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Q & A
with Denise Robinson

Henna Hand Will nipple piercings affect breastfeeding?

I breastfed two daughters before I got pierced. I got pierced six months after I weaned the last daughter. Less than two weeks later I had mastitis- and blocked ducts, high fever, and pus running out of every hole. Not too pleasant, huh? No, my reaction isn't typical. Some people say that they've been able to successfully breastfeed. Even more people will tell you that it's unlikely to cause any problems. But these are people who haven't had the "joy" of trying to nurse. Breastfeeding is the best start you can give your child, and is the most natural thing to do, but DOES NOT necessarily come "naturally". It can be quite difficult and trying, and having the additional dilemma of having piercings in slows down the process, and I suspect an unecessary burden. There have very few documented cases of women unable to nurse due to their piercings. La Leche League even mentions nipple piercings and says that they shouldn't be a problem. I'm not saying that you should take out your piercings if you have them pierced and you want to conceive. I'm not saying that you shouldn't get your nipples pierced if you want to. I'm not a doctor, so won't give out advice on how to prevent or treat an illness. I just want you to be aware of the risks, and make an informed decision.

First of all, think about what happens to your body while you are pregnant. Almost anytime after conception, though more likely in your second or third trimester, you will start lactating. Nipple piercings can take years to fully heal. Let's hope that your nips are healed by the time you start to lactate. If they are not, you risk the chance of infecting your ducts. Check out "mastitis" on the web- it's a whole bunch of no-fun, unless you're into high fevers. It's not the end of the world, though you may be increasing your scar tissue in the piercing.
As your due-date approaches, your breasts will swell. This will make your piercings more likely to reject. Rejection isn't uncommon in nipple piercings, and under the additional stress exerted from your growing breasts, this chance grows. And with rejection comes hypertrophic scarring ("keloiding") due to the stress exerted upon your piercing. To reduce the chances of rejection, consider a vertical placement, or wearing barbells.
So- the blessed event happens, and you start to nurse. It is difficult to get a latch, and many problems such as blocked ducts, mastitis, and chapped nipples are not uncommon. These are painful conditions (easily treated) that can make a woman feel inadequate for being unable to nurse properly. Couple that with some post-partem depression, and you've got an emotional Hell-ride on your hands. The good news is about having your nipples pierced is that they quite often make concave or flat nipples stand out more. Any woman with flat or inverted nipples will tell you that trying to nurse with such can be incredibly difficult. Getting your infant to latch on a big, hard breast can be almost impossible. So having your nipples pierced in the past *can* help you nurse.
Assuming that you get the hang of the latch (congratulations! Good work!), let's remember that lactation works on a supply/demand system. If baby drinks more, you produce more. But in those first few days/weeks, ALL of your ducts will be producing milk. You'll have painful, hard tits.
Let's assume that you went to an excellent piercer and healed well despite the odds and have little scar-tissue. The nipple has several holes that get their milk from several ducts throughout the breast. Chances are, you may block one or two ducts. No worry, there are plenty of other ducts through which baby can procure milk. But those ducts which have been blocked won't be able to expel their milk. They will remain full, get hard, and be painful until your body realizes that no milk is needed from those spots, stops producing milk, and breaks down the buildup. In addition to the discomfort to you, this can also lead to mastitis.
Nursing occurs sometimes as often as every hour on the hour (or every two-to-three hours), twenty four hours a day, seven daze a week. Having to remove jewellery every time you nurse could get to be real tiresome, and in itsself might damage your piercings. If you do keep your rings in, I would suggest having circular barbells in your nipples (internally-threaded, that way external threading won't scrape the insides of your nips) so that you can remove them easier, and faster.

My opinions may not be too popular and may seem alarmist, but I thought I'd chime in with a voice of caution. Evaluate your priorities. Is breeding and breastfeeding something really important to you? Are you immensely patient? Can you wait to get your nipples pierced, or is it important that you get them done now? Personally, I waited until after my last child was weaned and worked it into a significant ritual signifying the end of my child-bearing. It was emotional, and beautiful, and just what I needed. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). Whatever your decision, all the best, and please keep me posted- I'm always glad to hear of success stories!

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