The Areola During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Normal Variations and Causes for Concern

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During pregnancy, the areola—the circular area of the skin that surrounds the nipple at the center of the breast—becomes darker in color and may grow in size. These changes are believed to help the newborn find the nipple and latch on more easily. Without properly latching on to the entire nipple and the surrounding areola, your baby may not be able to adequately transfer milk from your breasts. This can lead to insufficient intake by your baby, issues with your milk supply, and cracked and painful nipples.

The Function of the Areola

The Montgomery glands are located on the areola. During pregnancy, these glands may become raised and more noticeable. These small lumps are sometimes likened to the look of goosebumps and not a cause for concern.

The Montgomery glands secrete oil to lubricate, clean, and protect the areola and the nipple. The glands 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 the texture of the areola returns to its pre-pregnancy state.

Size, Color, and Shape

The size of the areola typically ranges from 1 to 2 inches in 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. After breastfeeding has ended, the areola may return to a lighter shade, but it typically remains a darker color than it was before pregnancy.

Impact on (and of) Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can affect the areola in a number of ways. Likewise, damage to the areola can affecting your breastfeeding success and comfort.

Knowing more about these issues can help you identify them early so you can do what you can to improve your experience and breast health.

Improper Latch

The areola can become sore and cracked from an improper latch. The first step is to make sure that your baby is latching on properly and get help if necessary. A certified lactation consultant can help assess your baby's latch and provide you with more information.

Cracking and Irritation

If you live in a dry climate, breastfeeding in general can cause dryness, soreness, and cracking of your areola. Talk to your doctor about possibly using a nipple moisturizer that is safe for nursing mothers.

The areola can also become irritated, cracked, or sore from leaking breast milk. Moisture on your skin can sometimes cause skin breakdown and infections such as thrush or mastitis. If your breasts are leaking, wear absorbent breast pads in your bra and change the pads when they become wet.

Some skin conditions, 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 for you.

Engorgement

Common symptoms of breast engorgement include swollen, firm, and painful breasts. It can make your areola hard and flatten out your nipples, making it very difficult for your baby to latch.

In the first or second week of breastfeeding, be sure to breastfeed anytime your baby is hungry to keep your breasts from becoming overfilled. You should also empty your breasts completely with each feeding to help your milk supply level with your baby's needs.

If your breasts do happen to become engorged, put your baby to the breast after hand expressing or pumping a little bit of breast milk first. This will help to relieve some of the pressure in the breast and soften the areola to make a proper latch more feasible.


Engorged breasts can cause a slight fever of around 100 degrees F, and you may feel swollen and tender lymph nodes in your armpits. Be sure to report these symptoms to your doctor and lactation consultant.

Surgical Procedures

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.​