How Areola Size Affects Breastfeeding

Mom holds baby while breastfeeding
SDI Productions / Getty Images

The areola is a circular or oval area of skin on your breast that surrounds the nipple. It is darker in color than the rest of your breast or chest skin—usually a shade of red, pink, or brown.

There is no "normal" size for areolas; they vary from person to person. They can also change in appearance and size over your life, including during pregnancy, your period, and while you are taking certain medications. They also play an important role in breastfeeding because they affect the way your baby latches on while feeding—and latching on to a good portion of the areola is crucial for the continued stimulation of breast milk production.

The Size of the Areola

When you're breastfeeding, how your baby attaches to your breast is an important part of the process. This is called the latch. Suckling on just the nipple can cause injury and won't actually stimulate the flow of milk.

Since the milk sinuses and the milk ducts are below the areola, your baby needs to squeeze the areola itself while breastfeeding in order to pull breast milk out of your breasts.

A correct latch involves your baby taking in the entire nipple, plus approximately 1 inch of the surrounding breast tissue. In other words, they'll either take in part—or all—of your areola into their mouth, depending on its size.

Breastfeeding With Average Sized Areola

The average size of the areola is about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches across in diameter (or about 4 centimeters). If you have an average-sized areola, your child should have most of your areola in their mouth when they latch on to breastfeed. There should only be a small amount of areola visible around your baby's mouth.

Breastfeeding With Small Areola

An areola that is smaller than average is generally under 1 inch across. As a result, it should fit entirely in your baby's mouth while they breastfeed, and you should not see any of your areola if they have a good latch. If you have a small areola, and you can see most of it when your baby is breastfeeding, break the suction of the latch, remove your little one from your breast, and try again.

Breastfeeding With Large Areola

A larger than average areola is generally more than 2 inches across. If you have large areolae, you should still be able to see some of it while your baby breastfeeds. In fact, depending on how large they are, you might be able to see half—or more.

It can be difficult to know if your child is latching correctly if you have large areolae because it can be unclear whether your baby is latching onto more than just the nipple. If you can, get some help in the beginning so you can feel confident that your baby is latching on well.

Why Is Size Important?

It's important to understand how the size of your areola relates to your baby's latch. Diagrams or descriptions of correct latches often generalize because no two people have the same areola size. This lack of diversity can cause people to be unsure of whether their baby is latching correctly, potentially leading to pain and other difficulties.

It can be helpful to get guidance from a lactation counselor because they can show you what a correct latch looks like with your breasts. They can also teach you ways to hold your breastfeeding baby in order to help them latch correctly.

Importance of the Latch

If your baby isn't taking in enough of your areola when they're latching on, it could cause challenges for both you and your baby. A poor latch can cause sore nipples, breast engorgement (where your breasts become swollen and heavy with milk), plugged milk ducts (where the ducts become clogged with thickened milk), and even a breast infection because your baby may not fully drain the milk from your breasts.

Over time, a poor latch can lead to a low breast milk supply because your baby may not be effectively stimulating your body to make more. A poor latch can also cause your baby to gain weight slowly or even lose weight because they are not feeding enough to grow at a healthy rate. One or all of these factors can ultimately lead to early weaning.

If you are worried your baby isn't latching correctly, try the "hamburger technique." Here are some simple steps to follow:

  1. Tickle your baby's lips with your nipple so that they open their mouth.
  2. Pinch your breast between your fingers and thumb like a hamburger.
  3. Aim your nipple just above your baby's top lip and your baby's lower lip away from the base of your nipple so that your baby comes into your breast chin first. (This approach will encourage your baby to fill their mouth with your breast when they latch.)

If they latch correctly, you shouldn't feel any pain and you should hear or see swallowing.

Where to Find Help

If you aren't sure if your baby is latching on well, ask someone to check your breastfeeding technique. Your doctor, a nurse, a lactation professional, a breastfeeding support group, or even another breastfeeding mother can help.

It can also be helpful to prioritize your own self-care while breastfeeding because if you are overly tired, stressed, or overwhelmed, it can make breastfeeding more difficult. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps, eat nutritious foods, take time to exercise (even if it's just a short walk), and build 5 to 10 minutes of relaxation into your daily routine. Setting aside some time for yourself can help you approach breastfeeding and its challenges in a good headspace.

If you find yourself getting anxious, frustrated, or overly emotional while nursing, put your baby down in a safe place (even if it's just for a few seconds), stretch, gather yourself, then try again. Remember that it's also OK to ask for help, whether that's from your partner, family, or friends.

If you are worried your baby isn't getting enough nutrition, contact your child's pediatrician. They'll be able to examine your baby and advise you on possible next steps, whether that's reassuring you that your baby is growing well, seeing a lactation consultant or doctor, nursing more often, pumping, or supplementing your baby's feeds with formula.

A Word From Verywell

The size of your areolae and nipples may change while you're pregnant or breastfeeding because of the hormones that produce breast milk. They may also grow as your breasts expand with pregnancy weight gain. However, your areolae should get smaller again after your body stops producing milk or as your breasts get smaller.

The changing size can make it difficult for you to gauge your baby's latch without help from an expert, especially if you're a new parent. Many parents experience latching problems, but the good news is that it is possible to resolve these issues—usually, it just takes a little bit of practice and patience.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sue GR, Winton L, Wapnir I. Abstract: Critical analysis of nipple-areola complex morphologyPlast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2017;5(9 Suppl):87. Published 2017 Oct 2. doi:10.1097/01.GOX.0000526288.03526.cd

  2. Leung SS. Breast pain in lactating mothersHong Kong Med J. 2016;22(4):341-6. doi:10.12809/hkmj154762

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.
  • Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.
  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.