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Breast and Nipple Discharge: What It Could Mean

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For women who aren't breastfeeding, the sight of nipple discharge can be alarming. But if you notice discharge from your nipple, there's no reason to panic. While nipple discharge can be serious, in most cases, it's either normal or due to a minor condition.

Still, if you are not nursing, you should contact your health care provider any time you notice breast discharge. Based upon your symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests, your doctor will decide on the best course of treatment.

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What is normal and what is abnormal nipple discharge?

Bloody nipple discharge is never normal. Other signs of abnormality include nipple discharge from only one breast and discharge that occurs spontaneously without anything touching, stimulating, or irritating your breast.

Color isn't usually helpful in deciding if the discharge is normal or abnormal. Both abnormal and normal nipple discharge can be clear, yellow, white, or green in color.

Normal nipple discharge more commonly occurs in both nipples and is often released when the nipples are compressed or squeezed. Some women who are concerned about breast secretions may actually cause it to worsen. They do this by repeatedly squeezing their nipples to check for nipple discharge. In these instances, leaving the nipples alone for a while may help the condition to improve.

Based on your medical evaluation, your doctor will determine whether your nipple discharge is normal (physiologic) or abnormal (pathologic). Even if your doctor determines your breast discharge is abnormal, keep in mind that most pathological conditions that cause nipple discharge are not serious and are easily treated.

What might cause normal nipple discharge?

Some causes of normal nipple discharge include:

  • Pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, some women notice clear breast discharge coming from their nipples. In the later stages of pregnancy, this discharge may take on a watery, milky appearance.
  • Stopping breastfeeding. Even after you have stopped nursing your baby, you may notice that a milk-like breast discharge persists for a while.
  • Stimulation. Nipples may secrete fluid when they are stimulated or squeezed. Normal nipple discharge may also occur when your nipples are repeatedly chafed by your bra or during vigorous physical exercise, such as jogging.
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