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Why Does Nipple Darkening Happen During Pregnancy?

The exciting phase of pregnancy fills a woman's life with innumerable changes (physical, mental as well as emotional). From morning sickness to changes in the breast size, the route to welcoming the little munchkin into this world is indeed challenging. One of the physical or bodily changes often indicative of pregnancy is the darkening of the areolas (skin around your nipples). The darkening of nipples can be seen in almost all women around the 6th week of their pregnancy (can also affect a woman later in her pregnancy). For all those women who get panicky over this, here is a quick guide emphasizing on what triggers the darkening of the nipples during pregnancy and the effective measures to deal with the situation better.

Why do the nipples darken during pregnancy?

Almost all the physical and mental changes that a woman endures during pregnancy is directly or indirectly related to the hormonal changes or imbalance. It is a known fact that the pigment melanin is responsible for the skin color. The more the melanin, the darker the complexion. During pregnancy, there is a rise in the level of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and MSH or Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone. As the name suggests, MSH, by a process termed as melanogenesis, is involved in the synthesis and release of the melanin pigment. An elevated level of MSH indicates an increased production and release of melanin, thereby darkening the nipples. The elevated estrogen and progesterone level also plays a pivotal role in accelerating the production of melanin triggering hyperpigmentation and darkening of the nipples and areolas.

Some of the other changes in the breast during pregnancy include

- The breast becomes bigger and fuller (around 6th-8th weeks of pregnancy).

- The breast may also appear tender, itchy, and red, with the inevitable and annoying stretch marks making their appearance.

- In many pregnant women, during the later stages, there is the discharge of the colostrum (the first milk produced by the breast during pregnancy) in moderation.

Effective tips to deal with darkening of the nipples and areolas

While the darkening of the nipples during pregnancy is normal and temporary (improves to a significant extent after the childbirth), the following tips may work wonders to keep the hyperpigmentation under control.

- Avoid overexposure to the sun rays and wear clothes that keep your breasts covered. The use of a good quality sunscreen may also bear fruitful results.

- While the use of topical creams and lotions may be beneficial, do so after consulting your attending physician to avoid any side-effects or extreme complications that may interfere with the pregnancy.

- Stress can worsen the hormonal imbalance, aggravating the situation further. Enjoy your pregnancy to the fullest. Relax and take it easy. Sooner or later, things will fall into place. Eating healthy and nutritious foods may be helpful in averting any further damage.

Though considered harmless, in case the darkening is accompanied by fever, bloody discharge from the nipples, extreme soreness and excruciating pain in the nipples, waste no time and consult your physician immediately. 

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