Inverted nipples are nipples that are partially or completely indented. This can happen to women and men, although it is more common for women to seek surgery to correct it as it can affect their ability to breastfeed.

Although an inverted nipple is not normally a risk to your overall health, it can be uncomfortable and you may be unhappy with how it looks.

What causes inverted nipples?

Inverted nipples can be caused in a number of ways and it varies from person to person. It’s usually as a result of lactation, trauma or pregnancy. For some people it’s genetic and they have inverted nipples from birth, as many as 1 in 6 people are said to be born with inverted nipples.

Grades of inverted nipples

There are 3 different classifications of inverted nipples, and each is categorised on several factors including how easily the inverted nipple can be pulled out. You can test this yourself by using a thumb and index finger to put gentle pressure on your areola; be careful not to press too hard.

Grade 1 inverted nipples will respond to your finger pressure alone and will not usually retract after you release them. They may even pop up spontaneously sometimes. This can sometimes be known as a “shy nipple”.

Grade 2 inverted nipples will also respond to finger pressure, but will retract again once you release them. This is the most common type of inverted nipple.

Grade 3 is the most severe type of inverted nipple. You will probably not be able to pull the nipple out with your fingers – don’t try to force them, as this can cause further damage. 

How much does inverted nipple surgery cost?

The cost of inverted nipple surgery will vary depending upon a few factors such as

  • how severe the condition is
  • whether you have will be having one or two nipples treated
  • the individual practice or surgeon you select

For surgery on a single nipple you can expect to pay between £1,500 and £3,000. This figure can increase significantly if you have the procedure under general anaesthetic. In many cases, clinics will offer a finance packages.

Is inverted nipple surgery available on the NHS?

As treatment for inverted nipples is generally considered cosmetic surgery, it is not usually available on the NHS. This may differ in exceptional cases, such as for some breast cancer patients.

What does the procedure involve?

Inverted nipple surgery can usually be done as an outpatient operation under local anaesthetic, although general anaesthetic may be available in certain cases. The surgeon will make a cut beneath the affected nipple and then use stitches and splints to keep it secure. The surgery itself usually takes around one hour and you will not need to stay in hospital overnight.

If you don’t have a physically demanding job, you should be able to resume work after a few days, although it’s best to wear loose, soft clothing to avoid putting pressure on the affected nipple. The splint and stitch will be removed about a week after your surgery, after which you should not need to return to the clinic unless you have any problems.

Will surgery prevent me from breastfeeding?

This will depend on individual circumstances. However, as a general rule, the higher the grade of your nipple inversion, the more difficult you are likely to find breastfeeding. Surgery on more severe inverted nipples can be more invasive and can require milk duct division, therefore in these instances patients are more likely to be unable to breastfeed normally after the operation.

What are the risks and complications?

The procedure is common and well understood, and with a good surgeon you will usually be able to avoid complications beyond mild discomfort which can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol. However, as with any other operation, there are some risks.

As well as the possibility that you may not be able to breastfeed after surgery, other potential complications to be aware of include infection, scabbing, bleeding and a loss of sensation around a nipple which has been treated.

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