to detect the presence of an abnormal swelling or lump. If other symptoms are present and breast cancer is suspected, several tests need to be performed to determine or rule out this possibility. These include:

  • Mammography: Mammography is a diagnostic and screening technique that uses X-rays to detect cancerous or tumorous growths in the breast tissue. It involves pressing a small plate over your breast area to pass X-rays through the skin, which then send signals to an attached monitor and forms images. Usually, whitish or grey coloured areas depict tumours and dense tissues.
  • Ductography: Ductography is done to detect the presence of cancer or a tumour in the breast ducts, especially in case an abnormal nipple discharge is seen.
  • Other tests: like a skin biopsy, MRI or hormone tests may also be suggested.


Treatment method depends on the diagnosis and symptoms and may include:

  • Painkillers to subside discomfort.
  • Antibiotics to inhibit the growth of infection-causing microbes.
  • Topical creams and gels to reduce nipple cracking and to relieve dry skin.
  • Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery may be indicated in case of breast cancer.

If you are not pregnant or breastfeeding and still suffer from nipple pain, here are some of the easy tips to follow that may help you get rid of the discomfort.

  • Avoid taking fried, salty or sweet foods and cut down your total caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Take a well-balanced diet complete with fruits, nuts and green leafy vegetables. If you are suffering from thrush, taking antimicrobial rich foods like garlic and ginger may help improve the problem in addition to topical anti-fungal agents as prescribed. For similar reasons, include a lot of vitamin C and immunity boosting foods in your diet.
  • Do not forget to drink your fill of water for the day. Water helps to remove extra toxins from your blood, which ensures that you don’t suffer from hormonal imbalances. (Read more: How much water to drink in a day)
  • If you have just changed your detergent or soap, try discontinuing its use for a while to see if you have an allergy.
  • Avoid wearing loose fitting clothes, especially while exercising. This would prevent chaffing and nipple pain.
  • If you are a regular runner, pick out a well-fitted sports bra to provide maximum support to your breasts. Also, you can also buy nipple guards that would protect your nipples from excessive friction.
  • Follow good hygienic practices to avoid infections. Giving some air to your nipples may help reduce and avoid thrush since fungus thrives in warm and moist environments. You can go braless to get relief from your symptoms.
  • Exercise regularly. It will not only help you stay fit but also it would help flush out the toxins from your body.
  • If you are on any kind of hormonal therapy, talk to your doctor about the symptoms to avoid the side effects of hormones.

Nipple pain in pregnancy

Now you already know some of the lifestyle changes that may help you avoid and reduce nipple pain. However, If pain is due to pregnancy, the following tips may be helpful:

  • Buy the correct size of maternity clothes and a seamless well-fitted bra to support your growing breasts. You might as well have to go shopping for new innerwear every month, but better a bit of extra shopping than all those months of pain.
  • You can apply hot or cold compress to the affected area to reduce pain. Just soak a washcloth in warm or cold water and gently keep it over your nipples for a few minutes to get relief.
  • Massaging with coconut oil, olive oil and almond oil may also be effective in providing relief.

(Read more: Diet chart for pregnant women)

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Nipple pain in breastfeeding women

Nipple pain in most commonly experienced in breastfeeding women, although, you can prevent or get rid of it by taking a few simple things into consideration, which are:

  • Do not skip or avoid breastfeeding. Feed your baby regularly to avoid accumulation of milk inside your milk ducts. If your nipple pain is due to the presence of too much milk in the breasts. Gently compress your breasts and nipples and pour out some of the milk to relieve pressure.
  • Keep your baby’s pacifiers and bottles clean and dry. Oral thrush in babies is one of the most common causes of nipple thrush in lactating women.
  • Make sure that your baby is positioned correctly for breastfeeding since lose latching is one of the primary causes of nipple pain. Try feeding your baby when he/she starts showing signs of hunger instead of when he/she is too hungry. This gives time for the baby to latch properly before the feed.
  • Nipple shields are a good option for women who experience major latching problems while breastfeeding. A nipple shield will position your nipple in such a way that it provides protection and support to your nipple and makes it easier for the baby to feed. Your ob-gyn may help you chose the right size of nipple shield for you.
  • Apply a warm compress. Put a soaked and well-drained washcloth directly over your nipples. Make sure it is not too hot but is still warm enough. Keep it over your nipples until it cools down and repeat.
  • Massaging your breasts and nipple area may also be helpful. This is known as reverse pressure softening. Putting gentle pressure on the areola may help reduce swelling and pain in and around the nipple.
  • If you have cracked nipples you can apply over the counter creams and gels to relieve pain. Hydrogel pads may also be helpful in providing relief from cracked nipples and nipple pain. These are primarily made of water and provide support for healing. They also last for about a week and come with easy instructions to use.

(Read more: Post-pregnancy diet chart)

  • Aloe vera gel could be very effective in reducing nipple pain. It has cooling properties and is also an emollient (soothes and moisturises the skin), which provides instant relief. Just apply a thin and even layer over the affected region and let it sit for a few minutes. Clean it with lukewarm water and apply some olive oil over it.
  • Calendula and basil may also help in reducing chafing and in soothing nipple pain. Both these herbs have antibacterial properties, which would assist in preventing infections. You can buy calendula balm or make a paste with calendula, basil and some olive oil, to be applied to the affected regions.
  • Washing your nipples with salt water or apple cider vinegar right after breastfeeding may protect you from infections. Dab either of the solutions onto a cotton pad and gently wipe your nipples clean. Don’t forget to wash them with lukewarm water later and oiling with coconut or olive oil.
  • Coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil is an efficient moisturiser and is much safer to use than most herbs. You can massage some coconut oil onto the nipples or heat it up a bit to add that extra warmth to your sore nipples.
  • Essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and chamomile are very useful for reducing nipple pain and soreness. They exhibit antimicrobial properties, which may be effective in reducing the risk of thrush and nipple infections. Always ensure that you buy good quality essential oils from a trusted supplier or brand and never put any essential oil directly to your skin. Instead, mix 1-2 drops of the essential oil of your choice in a good carrier oil like coconut oil or olive oil and use the mixture for massage.


  1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Premenstrual breast changes
  2. Ultra Running. Jogger’s nipple. ultra running ltd, UK
  3. Buck ML, Amir LH, Cullinane M, Donath . Nipple Pain, Damage, and Vasospasm in the First 8 Weeks Postpartum. 2014 Mar 1;9(2):56-62. PMID: 24380583
  4. National Health Service [internet]. UK; Mastitis
  5. The Royal women's Hospital Melbourne [internet]: Victoria State Government. Breast & nipple thrush
  6. National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Paget Disease of the Breast
  7. National Health Service [internet]. UK; Breast pain
  8. American Academy of Family Physicians [Internet]. Leawood (KS); The Evaluation of Common Breast Problems
  9. National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering . Mammography. Department of Health & Human Services; National Institutes of Health
  10. Radiology society of North america. Ductography: How To and What If?. RSNA Oak Brook, U.S. & Canada
  11. American pregnancy association. Nipple Pain Remedies. Skyway Circle ,Irving, TX
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