Why Do Nipples Become Darker During Pregnancy

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Pregnancy is one miraculous journey. A woman’s body goes through numerous fascinating transformations, all in the span of nine months. The breasts become fuller, the appetite increases, and so on. There are several breast-related changes a woman can expect after becoming pregnant. All these changes are not only normal but also an indicator that the breast is preparing itself for the little one’s arrival. While most women are prepared for the majority of these changes, the darkening of the skin around nipples (areolas) may still catch some by surprise. But, this is one of the earliest symptoms to show up during pregnancy (1).

When a mother’s body is preparing itself for lactation, there are several changes that her breast can undergo (2). Some of these changes include:

  • Enlargement and growth of breasts
  • Tenderness, soreness, and ultra-sensitivity
  • Darkening of veins along that area since the supply of blood increases
  • Leakage of yellowish, thick substance called colostrum
  • The nipples become bigger and stick out as well
  • Small glands present on areolas’ surface can form bumps

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A soon-to-be mother may notice the darkening of areolas somewhere around the beginning of the second trimester, soon after she is done with the first round of fatigue and nausea. The generalized pigmentation can usually be seen in other areas too where the skin color is a little darker as compared to the surrounding skin, similar to the areola. Around 45-75 percent of the expecting mothers experience melasma or the pregnancy mask during this phase (3). Certain skin patches darken during the “melasma” phase, which also includes the area around the neck, abdominal midline, and upper back.

When a woman is pregnant, she is bound to experience some sort of hyperpigmentation or skin darkening. It may be more pronounced for women who already have a slightly darker complexion. This hyperpigmentation is said to happen as a result of the hormonal changes a woman goes through during pregnancy. The increase in hormones that produce melanin, melanocyte stimulation hormone (MSH), and estrogen can bring about hyperpigmentation.

Melanin is the pigment that mainly influences a person’s skin complexion. It is the same pigment that protects the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. The MSH tends to bind to the melanocytes, which are the pigment-containing cells. It brings about the concentration increase of melanin by changing the cell distribution. You might have also noticed this when you step out in the sun for an entire day. This is because even sunlight can affect the MSH production, thus, leading to a suntan. During pregnancy, with the increase in levels of hormones like progesterone and estrogen, the melanin production by the melanocytes goes up (4).

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The sudden darkening of the skin may concern you but there is usually nothing to worry about. The darkening of areolas is quite normal during pregnancy. In fact, the affected area begins to lighten soon after delivery. But, it rarely returns to its actual earlier color (5).

It is advisable not to use any medicated cream during pregnancy even for the darkened skin. Also, there are no other treatments available for the same. If the dark patch appears on your skin, you might not feel very confident. But, you can always go for ways to control this hyperpigmentation. Note that sunlight too triggers the production of melanin, so try and stay away from the sun during pregnancy. You can also pick up a safe sunscreen to prevent this melanin production. But, don’t worry so much. The color will soon return to its almost-normal state.

While anything out of ordinary may seem to worry you during pregnancy, don’t get too stressed. We, at MomJunction, are always here to help you. Good luck to all you soon-to-be mommies!