Breast augmentation (breast implant surgery) is one of the most common plastic surgery procedures in the world.
There has been an increase in the number of these procedures being performed in the past two decades, especially in high income countries, including Australia.
In 2011, 8,000 Australian women underwent breast augmentation surgery.
It’s important for women to be able to make a fully informed decision about whether to get breast implants, including information about how it might affect their breast feeding experience.
What does the research say?
Do breast implants affect breastfeeding? Can breast implants result in low milk supply?
Does breast augmentation affect breastfeeding?
Research into the rates of breastfeeding among women who’ve had breast surgery for silicone implants or saline implants is very limited.
In 2014, a systematic review and meta analysis of the impact of cosmetic breast implants on breastfeeding found a 40% decrease in the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding among mothers with breast implants, compared with those without implants. No details were provided about the duration of exclusive breastfeeding. The review also found similar rates of breastfeeding initiation in women with and without breast implants.
A more recent study (2015) found mothers with breast implants were less likely to provide their babies with any breast milk at the time of hospital discharge. At discharge, 79% of women with breast implants provided breast milk to their babies, compared with 88.5% of women without breast implants.
Among women whose babies received any breast milk, however, it was found that there was no association between breast implants and rates of exclusive breastfeeding.
Can breast implants cause low milk supply?
It’s been suggested that if breast hypoplasia (insufficient glandular tissue, or IGT) is the cause of women receiving breast augmentation surgery, this could also be a reason for reduced breast milk supply among mothers with breast implants.
Insufficient glandular tissue is associated with a particular breast appearance (not necessarily breast size, but breast shape and asymmetry) and causes lactation insufficiency, or low breast milk supply.
You can read more about IGT in BellyBelly’s article Hypoplasia And Breastfeeding | Insufficient Glandular Breast Tissue.
The idea is that breast augmentation procedures might lead a woman to dismiss the lack of pregnancy-induced breast changes and delay the identification of insufficient glandular tissue; this could potentially affect lactation outcome.
Despite this, research found that lactation insufficiency due to IGT is unlikely to be an explanation for lower breastfeeding rates among women with breast implants.
The study found that for women with other children breast fed prior to augmentation surgery, breastfeeding dropped from 87% in the ‘before breast implant’ surgery group to 72% in the ‘after breast implant’ group.
Concerns about breast implantation and breast feeding
There are several potential concerns breastfeeding mothers have with regard to breast implants:
The materials in implants being passed on to babies through breast milk
A possible reason that mothers with silicone breast implants might worry is the potential for transmitting materials from the implants to their babies through their breast milk.
For women with saline filled breast implants, there’s less concern that materials will be passed on to a baby than for those with silicone gel implants. Several health outcomes have been studied among women with silicone breast implants, including mothers of breastfed babies. To date, such studies have not established any adverse health outcomes for breastfed babies.
Studies as recent as 2022, however, have found evidence of the existence of Breast Implant Illness – a condition caused by complications from silicone breast implants.
Symptoms of Breast Implant Illness can include:
- Implant rupture
- Chronic fatigue
- Cognitive dysfunction.
Breastfeeding affecting the results of breast augmentation surgery
A reason that might cause worry in some women – as they might have been told by their surgeons – is that breastfeeding could undo some of the satisfactory results of their augmentation surgery.
Although pregnancy and breastfeeding might change the size and shape of your breasts overall, breastfeeding will not change or compromise the structure of breast implants.
Damage to breast structures
It’s possible that if milk ducts, milk glands, breast tissue or the nerves of the breast are damaged by the surgery, this could affect breast milk production.
The surgical techniques used in breast augmentation can determine whether a mother will go on to establish a full milk supply. Having breast implants placed behind the chest wall is more likely to result in breastfeeding-related complications; however, this is the preferred method for some plastic surgeons as it reduces the risks of complications from surgery.
More research is needed but it seems as though breast augmentation surgery might reduce the overall rate of breastfeeding. There’s every chance, however, that if you have breast implants and breastfeeding is important to you, you will be able to breastfeed. Many women with breast implants breastfeed successfully.
If you have concerns about your breast milk supply, seek breastfeeding support from a lactation consultant.
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