Nipple discharge and mammary gland

  • General information about the mammary gland
  • Diseases which provoke nipple discharge
  • Nipple discharge in pregnancy

The main function of the mammary gland is a paired organ the main function of which is to feed a baby. Nipple discharge during lactation is a physiological norm. During pregnancy, a growth of glandular tissue occurs so that there is enough milk for a baby and due to it female breasts become bigger in size.

The mammary gland has small lobes, the number of which varies from 15 to 20. Each lobe has even smaller elements and alveoli lined with milk-secreting cells. Each lobe has a duct through which nipples receive milk and a woman has a discharge from her breasts.

Transparent nipple discharge is considered to be a norm if they appear several days before the period or during a sexual intercourse (especially, if a woman reached the orgasm).

Predisposing factors which may contribute to appearance of pathologic nipple discharge are:

  1. Hormonal imbalance;
  2. Breast tumors;
  3. Unsuitable underwear;
  4. Pregnancy;
  5. Use of medical drugs (antidepressants);
  6. Ductular ectasia;
  7. Inflammation in the glandular tissue;
  8. Oral contraception (namely, hormonal contraceptives);
  9. Trauma of the mammary gland;
  10. Intraductal papilloma;
  11. Mastopathy.

There are many diseases which can be the cause of nipple discharge in females. Sometimes discharge is the only sign of a pathology, so immediately go to a doctor.

Diseases which provoke nipple discharge


This condition is characterized by white breast discharge which is milk or colostrum. This is a pathology because a woman having galactorrhea is not pregnant, she is not feeding a baby or stopped breastfeeding over 6 months ago. Interesting, but this condition is typical for men as well as they have atrophied mammary gland and can have white nipple discharge.

The factors causing galactorrhea are pituitary tumors and tumors in other secreting glands (hormonally active), traumas (in this case, bloody nipple discharge may appear) and psychological aspects. Sometimes it is not possible to identify the reason.

Additionally to white breast discharge, a woman may have some other symptoms:

  • Menstrual disorders;
  • Skin rash;
  • Reduced libido;
  • Excessive pilosis (or male-pattern hair growth).

To stop milk production, it is necessary to treat the major pathology or to reduce production of lactin in a woman’s body.

Ductular ectasia

It occurs when breast ducts widen and they become inflamed. Brown sticky nipple discharge is typical in this condition.

This pathology usually affects older women who are going into menopause. To stop brown breast discharge, special baths and applications are used. To cure ectasia, a systematic therapy with Indomethacin (NSAID) and sometimes with antibiotics is used. Surgical treatment is rarely required but in some cases, a pathologically widened and inflamed duct must be removed.


Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue. This pathology results in breast pain and green bad-smelling purulent breast discharge. There are some other symptoms of the disorder such as breast swelling and general signs of intoxication (weakness, febrile body temperature up to 39 degrees and dizziness).

Typically, mastitis affects breastfeeding women. Infection occurs as a result of mechanical nipple injuries, plugged ducts and poor hygiene.

To treat mastitis, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory drugs are used as well as detoxication therapy. A woman should avoid breastfeeding if she has mastitis.

Mastitis can be complicated by abscess when a purulent material accumulates in the gland. In this case, a surgical treatment is required to remove abscess and purulence.

Tumor in the gland

Breast cancer is characterized by dark breast discharge. The disease is accompanied by specific symptoms:

  • Pain in the affected area;
  • Skin hyperemia;
  • Flaky skin;
  • Local body temperature rise;
  • Enlarged neighboring lymph nodes;
  • Nipple inversion.

A woman herself can feel a solid formation with uneven edges.

Only surgical treatment is required to cure oncology when the affected gland, surrounding tissues and neighbor lymph nodes are removed. Such preventive measures are explained by the fact that breast cancer develops metastases very rapidly and relapses occur very often.

Fibrocystic mastopathy

This pathology is characterized by yellow breast discharge and sometimes it can be greenish. A woman usually suffers pain in the second half of her menstrual cycle and before the menstruation breast discharge disappears. Mastopathy is a widespread disease and almost half of all the women is affected. The treatment includes hormonal and symptomatic therapy. A woman should also follow a special diet.

Traumatic injury

Any mechanical influence on the mammary gland can cause discharge appearance. Depending on the severity of injury breast discharge may be transparent, yellow or bloody. Anyway, it is necessary to visit a doctor and have examination to detect internal injuries.

Nipple discharge during pregnancy

During pregnancy, the mammary gland significantly widens and the drops of colostrum is a preparatory stage for lactation. Breast discharge in pregnancy are typically yellowish or white and do not have any smell.

Usually, the first signs of the milk appear after the 20-th week of pregnancy, however in a couple of days after delivery the amount of colostrum decreases and milk appears.

During pregnancy, it is very important to carefully observe the condition of the breasts and the nature of discharge because healthy mammary glands are the guaranty of proper nutrition of a baby. A woman should carefully observe personal hygiene but within reasonable limits, especially if she has a discharge which can cause infection. Additionally, to prevent nipple fissure during breastfeeding, a woman should let her nipples air dry. Any changes in breasts are the reason to consult a doctor to start timely treatment and avoid dangerous complications.