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Why Do Nipples Darken During Pregnancy?

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Why Do Nipples Darken During Pregnancy?

Darkening of the skin around your nipples (areolas) is generally one of the first signs of conceiving and is said to occur due to hormonal alterations during this period. When you are pregnant, your body makes higher levels of melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) and estrogen. These hormones impact melanin, a pigment that darkens skin, thus causing darker areolas.

Pregnancy is a magical time. The body goes through countless transformations, after all. Fuller breasts, bigger appetite – you know how it goes. And while you might be ready for these changes, things like darkening of the skin around your nipples (areolas) might surprise you. In fact, darker areolas can be one of the first signs of pregnancy for some women, showing up around 6 weeks.1 For others, this may happen later on in pregnancy.

As your body preps for lactation, your breasts may undergo other changes. Your milk ducts enlarge, making your breasts fuller and more sensitive. Both the areolas and nipples will enlarge. The nipples tend to stick out, too. The veins along your breasts may darken as the blood supply increases. Small glands on the areolas might also form bumps.2 All of these changes are perfectly normal.

Some women notice darkening areolas during the second trimester. This typically happens just as they’re getting over the fatigue and nausea from the first trimester. They may also find a dark line running down their abdomen from the navel to the pubic hairline. Many pregnant women – up to 70 percent, in fact – also experience melasma (“mask of pregnancy”). This is marked by the darkening of certain patches of skin.3 This is usually spotted on the forehead, above the cheeks, upper lip, or nose.4

Why Does This Happen?

During pregnancy, it’s not uncommon for women to experience some kind of skin darkening or hyperpigmentation. If you have a darker complexion, this will probably be more pronounced.5 It’s all because of those hormonal changes. Specifically, high levels of melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) and estrogen are responsible for this hyperpigmentation.6

You may know that our skin color is mostly influenced by a pigment called melanin. It gives skin color and protects it from the harmful ultraviolet sun rays.7 Ordinarily, MSH binds to pigment-containing cells called melanocytes. It also increases the concentration of melanin, changing the distribution in cells. You might have noticed these effects after spending a day out in the sun. Sunlight tends to stimulate the production of MSH, leading to darkened skin – what we know as a suntan.8 Estrogen has also been found to increase the secretion of melanin.9 So, when these hormones increase during pregnancy, it only makes sense that the skin darkens.

Should You Be Worried?

Not really. The darkening of the skin around your nipples is harmless and expected. In most women, the nipples return to their normal color after delivery. Keep in mind that it’s not advisable to try medicated creams during pregnancy. There aren’t any specific treatments, either.

If you have melasma and patches of dark skin on your face, you might feel self-conscious. Don’t worry, though – there are a few things that control it. Remember that sunlight triggers melanin production. Make it a point to stay out of the sun and use a strong broad-spectrum (ultraviolet A and B) sunscreen to stop melasma in its tracks. Either way, don’t stress. This condition typically resolves on its own after delivery.10

References   [ + ]

1. Eyles, Mary O. Mosby’s Comprehensive Review of Practical Nursing for the NCLEX-PN® Exam. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2013.
2. Breast Changes During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association.
3, 5, 10. Common Skin Conditions During Pregnancy. American Academy of Family Physicians.
4. Pregnancy. National Institutes of Health.
6. Adil, Mohammad, Tasleem Arif, and Syed Suhail Amin. “A comprehensive review on the pregnancy dermatoses.” British Journal of Medical Practitioners 9, no. 1 (2016).
7. Melanocyte. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
8. Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH). Encyclopaedia Britannica.
9. McLeod, Stephen D., Marie Ranson, and Rebecca S. Mason. “Effects of estrogens on human melanocytes in vitro.” The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology 49, no. 1 (1994): 9-14.