If you survey breastfeeding mothers, they will almost all tell you that very few things can make or break breastfeeding the way support can. If you are encouraged early on by supportive nurses and a lactation specialist, and the people closest to you (such as your husband/significant other, mother, sisters, friends) are supportive of breastfeeding, you are more likely to stick with it. The same is true of the reverse: if your environment isn’t set up to promote nursing (beginning with the nurses at the hospital), then you’re more likely to give up on it if you experience challenges.
This is true, completely outside of a discussion of implants. But, something happens once implants are factored in. There is still an assumption that implants interfere with nursing, or make nursing unsafe. This assumption can sometimes cause the support to wane—and that’s a shame, says Grant Stevens, M.D., F.A.C.S., medical director of Marina Plastic Surgery in Marina del Rey, CA. It’s a very simple metric, Dr. Stevens says: “There is a percentage of women who can’t breastfeed for various reasons. That number isn’t impacted by implants. If you could breastfeed before implants, you can breastfeed after,” he explains.
Underlying Milk Production Problems
What happens, Dr. Stevens says, is that any little hiccup in the breastfeeding process is attributed to the implants. For example, hypoplasia (your breasts’ inability to make enough milk) can make breastfeeding very difficult. Researchers who have studied this have noticed that hypoplastic breasts are often widely spaced apart, asymmetrical (one breast is larger than the other), and/or have a “tubular” appearance (an “empty sack” look). These are all reasons that women seek breast implants. The implants help with the aesthetics, but the underlying problem—not enough glandular tissue—is still there. “If these women [with implants] go on to have babies and attempt to breastfeed them, we may mistakenly assume that the presence of breast implants has caused milk production issues, when in reality the cause is the absence of glandular tissue that preceded the augmentation surgery,” explains a La Leche League article. If you had implants to correct any of these problems, and you are hoping to nurse, it’s definitely worth getting in touch with a lactation consultant early on (while you’re pregnant, even).
Does the Incision Type Impact Nursing?
Yes and no, Dr. Stevens says. Some types of incisions touch the breasts less (and therefore, the milk ducts) than others. In particular, making the incision under the fold of your breast or through the armpit impacts the milk ducts the least amount. There is variability in how skilled your surgeon is as well (it’s extremely important to make sure that your surgeon has specific experience with the type of incision). But even given that, the numbers on implants and breastfeeding still add up to the same thing: implants themselves should not impact your ability to produce breast milk, even if some of the milk ducts are affected.
4 Tips for Breastfeeding with Implants
• Communicate. Make sure to tell your doctor/midwife your history of implants (and any problems that led you to seek implants), so they have a full picture before you deliver. Then, make sure to communicate your intention to breastfeed to the medical staff at the hospital/center where you deliver. If you are working with a lactation consultant, make sure to tell her your history of implants as well.
• Be patient. Having patience when you breastfeed is good general advice for any woman—regardless of implants! Breastfeeding is a completely natural process, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally to all women and all babies. Getting the baby to latch can take practice. Always ask for help from nurses/lactation consultant, and don’t assume any problems you might have are related to implants. It’s a learning process for nearly any woman who breastfeeds.
• Get support. Read forums and articles at places like La Leche League (llli.org). You can also read stories of women who have successfully breastfed with implants. Ask your surgeon, OBGYN, or midwife for other resources they recommend.
• Increase your milk production. If low milk production is a problem, ask your lactation consultant about ways to increase milk production (such as pumping, breast compression, or substances that increase milk production).