Why Are My Nipples Hard or Sore?

Sometimes your nipples are hard for no good reason. You might be embarrassed by this, especially if your hard nipples are noticeable through your clothing. In these circumstances, erect nipples are usually temporary and will resolve quickly. If you are cold, you might need to put on more clothing. Whatever the cause, most times hard or sore nipples are no cause for concern.

What makes your nipples hard

It has been thought for many years that nipples contain erectile tissue, otherwise they would not get hard. But how nipples get hard had been unknown for a long time.

The answer to the question "Do nipples contain erectile tissue?" has been debated for quite some time. The penis and clitoris contain erectile tissue, but some experts say that nipples are not made of the same tissue. Erectile tissue can become hard under certain conditions, and this is usually temporary. The hardness of the penis and clitoris is due to increased blood flow that engorges the tissue.

In 2016, a Swedish study indicated that there are special nerve cells that stimulate the muscles in the nipple to contract and make the nipple hard. Different neurons cause goosebumps. So while your nipple gets hard due to muscle contraction, the muscles around the hair on your areola can be stimulated by a different nerve cell and cause your areola to pucker.

Reasons why do nipples get hard

A variety of conditions can make your nipples hard:

  • Direct touch, even over clothing
  • Certain arousing or sexy thoughts
  • Cold temperatures
  • Hormones

Exposure to the air. Can make your nipples hard, which is necessary for breastfeeding. Your baby needs a hard nipple to latch onto in order to get your breast milk. Men’s nipples also get hard from cold air.

During your menstrual cycle. Hormones can make your nipples hard as your breasts prepare for the possibility that you might become pregnant. After your period, your nipples typically return to their usual state.

During pregnancy. Your nipples can get hard at times due to the changes in hormone levels and in preparation for breastfeeding after your baby is born.

Nipple hardness is basically an individual experience where the frequency, duration, and even circumstances when your nipples get hard are specific to you. What is normal for you can change over your life.

Concerns about hard nipples

If you notice that your nipples are hard more often or for longer periods of time, you might need to see your primary care provider to check for problems such as cancer.

Cancer can develop right under the nipple or areola, and the only sign is a change in the appearance of your nipple or areola. This can also happen to men.

Sometimes cancer can also present as dimpling, puckering, or itchiness, especially if they persist beyond one menstrual cycle. When in doubt, please mention the changes to your healthcare provider.

What causes your nipples hurt

Active people can have sore nipples due to friction from clothing. Although men are more likely to experience nipple soreness from their clothing rubbing on their nipples, it can happen to women also.

Women who go braless or wear loose-fitting camisoles can also experience sore nipples due to friction. But a well-fitting bra, especially a sports bra, can prevent friction.

Breastfeeding moms may have sore nipples from breastfeeding. If the baby does not latch properly, there may be trauma to the nipple, which can develop into cracked nipples and can result in infection, known as mastitis.

At the beginning of breastfeeding, your nipples might be sore due to the fullness of your breasts. Once your baby has begun to feed, the engorgement is relieved by the milk being released, and the nipple soreness improves. It’s just sometimes tough to get past the initial painful part.

Changes in laundry detergent, soap and other personal products that you apply to your skin could cause an allergic reaction and make your nipples sensitive and sore.

Hormones can cause your nipples to be sore during your menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.

Hard nipples can affect men as well as women and there are many common circumstances that cause hard nipples. The way your nipples respond to stimulation is unique to you. But if you notice a change that concerns you, you might want to see your primary care provider.

Sore nipples have many common causes that are of no concern, but if you cannot find a cause and the soreness persists, a visit to your primary care provider might be in order.

Risks associated with sore nipples

Nipples that are raw or bleeding are at risk of infection. You may need to see your primary care provider if you have signs of infected nipples.

  • Increased nipple pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Malaise
  • Drainage from the nipple, especially if it is yellow, green, or foul-smelling
  • Swelling
  • Increased redness or bleeding
  • Redness or warmth of the skin especially if it is spreading

Tips to reduce nipple soreness

If you want to reduce your nipple soreness, some of these tips may help:

  1. Small sticky bandages over the nipples are very effective at preventing friction.
  2. Try out new bras or padding.
  3. Using an ice pack with a tight-fitting bra.
  4. A lactation consultant can help with latching and nipple care.
  5. If your nipples are suddenly sore, ask yourself if you have changed any laundry or personal care products.
If you notice persistent new changes, pain, discharge, redness, or fever, please consult your healthcare provider.

There are several reasons your nipples may be hard or sore. Most are benign, but in some instances it can be a concerning infection or cancer.

Key takeaways:

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