The areola contains the Montgomery tubercles, which are small glands that secrete a fluid with several important functions. The fluid lubricates and protects the skin, and it has an odor that attracts a breastfeeding infant. The fluid may also help attract or arouse a sexual partner.
Stimulation of the nipple and areola while breastfeeding triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, which increase milk production in the breasts.
In this article, we discuss areola size and whether it can change over time. We also discuss areola reduction.
Areolas may change in size and color over time.
Everyone’s body and breasts are unique, and there is no “right” size for the areola. A 2009 study of 300 adult women in Japan found the average diameter of the areola to be around 4 centimeters.
An earlier study from Israel investigated breast, areola, and nipple proportions in 37 women aged between 20 and 64 years. The researchers found that the areola was, on average, about three times the size of the nipple.
However, areolas that are larger than this are still perfectly normal. It is also normal for a person to have areolas that change in size and color over their lifetime.
Breast changes are often due to shifting hormone levels in the body, such as those that take place during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
During pregnancy, many women’s areolas get larger and darker leading up to the baby’s birth. These changes may continue after the birth and while a person is breastfeeding.
Some people believe that the larger size and darker skin of the areolas during this period may help attract a newborn to the breast for feeding. However, not all women experience these changes during pregnancy, and this does not typically affect their ability to breastfeed.
When latching onto a breast, an infant places the entire nipple and a large portion of the areola into their mouth. They do this to stimulate more of the milk-producing glands in the breast. Occasionally, a small infant may have difficulty latching onto the breast of a person with very large areolas.
Anyone who is having difficulty breastfeeding or has any concerns about it should speak to a lactation consultant for advice.
Once a person stops breastfeeding, their breasts and nipples usually return to their previous size and color.
A person’s breasts typically undergo several changes throughout each menstrual cycle. The ovaries release estrogen in the early part of the cycle when the egg follicle is maturing and preparing for ovulation. Estrogen stimulates the milk ducts in the breasts to grow and develop.
After ovulation, when an ovary releases an egg, estrogen production slows down, and the levels of another hormone called progesterone increase.
During this second half of the menstrual cycle, the breasts may swell and become tender. However, the nipples and areolas do not tend to change or get larger during a regular menstrual cycle.
The body stimulates these changes to prepare itself for the possibility of an egg becoming fertilized. If pregnancy does not occur, the breasts revert to their normal size and shape once the person gets their period.
A person should consult a doctor if they want to reduce the size of their areolas.
Having large areolas is perfectly normal, but some people want to reduce them for cosmetic reasons. People who wish to reduce the size of their areolas should speak to a doctor. The most effective option for areola reduction is surgery, which can be expensive.
During the reduction procedure, the surgeon will make an incision and remove a circular piece of the outer areolar tissue. They will then stitch the skin surrounding the areola to the new areolar border.
The surgeon can often perform the procedure using a local anesthetic to numb the breast area. However, in some cases, they may have to put the person under a general anesthetic.
A person can have an areola reduction as standalone surgery or as part of another breast procedure, such as a breast reduction or implant placement.
Surgical areola reduction can decrease sensation in the nipples and may affect a person’s ability to breastfeed.
As breast tissue comprises mostly fat cells, some people may find that losing weight helps reduce breast, and therefore areola, size. For people who wish to reduce their areola size but do not want to have surgery, losing weight may be another option.
The areolas come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Everyone’s breasts are different, and it is perfectly normal for a person to have very large areolas.
It is also normal for the areolas to change in size and color over time. These changes can occur as a natural part of aging as well as during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Anyone who has concerns about the size of their areolas should speak to their doctor.