What are Inverted Nipples?
The human body comes in an infinite number of shapes and sizes. Every person is unique (with the exception of identical twins), and our one-of-a-kind features are part of what make us who we are.
However, aside from features influenced by genetics and ethnicity, some parts of the human body are made to function in specific ways, and when they develop abnormally, or are changed by environmental factors, it can have a detrimental effect on our ability to perform these functions. This is true of the female nipple, for which the main purposes are to provide babies with breast milk, and to act as an erogenous zone to facilitate arousal and sexual intercourse.
Inverted nipples can inhibit both of those functions in women. They can also sometimes be a source of embarrassment when they don't look "normal." This can be true for men as well, who may also have inverted nipples as a result of certain medical conditions. Depending on severity, inverted nipple correction surgery is sometimes the only option to both change appearance and restore natural function.
Inverted Nipple Causes
Some people—women and men alike—are simply born with inverted nipples, a result of breast tissue that is too tight or has been shortened, which causes the nipples to be pulled inward rather than protrude naturally. The structure of the nipples can also change over time due to life events including, but not limited to the following:
- Weight loss
- The natural aging process
- Gynecomastia (in men)
- Trauma to the breast area, which causes scarring and subsequent permanent retraction of the nipple
- Breast cancer; in rare cases, the sudden appearance of inverted nipples can actually be a sign of breast cancer
Inverted Nipple Grades
Just as breast ptosis (degree of sagging) is measured by grades, there is a scale for inverted nipples:
Without stimulation, the nipple lies flat, but can easily be pulled out, or naturally protrude as a result of temperature changes or arousal. Breastfeeding is still possible. Grade 1 nipples are sometimes also referred to as “shy” nipples.
Colder temperatures or manipulation can usually cause the nipples to protrude, however, they will retract shortly after such stimulation. Breastfeeding is usually not compromised.
Due to severe tissue constriction or scarring, the nipple is permanently inverted and will not protrude, even when stimulated. Breastfeeding is not possible due to the constriction of the milk ducts, and can only occur through inverted nipple correction surgery.
How is Inverted Nipple Correction Surgery Performed?
The first step is to seek out a consultation so that our surgeon can determine the grade to which your nipples are inverted, and make the appropriate recommendation. If just one nipple is inverted, surgery can be performed to restore symmetry.
If inverted nipple correction surgery is recommended, and you decide to proceed, your surgeon will first make an incision as the base of the nipple. Whatever is causing the inversion—scar tissue, or constricted bands or ducts—will be released, thereby freeing the nipple tissue, and allowing it to protrude naturally. Then your surgeon will stitch the tissues together to hold the nipple in place during recovery.
If you have Grade 1 nipple inversion, it's possible that breast augmentation may correct correct the inversion due to the extra volume “pushing” the nipples outward, but this is not guaranteed. Discuss this with your doctor to find out whether it might be a good option for you.
Inverted nipple correction surgery can often be performed with a local anesthetic. However, if the procedure is performed in conjunction with breast augmentation or a breast lift, it will be done under general anesthesia.