If you have — or are thinking about getting — breast implants and you're also thinking about having a baby or are pregnant, you may wonder how the implants may affect breastfeeding.
While breast surgery carries some risk of damage (for example, to the nerves), the answer to can you breastfeed with implants is yes! Many women with breast implants do breastfeed successfully.
Here are 7 key questions about breast implants answered:
#1: What Are The Different Types Of Breast Augmentation Surgery?
The main differences between breast augmentation surgery techniques include:
- Where the implant is placed. The implant is either placed above the pectoral muscle or below it.
- Where the incision is. The incision can be close to or away from the areola.
#2: How Might Different Breast Augmentation Surgery Techniques Impact Breastfeeding?
If the incision is close to the areola there is a greater risk of damaging nerves that are important for the let-down reflex (milk ejection reflex).
The let-down reflex is important to allow the milk stored in the breast to be made available to the baby. Hence, if your let-down reflex is affected (or doesn’t occur), then less milk gets removed from your breasts and this can affect your supply.
Also, if the implant is above the pectoral muscle, there is a greater risk of it affecting your milk making ability. This is because if it is above the pectoral muscles, it can put pressure on the milk making (glandular tissue) in the breast. This could somewhat inhibit the growth of glandular tissue in the breast (e.g. during pregnancy).
Also, if the implant is above the pectoral muscle it could also put pressure on milk ducts, reducing the flow of milk through them. If the milk cannot flow as well, not as much milk gets removed from the breast. If less milk gets removed, less milk is made.
#3: How Can A Surgeon Increase My Chances Of Breastfeeding Successfully?
If you are thinking about getting breast augmentation surgery, there are things you could request to increase your chances breastfeeding successfully.
You could request that the implant be placed below your pectoral muscle and for the incision to be made somewhere other than near your areola. Other places the incision could be made include your armpit, belly button or underneath your breast.
#4: Can Breast Implants Affect Milk Supply?
Breast augmentation surgery may affect supply. But even if you’ve had breast augmentation surgery and the incision is near the areola and the implant is above your pectoral muscle, you still may be able to breastfeed successfully.
There are many factors related to breast augmentation surgery other than surgical technique that can affect your supply. For example:
- The number of years since the surgery. While with breast reduction surgery some milk ducts and glandular tissue may be removed or damaged, this doesn’t typically occur with breast augmentation surgery. If the incision is around the areola however, nerves may be damaged. Yet, nerves can (very slowly) regenerate and so if nerves were damaged in the initial surgery, years later they may be able to function (at least somewhat) again.
- The reason why the surgery was done. Breast hypoplasia is a particular type of breast shape that can be associated with reduced ability to make milk. Women with breast hypoplasia tend to have long, narrow, asymmetrical and widely spaced breasts with large areolas. If you’ve had had breast augmentation surgery due to breast hypoplasia, then if you experience low supply it may be due to this rather than anything to do with the actual surgery.
#5: Do Breast Implants Make It More Likely To Feel More Engorged When My Milk Comes In?
It is possible that you may have a tendency to feel more engorged when your milk comes in if you have breast implants. This is particularly the case if your implant is above your pectoral muscle because this may contribute to your breast not being drained as well.
If your breasts do become engorged, there is a lot you can do to help. Speak with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or see a lactation consultant.
#6: How Can I Maximise My Milk Supply After Breast Augmentation Surgery?
Since your milk supply is largely established in the early weeks, getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible can help maximise your supply.
Here are some ways to help to get breastfeeding off to the best start possible:
- Consider natural pain relief options for labour
- Skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight after birth, followed by rooming in with your baby
- Feeding your baby according to need
- Optimal positioning and attachment
- Avoiding supplementation unless medically indicated
Speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor or seeing a lactation consultant can help with individualised support and information to help maximise your supply too.
Despite getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible, if you still struggle to make enough milk, you could speak with your doctor about use of a galactagogue (a substance that increases milk supply).
For more information about medications and herbs to help increase milk supply, see The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West and Lisa Marasco.
#7: What If Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work Out How I Wanted It To?
It is important to remember that ‘successful’ breastfeeding means different things for different mothers.
Breastfeeding is so much more than just about the milk. It is a relationship with a baby. So, even if you find you are unable to make a full supply, if breastfeeding your baby makes you feel happy, then no matter how much (or little) milk you make, that is ‘successful’ breastfeeding.
Some mothers who don’t make a full supply, find using a breastfeeding supplementer (e.g. supplemental nursing system) helpful. This is a device that allows a baby to receive supplemental milk while feeding from the breast.
For more information about see Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery by Diana West. Although this book is based on breastfeeding after breast reduction surgery, it is still relevant for mothers who breastfeed after breast augmentation surgery.
West D, Marasco L 2009, The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk, McGraw Hill: New York.