Can Your Nipple *Actually* Fall Off While Breastfeeding? What An Expert Says

TikTok is home to a few horror stories from mums who've ended up with damaged nips. A lactation expert talks to us about why this might happen.
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Is there anything more disturbing than the thought of having your nipple chomped off by your beloved baby or toddler? Probably not.

When it comes to her day job, lactation consultant Stacey Zimmels has seen some damaged nipples in her time. But she’s (thankfully) never come across a nipple that’s completely fallen off as a result of breastfeeding.

But that’s not to say it can’t happen in very rare instances. When you go on Tiktok, there are some who claim it happened to them.

One such story comes from a mum called Brooke who took to the app to explain how she’d breastfed her baby when she was 15 and thought she had a good latch.

Sadly that wasn’t the case. She claims her nipple went “black at the base, and white at the tip” – a sign of poor blood flow – but she continued breastfeeding her son anyway.

She noticed he’d stopped feeding and looked like he was choking. “My nipple had broke off and was in his mouth,” she said, adding that she was with her mum and sister at the time who advised her to get the nipple reattached as soon as possible. So she rinsed her nipple and stuck it back on using a plaster.

“My nipple’s not perfect today,” she said. “But it’s still here.”

Another horror story comes from TikToker Jasmine Chiswell, who posted a video explaining how the tip of her nipple ended up hanging off after breastfeeding her year-old son.

The mum said her son bit down on her nipple and then pulled away from her with his teeth clenched still. At the time she didn’t realise the damage it had inflicted, but the next morning she woke up with a bloody shirt.

“The tip of my nipple was hanging off,” she recalled, before adding that she put a bandage and an ice pack on it, in the hope it would stick itself back together (which it did).

“We need to unpick these reported cases to ascertain what actually happened,” Zimmels tells HuffPost UK.

“For example, in the recent viral story of TikToker Jasmine Chiswell, the headlines announced ‘my nipple fell off when breastfeeding’, however if you follow her TikTok posts you will see that it was the nipple tip that was damaged rather than the whole nipple, and it didn’t fall off, it was hanging off.

“A lot of the time, these stories are over-exaggerated.”

The lactation consultant adds there are no case reports in medical literature of a nipple falling off during breastfeeding. (In case that makes you feel better.)

“A whole nipple falling off during breastfeeding would be extremely unlikely based on the amount of force a baby or toddler would need to exert for this to happen,” she explains.

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There may be other circumstances where a person loses their entire nipple, for example electively during a surgical procedure to treat cancer, or as a complication of breast or nipple surgery, or even as a result of trauma to the chest.

Nipple damage – on the other hand – is not unheard of for those who are breastfeeding young ones, particularly during the first days and weeks postpartum.

“Significant trauma to the nipple can occur due to poor positioning and attachment at the breast, damage from pumping or from a tongue tie,” says Zimmels, who is working with Elvie, which has launched a new app feature for its breast pump.

In some cases it might seem like the nipple or part of the nipple is falling off, says Zimmels, “but in fact what has happened is that a deep fissure has developed and it may be open, giving the appearance that the nipple or part of the nipple is ‘hanging off’.”

Fortunately, the breast and nipple are highly vascular parts of the body which means they heal well.

Breast surgeon Dr Katrina B Mitchell suggests that normal human wound healing occurs within 8-10 days. “The nipple will ‘reattach’ over time,” says Zimmels. “Depending on the type of wound created there are different topical wound management options to help support healing. In the case of TikToker Jasmine Chiswell, her nipple ‘stuck back together’ as it healed.”

If you have sore nipples as a result of breastfeeding, the lactation consultant urges you to seek professional lactation and breastfeeding support. The hospital where you gave birth or had your antenatal appointments should have a designated team who can help. You can also try the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

“You can try using a pump to express your milk to give via bottle as long as that is less painful than breastfeeding,” the lactation consultant adds. But if you do this, make sure the nipple shields fit correctly and that the pump’s setting is gentle.

It’s also important to work on your baby’s positioning and attachment at the breast – as otherwise the issue is likely to keep happening.

“Beyond a little bit of discomfort on latching for around 30 seconds in the first days or week of breastfeeding, any pain that a parent experiences is a sign that something isn’t right with the position and attachment of the baby at the breast and requires support,” she concludes.