Both men and women have nipples, but it is women’s breasts and nipples that have always been a focus of discussion, fashion, sexual attraction and health.
The main purpose of a woman’s nipples is to breastfeed infants the milk produced in the female mammary glands during lactation. In men, despite having mammary glands, the nipples have no breastfeeding function.
Now, aside from lactating, women’s breasts have been a focus of fashion, sexual attraction and health since the beginning of time. However, there are many interesting things about breasts and nipples that many people are not even aware of.
These facts and features will help you see this important body part from a new angle.
Here are 10 surprising things you didn’t know about your nipples and breasts.
1. You can have More Than Two Nipples
It is very true that one can have more than two nipples. In medical terms, it is known as supernumerary nipples or extra nipples. They can grow on places other than the breasts and may even develop breast tissue.
Supernumerary nipples are considered a common congenital abnormality of the breasts and can occur in both males and females. An additional nipple begins to form when the regular nipple formation process is incomplete and the tissue doesn’t fully regress.
This type of nipple usually develops along “milk lines”. These lines start in the armpit on each side of the body, run through the normal nipples on the breasts and down to the sides of the groin.
Often mistaken for moles, extra nipples are diagnosed in approximately one in 18 people. In a 2012 case study published in the Indian Journal of Human Genetics, a 32-year-old man was found to have seven nipples, becoming the second person in history with so many nipples.
Apart from the chest, such nipples can develop on other areas of the body, even the feet. Supernumerary nipples do not cause problems and do not need to be removed.
2. Nipple Hair is Normal
Not every woman has nipple hair, but it is very normal if you do.
The areas around the nipples, or the areolas, have hair follicles just like any other skin area. Usually women do not have hair on their chest, unlike many men, but at times some women develop a few long hairs around the nipples.
Hormonal fluctuations in the body that accompany puberty, pregnancy or menopause can cause a few strands to grow around the nipples. Certain medications can also cause excessive hair growth.
If you notice more than just a few hair strands popping up, consult a doctor as it may indicate hirsutism, a condition that causes excessive, coarse body hair in women. It can even be linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
If you are embarrassed about hairs around your nipples and prefer to have them removed, pulling them out with tweezers or cutting them with scissors are temporary solutions. However, do not shave the hairs or use a wax treatment, as these methods may damage the sensitive skin around your nipples.
3. Everyone Develops Nipples in the Womb
You may wonder why men have nipples on their chest, since they do not need them for breastfeeding.
It is mainly because, despite whether you’re male or female, all embryos begin developing identically in the womb.
In fact, for the first several weeks, a developing embryo follows a “female blueprint,” from reproductive organs to nipples. After 60 days of embryonic development, the hormone testosterone kicks in, resulting in changes in the genetic activity of cells in the genitals and the brain. This is when embryos change into male and female genders.
Testosterone causes the male embryo to secrete factors that block the development of female ducts and structures and also influences other sex-specific traits in the body.
However, the previous developments in the womb remain intact, leading to flat breasts and nipples in men.
4. Only Humans have Permanent Breasts
Whether you want to believe or not, humans or Homo sapiens are the only primates with permanently enlarged breasts. No other species or primates share this trait.
In the rest of the primates, plump breasts last only during the breastfeeding phase.
The main reason behind permanent larger breasts in human females is not related to pregnancy or lactation. In fact, it denotes a woman’s ability to store fat and her fertility. Breasts become plump only after a female reaches puberty.
Remember, a woman’s breasts are only filled with milk after delivering a baby, and rest of the time they are mostly made up of fat.
5. Nipples Leak Fluid
Women may have leakage of fluid from the nipples, even when they are not pregnant or breastfeeding. This nipple discharge is common in women and nothing to worry about.
The discharge can be clear, cloudy, or whitish and its consistency can vary from thick and sticky to thin and watery. The discharge mostly occurs when the nipples are compressed or squeezed.
Apart from pregnancy and breastfeeding, other common causes of nipple discharge are stopping breastfeeding and when nipples are repeatedly chafed by your bra or during vigorous physical exercise, such as jogging.
For women, if you have bloody nipple discharge, consult a doctor immediately. In men, nipple discharge under any circumstances should be evaluated by a doctor.
6. Nipples are Not Mirror Images
No two nipples or breasts are alike, even when they are on the same chest. In fact, the two nipples on your body will not be mirror images of each other and this is normal.
Whether it is noticeable or not, often the left breast is slightly bigger than the right breast. In medical terms, this slight variation in shape is known as asymmetry.
Asymmetry of the breasts may be more pronounced when the breasts are developing, but it usually improves by full maturity.
In normal circumstances, the variation is not even noticeable. However, previous trauma, injury or infection can lead to more noticeable differences between your breast sizes.
7. Plastic Surgery Reduces Nipple Sensation
Any kind of surgery on the breasts can reduce some or all of the sensation in your nipples.
Women considering breast augmentation or reduction to change their breast size should be aware that the surgical procedures can lead to a loss of sensation in the nipples.
Breast enlargements can lead to decreased sensation in a small majority of cases. Breast uplifts and breast reductions are also likely to cause alterations in nipple sensitivity.
A 2006 study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that the bigger the breast implant, the more likely the patient is to report a loss of sensation. This type of sensation loss can be present years after the surgery, although women still experience normal arousal and sensuality.
Before opting for any surgery on your breasts, always bear in mind that it can affect the sensation in your nipples. Also, for such surgeries, always choose an expert in this field.
8. Breasts Change All Through the Month
Your breasts change in size all the time during the menstrual cycle. For some, these changes are so pronounced that you may have to wear a bra as much as a cup-size larger at certain points in the monthly cycle.
The changes in size are mainly due to fluctuations in hormone levels during your menstrual cycle. Along with changes in size, you may even experience mild swelling, pain and tenderness of the breasts just before your periods start each month.
These symptoms may also occur during ovulation.
For pregnant women, your breasts may show pregnancy signs even before your stomach does. In the first trimester, healthy breasts become extremely tender and start growing. This is because the body starts preparing the breasts for breastfeeding.
9. Some Nipples Point Inward
In some women and men, nipples may point inward instead of outward. This is known as “inverted nipples”. It is normal and not a matter of concern.
About 10 to 20 percent of women are born with this condition, which is caused by short ducts or a wide areola muscle sphincter. Other common causes of nipple inversion include breastfeeding, some kind of trauma, sagging due to age, breast infections or inflammation, and even pregnancy.
If you have inverted nipples, it’s important to keep them clean to avoid getting an infection in the folds of the skin around the nipples.
If your nipples used to point outward and suddenly they have started pointing inward, immediately consult a doctor. This can be a sign of breast cancer.
10. Erect Nipples Do Not Always Signal Sexual Arousal
Erect nipples always draw our attention, and people often see them as an indication that a woman is sexually aroused.
It’s true that sexual arousal and even orgasm brought on by nipple stimulation can lead to erect nipples. In fact, nipple and genital stimulation are processed the same way in a woman’s brain. This is why some women get turned on and reach orgasm through nipple stimulation.
This does not mean that a woman is sexually aroused every time she has erect nipples.
Nipple erection also occurs due to the contraction of smooth muscles under the control of the autonomic nervous system, which also causes goose bumps.
Sudden changes in temperature, some kind of shock, breastfeeding and clothing rubbing against the nipples can also cause them to become erect.