One of the most common questions we are asked by younger patients who are thinking about breast augmentation surgery is “But will I still be able to breastfeed with implants?”
It’s an understandable concern. Childbirth and breastfeeding are important life events for many women.
Fortunately, if you have healthy breast tissue before your breast augmentation surgery, and if your surgeon knows you are hoping to maintain your ability to breastfeed in the future, you should be able to breastfeed without difficulty after your surgery.
Breast Anatomy, Implants, and Breastfeeding
Many patients find an understanding of breast anatomy helps them feel better about having breast implants placed before they are finished with their childbearing/breastfeeding years.
- Breast envelope: Your breast envelope refers to the skin covering your breast structure. It’s often referred to as the “bag” that holds your fatty/glandular tissue.
- Inframammary fold: The inframammary fold is the line at the bottom of your breast where your breast tissue meets your chest.
- Nipple-areolar complex: The nipple-areolar complex is an essential part of the breast, both in terms of appearance and function. It contains specialized cells critical to draining and expressing breast milk.
- Glandular tissue: Each breast has 15 to 20 lobes of glandular tissue that produce milk and are connected by small tubes, or ducts, to a reservoir just under your nipple.
- Fatty tissue: Fatty, or adipose, tissue is what gives your breasts their volume.
- Pectoralis major/minor: These chest muscles sit under your glandular/fatty tissue and above your chest wall. They are responsible for stabilizing your scapula and moving your arms.
- Chest wall: Your chest wall includes the bones (ribs, sternum, and spine) that protect your heart, lungs, and liver.
Breast Augmentation Surgery
It’s important to let your surgeon know if you want to be able to breastfeed after your breast augmentation surgery, as it can determine the location and type of incision used and the placement of your implants.
If breastfeeding after surgery is important to you, your surgeon will likely place your implant using an incision in the inframammary fold instead of around your areola, which would cut the nerves needed to activate the letdown reflex. There is also the potential that a periareolar incision will sever some of your milk ducts, which will affect milk supply.
If you’re not done having children, your implants will most likely be placed under your pectoral muscles to avoid impacting the mammary glands that produce breast milk. Placing implants under your chest muscle is the most common surgical technique for breast augmentations, but telling your surgeon you want to be able to breastfeed later will make sure special care is taken to preserve as much glandular tissue and as many ducts/nerves as possible.
Steps to Take When Breastfeeding with Implants
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t expect to immediately have an augmentation after giving birth or seek an augmentation while you’re still pregnant or breastfeeding. While most women with implants do not experience breastfeeding complications, it’s never a bad idea to take steps to maximize your milk supply.
This is particularly true if you had small, asymmetrical, or tubular breasts before your augmentation. Women in these categories may have struggled to produce an adequate amount of milk even without implants due to potentially insufficient glandular tissue.
So what can you do to set yourself up for breastfeeding after breast augmentation?
1. Meet with a lactation specialist
Meeting with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) will get you started on the right foot. These specialists are extremely knowledgeable about all the issues and emotions that come with breastfeeding and can help you manage the process and your expectations.
A lactation consultant will ensure your baby is latching on to your nipple correctly, which plays a key role in the development of milk supply. They may also recommend herbal supplements to increase your milk production.
Most women experience pain and discomfort in the early days of breastfeeding, and internal scar tissue from your augmentation surgery can make breastfeeding uncomfortable. Lactation consultants can help manage any pain you may experience, whether related to your augmentation or not.
2. Maintain proper nutrition and hydration
Robust milk production depends on you staying well-hydrated and eating enough nutrient-dense calories. If you want to breastfeed, you shouldn’t be on a diet or actively trying to lose weight. In fact, your body requires the same number of calories to breastfeed as it did when you were pregnant. Breast milk is 90% water, and it’s standard to recommend you drink ½ to ¾ an ounce of water per pound you weigh when you aren’t breastfeeding. That is about 65 ounces of water for a 130-pound person and 88+ ounces for a 175-pound person.
3. Empty your breasts often and regularly
Whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or combining pumping/breastfeeding, regularly emptying your breasts of milk tells your body to increase production. If your baby only nurses on one side, be sure to pump/express milk from the other breast every time.
4. Don’t be afraid to supplement
Remember that using formula is not a failure. Women across the world, whether they have implants or not, frequently find that they are unable to produce enough milk for a variety of reasons. Using formula to help your baby continue to grow and gain weight while still providing the benefits of breast milk is a wonderful way to start your child in life.
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You should only seek plastic surgery treatment from board-certified plastic surgeons who are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. ABPS certification is only granted to surgeons who have completed six years of highly rigorous and tightly regulated residency training in plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Many physicians who say they are “board-certified” are certified by a for-profit organization with far fewer competency requirements. You should always check the ABPS website to make sure your surgeon has truly earned their board-certified designation.
Dr. Daniel Maman is a nationally-recognized expert in cosmetic and reconstructive breast surgery & body contouring. Areas of focus include breast augmentation, breast lift, breast reduction, breast implant revision & breast reconstruction. Dr. Maman specializes in “Mommy Makeover”, involving simultaneous breast and body contouring procedures. His goal in establishing Maman Plastic Surgery was simple: to redefine the standard of quality care and outcomes in plastic surgery, offering the most contemporary surgical techniques and clinically proven procedures in a more modern, personalized environment.