How Montgomery's Tubercles Function

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Pregnancy will change a lot of things about your body. Chief among them, of course, will be your breasts. In addition to an increase in size, you will likely experience greater sensitivity of the nipples. One other, more subtle change will be seen in the glands, called Montgomery's tubercles, surrounding the nipples.

About Montgomery's Tubercles

Montgomery's tubercles (also known as areolar glands or glands of Montgomery) are pimple-like pores on the surface the areola. They are a type of sebaceous gland found all over the body that produces oils to moisturize and protect the skin. The areolar glands function in the same way, producing lipid-rich secretions to lubricate the nipples and provide an oily barrier against infection.

The areola itself is the circular area of skin surrounding the nipple serviced by a network of neurons which respond to touch and pressure. When a baby suckles, for example, these neurons will transmit signals to the glands responsible for lactation.

In the same way that areolar size can vary, the number of Montgomery's tubercles can range from as few as one to as many as 30.

Numbers can differ from one breast to the other and can increase in number and/or size in response to hormonal changes. Pregnancy is one such situation when the quality and quantity of tubercles will typically change. Even touch or a sudden drop in temperature can cause the areolar glands to become raised and exposed, much in the same way as goosebumps on the skin.

Enlargement During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, hormonal changes will stimulate changes in the breast in preparation for lactation and breastfeeding. The areolar glands serve a specific function in that they not only increase the protection of oil to keep the nipple moist, they release olfactory (scent) compounds that help direct the nursing infant to the breast. Moreover, the oils have antibacterial properties that protect the skin from infection.

When a woman is pregnant, the areolar glands will often become more prominent and engorged in their appearance. While there is rarely any pain associated with this, it is not uncommon for the skin to become even more sensitive than before.

Caring for Your Areolas

In some pregnancies, the areolar glands may become so persistently enlarged that they look like fluid-filled pimples. Because of this, some women have been known to try to pop them. This is a mistake, not only inviting an infection but making any pain a woman may be feeling worse. Every effort should be made to keep the nipples and areolas clean and moist during the pregnancy and subsequent breastfeeding; A few simple tips may help:

  • Breast shells can also help protect sore nipples in between breastfeeding sessions. Nipple shields, by contrast, provide protection during breastfeeding.
  • Do not use astringents can interfere with the production of oils from the glands themselves.
  • If the nipple and areolas are cracked and sore, apply modified lanolin to promote healing. Be sure to wipe them clean before feeding the baby.
  • Wash with clear water and a gentle cleanser, avoiding soaps and disinfectants that can dry and irritate the skin.
  • You can express a few drops of milk after breastfeeding and rub them into the nipple and areola for added moisturization.
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  1. Doucet S, Soussignan R, Sagot P, Schaal B. An overlooked aspect of the human breast: areolar glands in relation with breastfeeding pattern, neonatal weight gain, and the dynamics of lactationEarly Hum Dev. 2012;88(2):119–128. doi:10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2011.07.020

  2. Doucet, S.; Soussignan, R.; Sagot, P.; and Schaal, B. "The Secretion of Areolar (Montgomery's) Glands from Lactating Women Elicits Selective, Unconditional Responses in Neonates". PLoS | ONE. 2009; 4(10):e7579.

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