What To Do If You Have Nipple Discharge

The most likely form of nipple discharge that comes to mind is probably breastmilk, and sometimes it may be the only type you're able to think of when asked about it. However, several other types can be produced by nipples and indicate an array of underlying conditions or changes in hormones, according to the Mayo Clinic. Both women and men have nipples with ducts capable of expelling discharge. At times, you may be able to squeeze or pinch a nipple to push out a small amount of fluid, while other times, it may flow out on its own in moderate to heavy amounts. When this happens, you may find yourself wondering what to do.

The first step to figuring out the basis of nipple discharge is determining if it's stemming from a single duct or multiple ducts and whether it is present in one or both nipples (per Johns Hopkins Medicine). Knowing why it occurs is the best way to treat or manage the underlying condition and knowing whether it's a cause that will resolve on its own or a diagnosis that requires additional medical care. Not all nipple discharge is cause for alarm, but it can never hurt to have the discharge assessed and tested by a trained healthcare provider. Here's what you should know about why nipple discharge may occur and what to do when it happens.

Side effects you shouldn't ignore

Nipples have ducts that can produce fluids of varying consistencies, make-ups, and amounts, most often occurring in women, though it is possible for children and men to experience nipple discharge at times. The National Health Service (NHS) advises that the color of nipple leakage alone shouldn't be used as a determinant of any particular condition since women's nipples can emanate discharge of varying shades. However, there are some additional symptoms and side effects that should be taken into account when assessing nipple leakage. An infection may be present if the discharge is of a pus-like consistency and comes with a strong odor, or if there is the presence of blood in the nipple fluid. Women who are above the age of 50, are postmenopausal, or are of childbearing age but currently not breastfeeding and notice a discharge that comes from one or both nipples without the application of any pressure should schedule an appointment with their healthcare provider. Nipple leakage accompanied by a lump under the skin, discoloration, redness, swelling, or pain of any kind should also be seen by a medical professional to rule out a more serious condition, like breast cancer.

Should you experience these symptoms, a sample of the discharge may be examined to determine the cause, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. Prior to a sample, your doctor may determine if one or several ducts are affected by the discharge, and a mammogram might be recommended for further diagnostic imaging.

Nipple discharge in babies and children

Children of all ages may experience nipple discharge. In babies, particularly those less than a year old, some mild discharge of a milky appearance may be noticed from one or both of the infant's nipples, per Healthline. In this case, the milky discharge is likely caused by a condition called neonatal galactorrhea, otherwise known as witch's milk, centuries before the existence of modern medicine. When estrogen is passed from the mother to the baby in-utero, whether a male or female baby, the result at birth or within a few weeks post-birth is the presence of milky nipple discharge from the baby's nipple ducts. Typically, this condition resolves on its own, but if it persists beyond two months after a baby is born or is accompanied by blood, swelling, or other signs of infection, you should consult your child's pediatrician.

As children age, especially as they reach puberty, breast tissue begins to change, and as a result, some leakage from the nipples can occur (via Seattle Children's). A child of pre-pubescent age is considered to be younger than age eight, so nipple discharge in a young child that is not attributed to neonatal galactorrhea should be monitored for escalated symptoms, such as one-sided discharge, inflammation, or painful tenderness of the nipple and surrounding breast tissue. If a child's nipple discharge resembles pus, otherwise tinted green or off-white, or is accompanied by a lump or redness, then urgent medical care should be sought.

Nipple discharge in men requires medical attention

Yes, men can have nipple discharge, too. According to Healthline, male nipple discharge can happen throughout the lifespan for various reasons. For adult men, nipple discharge could be a sign of breast cancer, especially if the discharge is coming from only one nipple. Additional signs of breast cancer in men include fluid that is clear or tinged with blood leaking out of the nipple ducts, tender or enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits, a small bump that can be felt beneath the nipple producing discharge and a nipple that sinks inward into the breast rather than sticking out per usual. If any of these additional symptoms accompany nipple discharge, or if a man experiences bloody nipple discharge that isn't the result of a known injury, then immediate medical attention should be sought. 

Similarly, nipple discharge that is a hue of green or composed of pus should be examined by a healthcare professional and tested for a potential infection that can be treated with antibiotics. The experts at Mayo Clinic recommend that men who experience any type of discharge from their nipples, regardless of color, texture, or amount, should seek evaluation from a medical professional because of the likelihood of a serious underlying condition.