Have you had your breasts augmented? Are you now wondering whether breastfeeding with implants is possible? It’s a question raised by many new moms and moms-to-be, so you’re not alone on this one.
Let’s take a look at how breast implants can affect breastfeeding. We’ll examine the types of surgery involved in augmentation and the different effects they can have. We’ll also determine whether breastfeeding with implants is possible — you might be surprised by the answer.
How Breast Implants Affect Milk Production
There are several factors which can affect the amount of milk you produce when you have breast implants. These include:
1. Where the Incision Was Made for the Implant
The location of the cut to insert an implant can indicate the amount of damage caused to nerves, blood vessels, milk ducts, and glands. If the nipple or areolas were cut, then it’s likely nerves were cut making breastfeeding more difficult (1).
The nerves located in the nipple and areolas play a part in the hormone signals you need to make and release breast milk. When a baby suckles on the breast, the sensation increases the levels of prolactin and oxytocin. These two hormones are important to milk production (2).
Prolactin triggers production of the milk in the breast and oxytocin triggers the flow, or “letdown,” of the milk. When these nerves are damaged, you might not have enough sensation in this area to signal the brain to deliver these hormones.
This area is also the outlet for the milk ducts in the breasts. Consequently, if the area has been cut for an implant, the amount of milk baby can get might be reduced or be unable to get through at all due to scarring.
2. Bigger Might Not Be Better
Both the size of the implant and its positioning will affect the pressure within the breasts. The glandular tissue in the breast which produces milk is located above a layer of muscle. The larger the implant, the more impact it might have.
An implant placed between the muscle layer and the glandular tissue can exert more pressure on the milk-producing glands. This can lead to a decrease in the amount of milk produced and the ease with which it can flow.
An implant placed below the muscle layer is thought to have less impact on these glands and the production of breast milk.
3. The Effects of Scar Tissue
Following breast implantation, scar tissue can form, causing the breasts to become firm (3). This could lead to improper draining of milk from the breast.
If milk is allowed to build up in the breasts, it can lead to excessive engorgement, plugged ducts or even a painful breast infection, called mastitis. Women who have implants might be more prone to these issues (4).
4. Lack of Functional Breast Tissue
Many women have implants for cosmetic reasons, sometimes because their breasts don’t develop normally. They may refer to their pre-surgery breasts as “tubular,” widely spaced (have a gap of more than 1.5 inches between them) or asymmetrical (5).
5. Feeling and Sensitivity
Following surgery for breast implants, some women experience painful and extremely sensitive breasts. This can make breastfeeding difficult and uncomfortable.
There’s also the possibility of chronic numbness in the nipple area as well. A loss of feeling in your nipples could interfere with the signaling to the brain to release milk-inducing hormones (7).
6. Milk Production When Not Breastfeeding
There are occasions following the insertion of implants when milk production can happen spontaneously.
A milk-filled cyst (called a “galactocele”) could form, or milky discharge from the breast (called “galactorrhea”) can happen (8). In either case, it’s possible the implants may have to be removed (9).
How Surgical Techniques for Implants Affect Breastfeeding
There are different surgical techniques that can be used to insert implants. Let’s take a look at some of them and how they might affect your ability to breastfeed.
1. Inframammary Technique
This is one of the most popular techniques to enlarge the size of your breasts. It involves an incision being made under the breast. The implant is then placed either under the breast tissue or under the muscle.
The scarring from this surgery might not be seen, as it sits where the breast joins the chest wall.
The impact on breastfeeding from this type of surgery is less as it doesn’t interfere with the nerves or glandular tissue. Although, as we have already mentioned, depending on where the implant is placed, milk supply could be reduced.
2. Trans-Axillary Technique
The incision for this procedure is made in the armpit. A specialized camera and instruments are then used to maneuver the implant into the best position. The scar left is small and does not affect the breast itself as the implant is placed under the muscle.
This method gives a good prognosis for breastfeeding as it doesn’t interfere with the nerves or glands of the breast.
3. Periareolar Technique
This involves the surgeon making an incision around the outside edge of the areola. It’s a technique used more often if a mild-to-moderate breast lift is being done simultaneously. The implant is then inserted through this deep incision and moved into place.
On the upside, the scarring with this technique is generally hidden by the darker pigmentation of the areola. The downside is this method can be associated with reduced feeling in the nipples and can cause the most difficulties with breastfeeding.
In fact, one study has shown that women who have had this type of implant surgery are five times more likely to have problems breastfeeding. This could be due to damage to the glandular tissue and milk ducts (10).
4. Transumbilical Technique
With this technique, they enter through the belly button and the implant is then moved into place on top of the muscle in the breast.
This leaves one primary scar which is not on the breast, but tissue damage can occur as the implant is maneuvered into place. This could also cause reduced breast milk supply.
Can Damage to Breast Tissue Be Repaired?
If your breast tissue has been damaged, all is not lost. Our bodies are remarkable machines, and our nerves, ducts, and glands have the potential to repair over time, following breast implant surgery.
Also, when we’re pregnant, the hormones released in the body prepare breasts for feeding a baby. The glandular tissue develops and increases, which could result in sufficient function for breastfeeding (11).
The tissue you still have may compensate for that which has been damaged, but your milk supply might be less. It’s possible, with subsequent pregnancies, that the glandular tissue will grow sufficiently for an improved amount of milk.
It’s also possible to use medications to encourage milk supply (12). Aside from that, “breast compression” during both pumping and breastfeeding can encourage better flow, due to the pressure on the areas with hard tissue buildup.
Can I Breastfeed with Implants?
Now we return to this burning question. As you’ve found out from the information above, the answer is “yes,” in most cases you can.
We have seen there are factors which can affect the amount of milk you will produce. These include the type of surgery, if you have any scarring, and how much glandular breast tissue you have.
That being said, just as with any other mom, there are other things that affect successful breastfeeding, too. These include how well your baby latches on and the use of correct positioning.
There are things you can do to increase the amount of breast milk you produce. A lactation specialist can advise you, so it’s a good idea to make sure you consult with one. Be sure to let her know specifically about your surgery and concerns about milk supply.
They can give you guidance on how to support and increase your milk supply from the time baby arrives, and help you manage any pain you might have. The scar tissue from your implant surgery might make breastfeeding uncomfortable at first.
Breastfeeding frequently during the first few weeks is very important. It all comes down to supply and demand. The more milk your baby demands, the more milk your breasts should produce.
One way to do this is to massage and express your milk, or use an electric breast pump. If you empty your breasts with either of these methods after nursing, you could increase the amount of milk being produced.
Another way that you might increase your breast milk is with the use of herbs known as “galactagogues.” These include fennel, fenugreek, and milk thistle, among others. Certain foods are thought to have “lactogenic” properties, too, including oatmeal, almonds, dried apricots and more.
While some moms have found these foods and herbs to be effective, there’s a lack of scientific evidence to back it up (13). As always, if you’re pregnant, do check with your doctor before taking any herbs, as not all are suitable pre-birth.
Even if you have a reduced amount of breastmilk, you can still breastfeed. You might need to supplement with formula from bottles or use an at-breast supplementing method. This could be necessary to ensure the baby is getting all the food they need to thrive and grow. Be sure to keep in close contact with your baby’s pediatrician and your lactation consultant to be sure all is going well.
Is It Safe to Breastfeed with Implants?
Before we answer this question, let’s look at what implants are made of. There are two types of implants, both of which have a silicone outer shell. These are then filled with either saline (sterile salt water) or silicone gel (14).
Silicone is a synthetic material made up of silicon combined with other elements, like oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. It’s low in toxicity and used in many household and medical items. You’ll find it in catheters, bandages, and contact lenses, as well as shampoos, kitchenware, and even teats for bottles.
You might be concerned as to whether silicon from your implants can pass to baby in your breast milk. Although accurate levels can’t be measured, there is a study which indicates levels of silicon in milk are not elevated in moms with implants. In fact, there was more silicon found in formula milk and cow’s milk than breast milk from women with implants (15).
Another concern might be whether your implants can contribute to birth defects in your baby. The FDA has found that two studies on babies born to moms with breast implants show there is no increased risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that there have not been any clinical reports in recent years that indicate issues from silicon in implants and breastfeeding. They do, however, point out that the research is limited (16).
Weighing It Up
Breast augmentation is the most popular type of cosmetic surgery in the USA. The chances are if you don’t have them yourself, you know someone who does.
Breastfeeding with implants is possible, but some factors could affect the amount of breast milk you produce. The good news is that you can often increase this with good breastfeeding management. Consulting a lactation specialist is also a good idea, as they have the knowledge to help and advise you.
It’s also worth noting that even if your milk supply is less than you would like, even small amounts are a gift for baby. Most importantly, it can help build their immune system.
If you discover that you can’t breastfeed, be comforted in knowing formula will give your baby all the nutrients they need. You can still feel the closeness and bonding by feeding skin-on-skin and having lots of cuddles.