Dr. Kate: Leaky Nips? But I'm Not Breastfeeding!

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Dr. Kate is an OB/GYN at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City and she answers your medical questions here once a week. To ask her your own question, click here.

Hi Dr. Kate,

Recently I discovered that my nipples have been leaking some sort of substance. At first it didn’t occur to me that it came from my breasts, but I’ve noticed the evidence in my bra cups. It isn’t a lot, but it’s enough to make me slightly nervous. Is this normal?


Dear F.A.L.,

Nipple discharge can be scary, but isn’t always a sign of something dangerous. There are a couple of things that gynos look at to try to tell why the girls are leaking:

  • Is it from one side or both? Leakage from both breasts is often a sign of a hormonal imbalance, while leakage from just one side may be a cyst or papilloma (think a skin tag in a milk duct) in that breast.
  • When does it happen? If it’s only when you press on the breast or with stimulation (called “expressing”), it’s likely minor trauma to the ducts, and should go away with “breast rest” for a few weeks. If it’s spontaneous — happening when you don’t expect it, and sometimes staining your bra — it’s more likely to be hormonal.
  • What color is the discharge? If it’s white or clear, it’s probably a hormonal problem. If it’s green, don’t panic — that means old blood, and a possible papilloma. If it’s freshly bloody, it may also be a papilloma, but may be something more serious.

Your gyno will likely check you for thyroid and pituitary problems with blood tests and possibly an ultrasound, depending on the characteristics of your discharge. What does worrisome discharge look like? Spontaneous, bloody, and one-sided…anything else is likely to be benign. My best guess is that if your discharge is two-sided, it may be a sign of thyroid or pituitary problems, both of which can be treated. I doubt you have cancer. But whatever your discharge looks like, you should definitely make an appointment to see your gyno so they can check you out.

Have you seen anything strange with your breasts?

— Dr. Kate

Dr. Kate is an OB/GYN at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City. She also lectures nationally on women’s health issues and conducts research on reproductive health. Check out more of her advice and ask her a question at Gynotalk.com.