Breastfeeding and the Areola

Normal Variations and Breastfeeding Concerns

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At the center of the breast, there is a darker, circular area of skin that surrounds the nipple. This is called the areola. 

The Size, Shape, and Color of the Areola

The size of the areola varies from one woman to the next. On average, it is about 1 – 2 inches across (diameter). However, for some women, it is smaller, and for others, it is much larger. The shape of the areola can be round or oval, and the color can be any shade of red, pink, or brown.

As pregnancy progresses, the areola becomes darker in color and it may grow is size. This is believed to help the newborn find the nipple and latch on more easily. After breastfeeding has ended, the areola may return to a lighter shade, but it typically remains a darker color than it was before pregnancy.

Bumps and Hair On The Areola

The Montgomery glands are located on the areola. During pregnancy, the Montgomery glands may become raised and more noticeable. These small lumps are not a concern. They produce a natural moisturizer that helps to clean and protect the areola and the nipple. They also produce a scent. Like the darkening of the areola, the scent of the Montgomery glands is believed to help the newborn to find the nipple and begin breastfeeding more easily. Once breastfeeding has ended, the Montgomery glands usually shrink back down and return to the way they were before.

Hair can also be seen around the areola. The breast tissue surrounding the areola and nipple contains hair follicles. The hair is often very fine and light in color, so it may not be noticeable. However, some women do have darker colored hair growth around the edge of the areola. A few dark hairs growing around the areola is normal.

Breastfeeding Concerns Involving The Areola

  • The areola can become sore and cracked from an improper latch. Make sure that your baby is latching on properly and get help if necessary.
  • If you live in a dry climate, it can cause dryness, soreness, and cracking of your areola. Talk to your doctor about using a nipple moisturizer that is safe for nursing mothers.
  • The areola can become irritated, cracked, or sore from leaking breast milk. If your breasts are leaking, wear absorbent breast pads in your bra and change the pads when they become wet. Moisture on your skin can cause skin breakdown and infections such as thrush or mastitis.
  • Some skin condition such as eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis, can develop on the areola. These conditions can cause breastfeeding to be painful. See your doctor or a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment. Make sure that your doctor knows you are breastfeeding before she prescribes any treatments or medications.
  • Engorgement can make your areola hard, and the flatten out your nipples. It can be very difficult for your baby to latch on when your breasts and areola are engorged. Before you put your baby to the breast, hand express or pump a little bit of breast milk. This will help to relieve some of the pressure in the breast and soften the areola.
  • Breast surgery near the areola can damage the milk ducts and interfere with breastfeeding. Certain procedures, such as a breast reduction, are more likely to include an incision near or around the areola, but any procedure that involves an incision or removal of breast tissue in that area of the breast, can be problematic for breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor if you have had any type of breast or chest surgery.
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Article Sources
  • 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 Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.
  • Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.
  • Riordan, J., Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2010.​