If you have breast implants or you’re contemplating getting them and you’re planning to have kids at some point, you probably have some questions about how breast implants could impact breastfeeding. Can you even breastfeed with implants? Will it make an already commonly arduous experience worse? What if you have the implants removed?
First, let’s talk basics. You definitely should not have the surgery while you’re breastfeeding or while you’re pregnant, and doctors recommend waiting six to nine months after you stop nursing for augmentation so your breasts can stabilize in size.
It’s important to note that there are different types of implants — saline and silicone implants are the two most common implants. Saline implants are approved for people 18 and older and are available in a structured option, also filled with sterile water, but with an inner structure designed to create a more natural feel. Silicone implants are approved for people over 22 and are filled with silicone, which also contributes to mimicking the feel of natural breast tissue. Unlike the saline implants, which will collapse if there’s a leak, silicone implants won’t collapse. There’s also the “gummy bear” implant (firmer because gel is thicker than traditional silicone and it maintains its shape even if there’s a leak) as well as round, smooth and textured implants.
There are also options in regard to where the incision gets made during the implantation procedure. You can decide if you want it made under your arm, along the edge of the areola or in the fold of your breast. The implant can be inserted either under the pectoral muscle, or right behind the breast tissue. How your surgeon positions the implant depends on what kind you’re getting, how much enlargement you want and your body type.
The short answer to the question of whether or not you can breastfeed with implants is that there is no short answer.
“The implant is not in the breast whatsoever,” says Dr. Leslie Stevens, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. “It’s under the breast gland or even under the pectoral muscle, so there is no real connection or impact on milk production, its quality or volume.”
Stevens adds that although there’s a very small risk of the surgery interfering with nursing, the type of incision you get can virtually eliminate that minute possibility. He recommends asking your surgeon to make the incision either under the breast fold or under the armpit to avoid an interaction with the ductal system.
“The true impact of breast augmentation on an individual’s ability to breastfeed is still not well-established,” says Dr. Tamir Mosharrafa, a plastic surgeon in Arizona. “Any breast surgery and the healing process from that surgery could have an impact on breastfeeding. “That being said, it is not common for the removal of breast implants to make a significant difference in a woman’s ability to breastfeed after that surgery.”
Diane DeJesús, who counsels London moms who are breastfeeding and is in training to be an international board-certified lactation consultant, is currently breastfeeding her own son after getting a breast implant in 2010 following a mastectomy.
“Your breast implant surgery may affect your ability to breastfeed if there has been a significant effect on nipple sensation,” she said. If your incision damages the nerves that impact nipple sensation, it can mean that the milk ejection reflex is affected. If a number of milk ducts have been cut during surgery, that can also complicated draining and lead to a diminished milk supply as well as mastitis.
Sara, another lactation consultant who has had breast augmentation surgery, wrote about her experience with breastfeeding at Eden Knows Implants, reminding readers that breastfeeding can be hard whether or not you have implants. After her surgery, Sara was told that she would “most likely” be able to breastfeed. Her incision was in the crease of her breast, and she was able to breastfeed successfully with the exception of some clogged milk ducts.
So how can you prepare yourself for the best possible outcome? Experts recommend looking for a surgeon who has previously worked with people who want to breastfeed after augmentation. Make sure your surgeon knows you’d like to be able to breastfeed in the future so they can make decisions in regard to the size and location of the incision and implant with that in mind. DeJesús recommends working with a lactation consultant while you’re pregnant so you can create a plan of action. She suggests practicing relaxation techniques to provoke milk ejection.
“Surround yourself with wise counsel,” urged Sara in her post on Eden Knows Implants. ”Whether it’s a lactation professional, a grandma who breastfed a few babies, or a friend/partner who knows how to comfort you, create for yourself a supportive village.”