Both men and women have nipples, but it is women’s breasts and nipples that have always been a focus of discussion, fashion, sexual attraction and health.
The main purpose of a woman’s nipples is to breastfeed infants the milk produced in the female mammary glands during lactation. In men, despite having mammary glands, the nipples have no breastfeeding function.
Now, aside from lactating, women’s breasts have been a focus of fashion, sexual attraction and health since the beginning of time. However, there are many interesting things about breasts and nipples that many people are not even aware of.
These facts and features will help you see this important body part from a new angle.
Here are 10 surprising things you didn’t know about your nipples and breasts.
1. You can have More Than Two Nipples
It is very true that one can have more than two nipples. In medical terms, it is known as supernumerary nipples or extra nipples. They can grow on places other than the breasts and may even develop breast tissue.
Supernumerary nipples are considered a common congenital abnormality of the breasts and can occur in both males and females. An additional nipple begins to form when the regular nipple formation process is incomplete and the tissue doesn’t fully regress.
This type of nipple usually develops along “milk lines”. These lines start in the armpit on each side of the body, run through the normal nipples on the breasts and down to the sides of the groin.
Often mistaken for moles, extra nipples are diagnosed in approximately one in 18 people. In a 2012 case study published in the Indian Journal of Human Genetics, a 32-year-old man was found to have seven nipples, becoming the second person in history with so many nipples.
Apart from the chest, such nipples can develop on other areas of the body, even the feet. Supernumerary nipples do not cause problems and do not need to be removed.
2. Nipple Hair is Normal
Not every woman has nipple hair, but it is very normal if you do.
The areas around the nipples, or the areolas, have hair follicles just like any other skin area. Usually women do not have hair on their chest, unlike many men, but at times some women develop a few long hairs around the nipples.
Hormonal fluctuations in the body that accompany puberty, pregnancy or menopause can cause a few strands to grow around the nipples. Certain medications can also cause excessive hair growth.
If you notice more than just a few hair strands popping up, consult a doctor as it may indicate hirsutism, a condition that causes excessive, coarse body hair in women. It can even be linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
If you are embarrassed about hairs around your nipples and prefer to have them removed, pulling them out with tweezers or cutting them with scissors are temporary solutions. However, do not shave the hairs or use a wax treatment, as these methods may damage the sensitive skin around your nipples.
3. Everyone Develops Nipples in the Womb
You may wonder why men have nipples on their chest, since they do not need them for breastfeeding.
It is mainly because, despite whether you’re male or female, all embryos begin developing identically in the womb.
In fact, for the first several weeks, a developing embryo follows a “female blueprint,” from reproductive organs to nipples. After 60 days of embryonic development, the hormone testosterone kicks in, resulting in changes in the genetic activity of cells in the genitals and the brain. This is when embryos change into male and female genders.
Testosterone causes the male embryo to secrete factors that block the development of female ducts and structures and also influences other sex-specific traits in the body.
However, the previous developments in the womb remain intact, leading to flat breasts and nipples in men.
4. Only Humans have Permanent Breasts
Whether you want to believe or not, humans or Homo sapiens are the only primates with permanently enlarged breasts. No other species or primates share this trait.
In the rest of the primates, plump breasts last only during the breastfeeding phase.
The main reason behind permanent larger breasts in human females is not related to pregnancy or lactation. In fact, it denotes a woman’s ability to store fat and her fertility. Breasts become plump only after a female reaches puberty.
Remember, a woman’s breasts are only filled with milk after delivering a baby, and rest of the time they are mostly made up of fat.
5. Nipples Leak Fluid
Women may have leakage of fluid from the nipples, even when they are not pregnant or breastfeeding. This nipple discharge is common in women and nothing to worry about.
The discharge can be clear, cloudy, or whitish and its consistency can vary from thick and sticky to thin and watery. The discharge mostly occurs when the nipples are compressed or squeezed.
Apart from pregnancy and breastfeeding, other common causes of nipple discharge are stopping breastfeeding and when nipples are repeatedly chafed by your bra or during vigorous physical exercise, such as jogging.
For women, if you have bloody nipple discharge, consult a doctor immediately. In men, nipple discharge under any circumstances should be evaluated by a doctor.
6. Nipples are Not Mirror Images
No two nipples or breasts are alike, even when they are on the same chest. In fact, the two nipples on your body will not be mirror images of each other and this is normal.
Whether it is noticeable or not, often the left breast is slightly bigger than the right breast. In medical terms, this slight variation in shape is known as asymmetry.
Asymmetry of the breasts may be more pronounced when the breasts are developing, but it usually improves by full maturity.
In normal circumstances, the variation is not even noticeable. However, previous trauma, injury or infection can lead to more noticeable differences between your breast sizes.
An augmentation or reduction surgical procedure may be performed to make the breasts more symmetrical, but only after puberty.