Alternatives: When Implants Aren't the Answer

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Breast implants are not the right answer for every woman dissatisfied with her breasts. The initial cost may be a deterrent (the cost of the implant, along with the surgeon, hospital, and anesthesia fees—plus, the potential recovery time). But there are other longer-term factors that weigh into the decision of whether or not to get implants, says Grant Stevens, M.D., F.A.C.S., medical director of Marina Plastic Surgery in Marina del Rey, CA. “Maintenance, longevity, and future expenses,” he says. Implants are not lifetime devices, so the decision to get implants now can lead to a series of decisions in the future. So, what are your other options?

The Fat Augmentation Alternative
Breast implants offer a more dramatic change. But some women are looking for a more subtle change; they just want to restore some of the fullness of their breasts—often after breastfeeding. Many plastic surgeons are now offering free fat transfer, or fat grafting. With this procedure, the surgeon harvests fat from the unwanted areas (like hips, thighs, belly, and arms) through liposuction, and injects it into your breast tissue. The key is getting the fat cells to establish themselves in the breast tissue—to get a blood supply so that they can thrive. Not all fat cells injected will survive. “Usually, about 60 to 80 percent of the fat graft lives and thrives,” Dr. Stevens says. That’s enough to offer a subtle augmentation and restoration of fullness—which may be exactly what you need.

When You Need a Lift
If your issue with your breasts is less about their size and more about their position (as in, their sagginess), a better alternative might be a breast lift (mastopexy). With a breast lift, the surgeon is able to actually “lift” your breasts to a higher, more youthful position on your chest. There are different kinds of techniques, and each involves different degrees of scarring. In a more standard breast lift, skin from the lower part of your breasts is removed; the surgeon makes the area around the nipple smaller, and then moves the nipple to a higher position on the breast. The surgeon also takes skin from the top part of your breast and moves it to the lower pole of the breast (for support). There are also smaller scale breast lifts. It’s all about the look you want to achieve: ask your surgeon to walk you through the details.

Learning to Love Your Breasts
If you opt not to have any surgeries—whether it’s for financial reasons, or if you’re just uncomfortable with the risks—it’s all about getting to a place where you can accept and appreciate your breasts. Here are three tips for learning to love your breasts as they are.

• Appreciate what your body can do. If you’ve had babies and nursed them, start by appreciating the role your breasts were able to play in nourishing your baby. But even if you haven’t breastfeed, you can still appreciate qualities of your body, like strength. Focus on the things your physical body has been able to accomplish, like running a 10k race (or whatever athletic pursuit most interests you). And finally, appreciate your health— and more specifically, your breast health.

• Positive self-talk. Change the way you talk to yourself about your body, and specifically, your breasts. Notice when your thoughts contain negative, all-or-nothing language, like, “I’ll never be happy with my breasts.” Work to replace those negative thoughts with new thoughts, such as, “My breasts are beautiful as they are,” or “My breasts are part of me, and I love myself.”

• Focus on what makes you feel sexy. Look for what you feel is “right” about your body, instead of what’s wrong with it. Ask your romantic partner what parts of your body they love, whether it’s your hair, your skin, your arms, or even your feet! Really notice and pay attention to those parts of your body.