Early Pregnancy Signs: Darkening Areolas
If you’ve noticed enlarged or dark areolas (the area around your nipples), you may be witnessing one of the first signs of pregnancy. It’s completely normal and can happen as early as a week or two after conception.
Dark areolas during pregnancy are most likely caused by your rising levels of hormones—namely, estrogen and progesterone. “Some scientists believe there may have been an evolutionary purpose for the growth and darkening of the areolas, which was to help the newborn baby find the nipple easier and facilitate latching,” explains Temeka Zore, MD, an LA-based ob-gyn and reproductive endocrinologist with Reproductive Medicine Associates of Southern California.
It’s also not just dark areolas that you might begin to see in early pregnancy—the area immediately surrounding your areolas may begin to darken as well, almost resembling a web, which can make the areola look even bigger, says Sara Twogood, MD, an ob-gyn at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Some women may also notice bumps (resembling goose-bumps) pop up on the perimeter of their areolas. These are called Montgomery tubercles, sometimes also called Morgagni tubercles, and they become more visible during pregnancy and breastfeeding because your breasts get larger, Twogood says. Those Montgomery tubercles are your friends! They help lubricate your nipples, which will be welcome when baby latches on to nurse. “Their purpose is to secrete oil during breastfeeding to decrease bacteria transfer to the baby,” Zore explains, “and to provide lubrication to your areola and nipples, which may become cracked or dry during breastfeeding.”
Because dark areolas play a role in nursing, these changes often remain after giving birth, especially for women who choose to breastfeed. “The areola will continue to enlarge and darken throughout pregnancy, usually reaching their largest size at the time of birth,” Zore explains. “If you choose to breastfeed, your areolas will likely remain bigger and darker during breastfeeding.” Once you stop breastfeeding and your hormone levels return to normal, your dark areolas and nipples will more or less go back to their normal size and color, she says, although it’s not unusual for the areolas to stay slightly darker than they were pre-pregnancy. When it’ll happen and to what degree will vary for each woman.
Updated March 2020
Temeka Zore, MD, is an ob-gyn, and reproductive endocrinologist practicing in Los Angeles at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Southern California. She received her medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine.
Sara Twogood, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She’s also the author of Ladypartsblog.com, which covers topics relating to fertility and pregnancy, and the founder of FemEd, a program designed to empower females through health education.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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