Nipple size does NOT affect a woman’s ability to breastfeed

Nipple size varies significantly between women but does NOT affect their ability to breastfeed, study finds (however men’s nipples have no purpose)

  • Variation suggests there is no evolutionary advantage to large or small nipples
  • Evolution selects for specific traits that benefit species, such as hair for warmth 
  • Previous studies suggest babies can struggle to ‘latch on’ if nipples are too large
  • Results further suggest men’s nipples are on average 36% smaller than women’s
  • Men’s nipples have no purpose and are an evolutionary by-product  
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Nipple size does not affect a woman’s ability to breastfeed, new research suggests.

Areola width differs substantially between women, a study found.

This suggests there is no evolutionary advantage to having large or small nipples, the research adds. Evolution selects for specific traits that will benefit a species, such as hair for warmth.

Lead author Ashleigh Kelly, from the University of Queensland, said: ‘Female nipples are functional as they are used in breastfeeding’, adding variation in women’s areola width suggests nipples work well at any size.

Previous studies imply babies can struggle to ‘latch on’ if their mothers’ nipples are too large. 

Men’s nipples have no purpose and are thought to be an evolutionary by-product.

Nipple size does not affect women’s abilities to breastfeed, new research suggests (stock)

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Breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of breast cancer, a report suggested in August 2017.

For every five months a woman breastfeeds, her risk of developing breast cancer is lowered by two percent, a study review found.

Researchers believe breastfeeding protects women against the condition as it makes them temporarily stop getting periods, which reduces their lifetime exposure to the hormone estrogen.

High estrogen levels have previously been linked to developing breast cancer.

Breastfeeding may also help to remove cells with damaged DNA that could otherwise lead to tumor onset. 

The researchers, from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund, analysed 18 studies that examined breastfeeding.

Of these, 13 investigated the effects of the length of time spent lactating. 

The report also found that carrying excess weight after menopause increases a woman’s risk of developing the condition, yet it is protective while women are still able to conceive. 

For both pre- and postmenopausal women, alcohol increases their risk of breast cancer and exercise reduces it, the report adds.

Babies who are breastfed are also less likely to gain weight in later life, the study found.

Study author Alice Bender said: ‘It isn’t always possible for moms to breastfeed but for those who can, know that breastfeeding can offer cancer protection for both the mother and the child.’ 

How the research was carried out   

The researchers analysed the nipples of 63 male and female volunteers.

The participants’ nipples, bust and chest sizes were measured. 

Room temperature was also taken into account.  

Men’s nipples are more than 30% smaller than women’s 

Results further suggest males’ nipples are on average 36 per cent smaller than females’.  

Miss Kelly said: ‘We found that female nipples were significantly more variable than male nipples.

‘The finding that females nipples are highly variable discredits previous studies that indicate variation in a specific feature indicates a lack of functionality.’ 

The findings were published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology. 

Warming up nipples may help breastfeeding  

This comes after research released last July suggested mothers who are struggling to breastfeed may benefit from warming up their nipples.

A significant difference in temperature between a mother’s nipples and a newborn’s lips helps guide babies towards the breast, a study found.

So-called ‘mother-infant thermal identification’ is thought to be a form of communication that encourages babies to crawl towards the nipple, according to the researchers.

This is believed to help guide babies through the progression from birth to breastfeeding, they add. 

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