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When Steve Carrell screamed “NIPPLE F*CK” we all screamed “NIPPLE F*CK.” But getting waxed isn’t the only road to sore nipples.

Possible reasons why your nipples hurt, include…

This is everything you need to know about nipple pain.

Like boobs, nipple pain comes in all shapes and sizes. Most of the time, the issue is just wearing a bad bra. Other times it could be something serious.

Here’s a deep dive into the causes of nipple pain and how to treat them.

Freakin’ friction

Friction is the number one suspect on the Nipple’s Most Wanted list. A tight shirt or loose bra can be a one-way ticket to nipple mayhem.

‘Jogger nipple’ is also a legit thing. One study showed that nipple fissures are more common in long-distance runners. The constant collision of sweaty skin and fabric can be super irritating.

Symptoms include:

  • soreness
  • bleeding
  • pain or discomfort
  • dry, red or discolored, scabby, or crusty nips

Treatment

The best solution is to reduce the risk of friction. You can:

  • Wear sweat-wicking shirts.
  • Apply nipple balm or petroleum jelly.
  • Surf? Wear a tight-fitting wetsuit or rash guard.
  • Use waterproof tape on your boobs before a workout.
  • If you wear bras, make sure they fit properly. It’s all about support and breathability.

Skin conditions

Cranky nipples are often linked to skin conditions. One common culprit is dermatitis (AKA eczema).

Dermatitis is pretty common (about 16.5 million peeps in the United States have it). It’s triggered when your skin’s immune cells overreact, creating inflammation. Dermatitis can also be set off by harsh soaps and fragrances.

Symptoms include:

  • itching
  • blisters
  • bleeding
  • pain or discomfort
  • crusty, flaking nipples

Treatment

The best way to treat dermatitis is to keep your nipples hydrated. You can:

  • Apply soothing lotion.
  • Switch to paraben- and fragrance-free soaps and creams.
  • Don’t scrub the area too hard when you’re in the shower.

If these remedies don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream or another topical solution.

Period probs

As if the cramps weren’t bad enough. Ugh. Periods can also cause an array of other less-than-pleasant symptoms. Sorry nipples. These symptoms include you too.

Discomfort tends to flare up right before your period — But it can pop up during Aunt Flo’s visit as well. It happens because of fluctuations in your hormone levels.

Symptoms include:

  • pain or discomfort
  • increased sensitivity
  • tender breasts and nipples

Treatment

Sometimes you just have to ride the crimson wave out. But there are some ways to reduce your discomfort. You can:

  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain killer like ibuprofen (Advil) oracetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Try a hormonal birth control (e.g. the pill). This might help reduce your PMS and period symptoms.

Pregnancy

Baby on board? A lot happens to your body when you’re pregnant. That means swollen ankles, morning sickness, and (yes) sore nipples. In fact, breast soreness is one of the first signs that an eggo is preggo.

This is caused by fluctuating hormones — And also because your breasts are getting ready to become lactation stations.

Other signs your pregnant include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • missed periods
  • peeing more than usual

You might also see changes to your nipples like discoloration and small bumps around the areolas.

Treatment

Breast and nipple soreness should get better the further along you get. But that’s not the case for everyone. To ease discomfort you can:

  • Try a cold compress.
  • Wear a more supportive bra.
  • Take a warm bath or shower.
  • Use a calming nipple cream.

You can also opt for an OTC pain reliever. But be sure to ask your doctor first. They can give you a list of safe options for you and your baby.

Breastfeeding

Nip pain can happen in early breastfeeding. This is usually because your baby is not latched deep enough. Your nipple should be at the back of your baby’s throat, not being scraped by their hard palate.

Seek help from a lactation consultant to improve your baby’s latch. Your hospital can help you find one.

Symptoms include:

  • cracks
  • blisters
  • bleeding
  • pain during feeding
  • pain after feeding

Treatment

Nursing-related nipple soreness usually improves over time. In the meantime, here are some ways to enhance your breastfeeding experience:

  • Do not latch your baby until their mouth is wide open. If you feel pain, remove your baby and try to latch again, deeper.
  • Try breastfeeding in a new position so your baby’s hard palate isn’t on the same spot.
  • Seek help from a lactation consultant if you’re unable to get your baby to take enough breast tissue in their mouth.
  • Use creams or ointments.
  • Let your nips air dry after feeding.
  • Avoid harsh soaps and body washes.
  • Apply a cool compress after breastfeeding.

Pump PSA: If you’re using a breast pump, make sure the shield is positioned correctly and that the suction isn’t on too high.

Infections

Nips can get sick, just like the rest of your body. Two common nipple infections are mastitis and thrush. They happen the most if you nurse.

Mastitis can occur when milk gets stuck in a duct, which causes bacteria to grow. When your duct becomes plugged, it will feel like a lump near your nipple.

Massage that area during breastfeeding. If it doesn’t resolve and you begin feeling ill and feverish, it has moved to mastitis, and infection of your tissue around that area. If left untreated, mastitis can lead to pain and pus.

More symptoms include:

  • fever
  • oozing
  • swelling
  • warm breasts
  • pain while nursing

Your vajayjay isn’t the only body part that has to deal with yeasty business. Thrush — a yeast infection — can occur if your nipples crack or get dried out.

If you’re breastfeeding, your baby can also get thrush inside their mouth. It’ll show up as white patches on the sides of their mouth, gums, or tongue.

Your symptoms can include:

  • rash
  • tiny blisters
  • itchy, flaky, shiny, red or discolored nipples
  • cracked skin on or around your nips
  • sharp pain on your nipples or breasts

Treatment

Treatment depends on the severity of the infection. It can sometimes be treated with an OTC option. But you’ll need to chat with your doctor if it’s more serious. If you are running a fever, do not delay seeing your doctor. They can prescribe:

  • oral antibiotics
  • antifungal creams

Keep it clean. Bacteria can linger on surfaces. So, be sure to totally sanitize your bottles, breast pumps, and pacifiers (or anything else your baby puts in their mouth on the reg).

Breast cancer

Nipple pain can be an early indicator of breast cancer. In addition to pain you may have:

  • a lump in your breast
  • changes in the shape or size of your breasts
  • nipple changes (e.g. scaling, discoloration, or redness)
  • discharge (this doesn’t include breast milk if you’re nursing)

PSA: The only way to know for sure that you have breast cancer is to be diagnosed by a doctor.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer along with other factors. Some treatment options include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • hormone therapy
  • targeted drug therapies
  • surgery to remove your lump
  • a mastectomy (when one or both breasts are removed)

Paget’s disease of the breast

Paget’s disease is a rare form of breast cancer. The exact cause is unknown but one popular theory is that your cells from a tumor transfer through your milk ducts to your nipple. Keep in mind, not all people with Paget’s have breast tumors. Since it’s rare, a correct diagnosis is often delayed.

Symptoms include:

  • pain
  • itching
  • soreness
  • thickened skin
  • flattening of the nipple
  • increased breast sensitivity
  • bloody or yellow-y discharge
  • flaking, scaling, or crusting on or around the nipple

Treatment

Like other forms of breast cancer, treatment depends on a variety of factors, which include the stage and status of the disease.

Treatment may be a combo of:

  • a mastectomy
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • hormone therapy
  • surgery to remove the affected area

Nipple pain — though usually harmless — can be a symptom of something serious. So, don’t dismiss your pain. Your doctor can help you get to the root of the problem.

Call your doctor if:

  • pain lingers after you nurse
  • breastfeeding pain is chronic
  • you feel a lump in your breast
  • you have a fever or swollen breasts
  • your nipples are scaling, flaking, or cracking
  • there’s a red or discolored, bumpy rash on or around your nipples
  • pus, blood, or yellow discharge is coming out of your nipples

There are lots of ways to kick your nipple pain to the curb. It all depends on what’s causing the issue.

If it’s a friction issue:

  • Avoid tight clothing. Let your nips breathe!
  • Moisturize. Use nipple creams and ointments on the daily.
  • Cover up. Wear gauze pads or pasties over your nips if you’re going for a run.
  • The right bra goes a long way. Make sure your bra fits properly and offers a good amount of support.

If it’s period related:

  • Stay active. Exercise can help you get rid of excess fluid.
  • Avoid caffeine (maybe). Some folks think your morning cup o’ joe and other caffeinated drinks can affect breast tissue. But more evidence is needed in this area.
  • Limit the salty snacks. Salt can lead to water retention. This can cause swollen, tender breasts.
  • Consider the pill. Hormonal birth control methods can help alleviate PMS and period symptoms.

If it’s because you’re breastfeeding:

  • Try to get your baby’s latch deeper with a wider grasp of your breast. Reach out for help from a lactation consultant. They may recommend a nipple shield or other treatment.
  • Make sure you dry your nipples after each nursing sesh.
  • Use a bottle if needed. There is absolutely no shame in swapping to formula for a bit (or for good). You can also use a breast pump which might be easier on your nips than nursing.
  • Swap sides if one nipple is sorer than the other. Also, be sure to change your baby’s position frequently.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals. A lot of soaps and lotions have parabens and fragrances that can dry your nips out in a flash.

Nipple pain is the pits. The good news: It’s usually harmless. But in certain cases, it could be a sign of something serious. Def call a doctor if you think something feels or looks off.