Can You Breastfeed Safely With Nipple Piercings? What To Know
How to navigate the logistics of nursing with nipple jewelry.
Your breasts (and in particular, your nipples) led an entirely different life before you got pregnant. Perhaps they have experienced a whole lot of pleasure with your partners (or yourself!) — and then perhaps also a pinch and some pain if you decided to get nipple piercings. But now that your baby is on their way, you might be honing in on that horseshoe that’s dangling from your nip and wondering if you can breastfeed with nipple piercings. It’s a sensitive subject — literally.
Can you breastfeed with nipple piercings?
Yes, you can breastfeed successfully if you have nipple piercings, though there are some guidelines to follow and things to keep in mind. “The vast majority of parents with nipple piercings successfully breastfeed/chest feed their babies and/or pump with zero problems,” Michelle Poole, MS, RN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Maven Clinic, tells Romper. “The risk for complications appears to be extremely low.”
As Poole explains, it is considered safe and hygienic for people who already have nipple piercings to nurse their baby. You simply have to follow some common sense rules to keep things as safe as possible for the both of you. “In my opinion, if you already have a nipple piercing, there is no reason to not try breastfeeding/chest feeding or pumping if this is how you would like to feed your baby,” Poole says. But if you’re thinking about getting pierced while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you’ll have to wait until you’re done breastfeeding. “Keep in mind that it can take up to a year to heal, so consider waiting until your baby feeding days are over to lower your risk of problems while pregnant and nursing a baby.”
Potential complications from breastfeeding with nipple piercings
Decreased milk supply
Even though you should be able to breastfeed, that doesn’t mean that things will flow freely. So, how do nipple piercings affect breastfeeding? “There are potential breastfeeding complications caused by a nipple piercing, which include scarring that could block some nipple pores,” Andrea Tran, IBCLC, a lactation consultant, tells Romper. “There could also be nerve damage, both which could potentially affect milk supply.” Decreased lactation in nursing parents who have nipple piercings has also been reported, since the milk ducts can become damaged.
But decreased lactation is only the tip of the, well, nip. All that breast milk has to go somewhere, and if it can’t exit your breasts, it can create an unhealthy buildup that can morph into mastitis. “The obstruction of milk flow can increase your risk for mastitis, especially if the piercings are not allowed to fully heal before starting the breastfeeding relationship,” Rue Khosa, ARNP, IBCLC, a lactation consultant, tells Romper.
That being said, Poole explains that people with nipple piercings aren’t known to have significantly greater chances of developing mastitis than other parents. “From what we know, most breastfeeding/chest feeding parents are only at a slightly higher risk of plugged ducts and mastitis when compared to un-pierced parents,” she says.
Faster milk flow
Whether it’s in the nipple itself or the areola, having an extra hole (or a widened one) might sound great to get the breast milk out and into baby’s mouth — in theory. “Though it is unlikely to prevent a woman from being able to breastfeed successfully, the fistula (hole) created by the piercing may result in an unpleasant and unwanted repercussion,” says Khosa. “It might include a faster milk flow through the piercing holes.”
According to Poole, though, likely the only unwanted effect is a bit of spillage — nothing major related to your baby’s ability to nurse. “It is common for pierced parents to notice milk leaking out of the piercing holes,” Poole explains. “Although this may make things a little messier than usual, most babies do just fine with the extra flow.”
And then, there’s the issue of potential infections. “Infection of the piercing site and breast infections stemming from the piercing site are the biggest potential complications that might impact baby-feeding,” Poole explains. “The research suggests that anyone with a nipple piercing (even men!) may be at a slightly higher risk of getting a breast infection.”
In fact, there is a 10-20% risk of infection from a nipple piercing, a study published in the International Journal of Fertility and Women’s Medicine found, which might make it unsafe for your baby to nurse. “There are higher risks of infection to the nipple area, and the type of jewelry used may be problematic when you have a nipple piercing,” Ashley Georgakopoulos, Motif lactation director and IBCLC, tells Romper.
Can you keep the piercing in during nursing sessions?
No! Not ever. “Lactating people should remove their nipple piercings for feedings in order to avoid the possibility of the piercing coming loose and being swallowed or choked on by the baby,” Jada Shapiro, a lactation consultant and founder of Boober, tells Romper.
Khosa agrees, adding, “Left in place, they can interfere with baby’s ability to establish a good latch, resulting in maternal pain and inadequate or ineffective milk transfer.”
How to prevent infection when breastfeeding with nipple piercings
Even though you might think your barbells are beautiful, your baby’s safety comes first. And in those bleary-eyed first weeks of parenthood, you might not have the time to shower, much less thoroughly cleanse your nipple jewelry. “Because you feed so many times per day, in most cases this means that you'll want to remove your nipple piercings for the entire duration of your nursing relationship,” says Shapiro.
To put it into perspective: “Exclusively breast milk fed newborns eat eight to 12 times a day, which means you would need to be taking your jewelry out and putting it back in 16 to 24 times a day — that's a lot!” Poole says. “Because of this inconvenience, many pierced parents take their jewelry out before giving birth, and just leave it out for the duration of breastfeeding.”
That being said, it is a choice. And if you don’t want to get rid of your nipple piercings for the duration of breastfeeding, you simply have to take great care in being sanitary with them when taking them on and off for the safety of you and your baby. “To lower the risk of infection to the piercing site and your breast, wash your hands well before you take the jewelry out, wash the jewelry with soap and water while it's out, and then wash your hands again before you put the jewelry back in,” Poole says.
If you already have a nipple piercing and are pregnant, you might want to think about removing it once baby arrives. But if you’re playing around with the idea of getting a piercing, you may want to wait until your little one is fully weaned to schedule a session. That way, both your breasts (and your baby) will be safe, and you’ll establish a strong bond while breastfeeding.
Nipple Piercing. Published 2021 June 21. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500564/
Jacobs, V., Golombeck, K., Jonat, W., Kiechle, M. Mastitis nonpuerperalis after nipple piercing: time to act. Published 2003. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14626379/
Michelle Poole, MS, RN, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Maven Clinic
Rue Khosa, ARNP, IBCLC, lactation consultant
Andrea Tran, IBCLC, lactation consultant
Ashley Georgakopoulos, Motif lactation director & IBCLC
Jada Shapiro, lactation consultant and founder of Boober
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