Having bumps on your nipples might seem like cause for concern, but they’re actually totally normal. We know this news can be tough to swallow since at some point in your life, you’ve probably been told that any odd lumps and bumps on your breasts are generally worth checking out—especially if they don’t go away. And given that your nipples are a part of your breasts, it makes sense that any kind of bump you spot around them could prompt some questions.
But here’s the thing: Not every lump or bump on your breast is a sign of cancer (and there are some non-lump symptoms of breast cancer, too). So what’s the deal with the bumps on your nipples? Keep reading to learn why you have areola bumps and what purpose they serve.
First, here’s a primer on your nipples.
Before we dive into why you have bumps on your nimples, let’s back up a second and talk about what your nipples are and what they aren’t. While you may use the term “nipple” to describe the protruding nub on each breast along with the similarly pigmented ring surrounding it, that’s not quite accurate. The nipple is the part that often sticks out of the breast (not always, though), and the areola is the circle around the nipple. If you’ve noticed little bumps dotting your areolae, you’re far from alone.
What are the bumps on your nipples?
These bumps on your areolae are known as Montgomery glands, and everyone has them, Sarah P. Cate, M.D., director of the Special Surveillance and Breast Program at Mount Sinai Chelsea Downtown, tells SELF. If you have them and your best friend swears she doesn’t, don’t stress about it. Just like every other part of your body, there’s a lot of variation in the Montgomery-gland department. Some people may have large, obvious bumps, while others have small ones that are barely visible.
What do the bumps on your nipples do?
Montgomery glands aren’t random—they actually serve a purpose. These little bumps are sebaceous glands, meaning they make oily secretions known as sebum. Sebum keeps your areolae and nipples lubricated, Dennis Holmes, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon and researcher and interim director of the Margie Petersen Breast Center at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells SELF.
The exact reason why this lubrication matters isn’t entirely clear, but it likely supports breastfeeding by keeping the area moisturized, Dr. Holmes says. There’s also a theory that the scent of sebum may even help stimulate a newborn’s appetite, he adds.
What’s the connection between areola bumps and pregnancy?
Despite their theoretical role in breastfeeding, Montgomery glands don’t actually increase when people get pregnant or after they give birth—they’re there from the start. That said, you might notice them more when your boobs swell during pregnancy and after you give birth. Also, just like your nipples may perk up when it’s cold, a change in temperature can also make your Montgomery glands show up a little more, Dr. Holmes says.
Here’s when you should be concerned about bumps on your nipples.
Of course, any change in bumps around your boobs is worth noticing and potentially bringing up with your doctor. Just like oil glands on your face and the rest of your body, your Montgomery glands can get plugged and cause zits to form. But, as with pimples everywhere else on your body, you shouldn’t stress about this, provided the bumps come and go. “It’s rarely of any significance,” Dr. Holmes says. If the bumps are bothering you, you can try taking a hot shower or using a warm compress to try to loosen the sebum plug and work it out.
If your areola bumps come with other symptoms, that could be cause for concern. Here are the signs that you should call your doctor, according to Dr. Cate:
- The little bumps are red or have pus coming out of them
- You get an areola or nipple rash that comes on suddenly
- You notice a hard mass that suddenly forms and sticks around for a few weeks
While it’s more likely that your symptoms are a sign of an infection or irritation from your bra or any new products you’ve introduced into your routine, it could be a sign of Paget disease of the breast, a kind of breast cancer that extends through the milk ducts and surface of the skin, Dr. Holmes says. At the end of the day, lumps and bumps happen, and it’s often nothing. But you’ll probably feel better if you chat with your doctor about it.