Nipple Piercings

Nipple piercings have become increasingly popular in recent years and you may be wondering if it safe to breastfeed your baby if you already have pierced nipples. You might be thinking of getting your nipples pierced and wish to continue breastfeeding without interruption.

Is it safe to breastfeed with nipple piercings?

That depends on whether you are breastfeeding with holes from previous piercings or breastfeeding with jewelry still in place.  Nipple piercings can impact breastfeeding for both mother and baby. Common concerns for mom may include nerve damage that impacts the milk ejection reflex or scarring that obstructs the milk flow which can, over time, affect milk production.  There have been reports of mastitis and abscesses from previous nipple piercings as well.  Often the longer the time since the piercings were initially placed and the birth of the baby the better the outcome.

Breastfeeding with piercings in place can make it difficult for the infant to latch-on correctly, and increases the risk of choking if the jewelry becomes loose and dislodges. In addition, there may be damage to the soft tissues inside the infant’s mouth from the jewelry.  On the other hand, the extra holes created by the piercings often lead to a faster milk flow which some infants struggle to manage.  Laid back breastfeeding positions and extra nursing pads to catch the excess milk can help with this.

It is recommended and best practice to completely remove nipple jewelry during the entire time you plan to breastfeed whether that is 6 weeks, 6 months, a year or longer. While you run the risk of having your piercings close up, it is safest for your baby.  Some mothers however choose to remove their jewelry during each breastfeeding session.  It is vitally important that you wash your hands before removing and reinserting your jewelry and that you keep the jewelry scrupulously clean to prevent infection in your nipples which could lead to mastitis or illness in your infant. The final option, and one that is generally NOT recommended, is to leave the jewelry in place and make sure to tighten the jewelry completely before each session.  Maintain a very close watch on your infant’s latch, and behaviors at the breast, to prevent choking or damage to his or her mouth.

Is it safe to get nipple piercings while breastfeeding?

Most piercers will not knowingly pierce a pregnant or breastfeeding mother. This is for liability reasons on the piercers part, but also to prevent bacteria from entering the newly pierced nipples, and to allow the nipples time to heal properly.  It is suggested that mothers wait until 3-4 months after weaning before getting nipple piercings as hormonal changes during breastfeeding can affect the healing process.  Reputable piercers will have a waiver for the client to sign that asks about pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Nipples are pierced in various configurations.  They can be pierced horizontally, vertically, diagonally or any combinations of the above.  One or both nipples may be pierced at one time. Jewelry used can include various metals (gold, silver, stainless steel), glass, acrylic, bone or stone.  Proper placement and sizing of the jewelry is important to prevent embedding or rejection. After piercing it can take a minimum of 6 months for nipples to heal, but can often take up to a year or more.  Some women notice increased irritation and ‘flare-ups’ during their menstrual cycles.

General information about piercings also applies to breastfeeding women. Local and systemic infections are the most prevalent risks of any piercings. Local infections can occur when the recommended aftercare regimen is not followed. Aftercare includes keeping the piercings clean with mild soap and water, salt soaks 4-6 times a day, and rotating the jewelry. Systemic infections occur when universal precautions are not followed by the piercer and can include such diseases as hepatitis, tetanus, and HIV. It is very important to screen the piercer and the shop carefully, checking with the local health department for local laws and regulations. Professional piercers will follow universal precautions such as sterilization of the forceps using an autoclave. The use of sterile jewelry, single-use gloves and needles, bagging of equipment to avoid cross contamination, and thorough hand washing with disinfectant soap.

There is little evidence surrounding the safety of nipple piercings and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding with nipple piercings in place can potentially cause choking and/or damage to the infant’s mouth.  While breastfeeding with previously pierced holes may be problematic if there is scarring or nerve damage. On the other hand many women go on to breastfeed successfully with pierced nipples, taking extra precautions regarding their jewelry, and the use of different breastfeeding positions to minimize and leaking and faster flow of milk to the baby. It is not recommended to get nipple piercings while breastfeeding. Carefully weigh your options and seek out a professional piercer. You can chose to adorn your nipples with beautiful piercings, and give your baby the baby the best start in life by breastfeeding, with careful consideration of the risks and benefits.

References

Angel, E. (2009). The piercing bible : the definitive guide to safe body piercing. Berkeley, Calif.: Celestial Arts.

Armstrong, M., Caliendo, C., & Roberts, A. (2006). Pregnancy, lactation and nipple piercings. AWHONN Lifelines, 10(3), 212-217.

Armstrong, M., Koch, J., Saunders, J., Roberts, A., & Owen, D. (2007). The hole picture: risks, decision making, purpose, regulations, and the future of body piercing. Clin Dermatol, 25(4), 398-406.

Both, D. F., Kerri. (2008). Breastfeeding: An illustrated guide to diagnosis and treatment. Marrickville, NSW: Elsevier Australia.

Caliendo, C., Armstrong, M., & Roberts, A. (2005). Self-reported characteristics of women and men with intimate body piercings. J Adv Nurs, 49(5), 474-484.

DeBoer, S., Seaver, M., Angel, E., & Armstrong, M. (2008). Puncturing myths about body piercing and tattooing. Nursing, 38(11), 50-54.

Ferguson, H. (1999). Body piercing. BMJ, 319(7225), 1627-1629.

Garbin, C., Deacon, J., Rowan, M., Hartmann, P., & Geddes, D. (2009). Association of nipple piercing with abnormal milk production and breastfeeding. JAMA, 301(24), 2550-2551.

Gray-Wolfstar, T., & Wolfstar, G. (2007). Tattoos, body piercing, and nursing: a photo essay. Interview by Jason P Smith. Am J Nurs, 107(4), 54-57.

HMBANA, H. M. B. A. o. N. A. (2012). Guidelines for Establishment and Operation of a Donor Human Milk Bank. Raleigh, NC: Human Milk Banking Association of North America, Inc.

Hudson, K. L. (2009). Living canvas : your total guide to tattoos, piercing, and body modification. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press : Distributed by Publishers Group West.

Riordan, J., & Wambach, K. (2009). Breastfeeding and human lactation (4th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Roche-Paull, Robyn. (2009). Body Modifications and Breasfeeding. New Beginnings, 29(4), 4-8.

Stirn, A. (2003). Body piercing: medical consequences and psychological motivations. Lancet, 361(9364), 1205-1215.

Wilson-Clay, B., & Hoover, K. (2005). The breastfeeding atlas (3rd ed.). Manchaca, Tex.: LactNews Press.

Contributed by Robyn Roche-Paull, RNC-MNN, BSN, IBCLC, Retired LLL Leader.

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