Life & Style

Breastfeeding With Implants: All The Important Questions, Answered


To know some basic facts about if you can breastfeed with implants or if you have a particular question in mind, just keep reading. 

Before we start this blog, we emphasize that women with milk supply problems should tell the baby’s doctor that they have had breast surgery. Their babies need closer follow-up to make sure growth and weight gain are normal. A lactation consultant is your biggest resource in this case.

Can You Breastfeed With Implants? 

With breast augmentation and breast reduction being so open and commonly accepted, you might wonder if you can breastfeed with implants. 

While every pregnancy and child is different, a 2014 study from Rosario (Sanatorio de la Mujer and Centro Quirúrgico Rosario), Argentina showed that the percentage of women who successfully breastfeed is roughly the same in women with breast implants and women without breast implants. 

But there are some women who undergo breast augmentation who cannot. For example, when it comes to implants, they can affect a mother’s capacity to produce a full milk supply. 

What affects breastfeeding when you have implants?

As we’ve mentioned above, implants affect the production of full milk. The milk supply “boils down to” or depends on the type of surgery involved and the amount of damage to nerves or breast tissue, how much remaining functional milk-making (glandular) tissue exists both before and after the procedure and lastly, any possible scarring in the milk ducts. 

Women who had mastectomies done and then go on to have breast implant reconstruction surgeries may not be able to breastfeed on the affected side due to loss of breast tissue and the glands that produce milk.

LOCATION OF THE CUT: 

Now we know that how you got cut can damage your nerves, breast tissue and milk ducts. So, the location of the implant incision(the cut) may affect breastfeeding. 

  • Implants inserted under the fold of the breast or under the arm are least likely to damage important nerves and milk ducts. 
  • Implants inserted at the edge of the areola may affect nipple sensation, reducing both milk release and milk supply.  
  • The 4th intercostal nerve is the main nerve that provides sensation to the nipple and areola. Stimulation of this nerve also triggers the release of the breastfeeding hormones oxytocin (for milk release or “let-down”) and prolactin (for milk production) from the brain. The damaged nerves can affect the reflex needed for milk production and make it difficult to know when a baby’s attachment at the breast (latch) feels comfortable.
  • Scar tissue from implant surgery may occasionally block milk ducts. Anything that cuts across or damages the ducts or glands can interrupt the exit route for milk via the nipple or the capacity of the breast to make a full milk supply. If the milk can’t drain freely from the breast, women with breast implants may be more prone to excessive engorgement and mastitis. 
  • Breast drainage may be affected, especially during periods of unusual breast fullness.  Women with implants sometimes need extra help during the engorgement phase, and may be more prone to mastitis (breast infection). 

POSITION OF THE IMPLANT:

The female breast is made up of glandular or milk-making tissue above a layer of muscle. If the implant packet is placed between the glandular tissue and the muscle layer, it is said to be more likely to exert pressure on the ducts and glands which may interfere with milk flow and decrease milk production. 

Conversely, when the implant is placed beneath the muscle layer this is said to have less impact on milk production. A study from Wambach and Riordan states that the implant under the muscle allows better mammography visualisation. 

COMPLICATIONS: 

Many times, breast implants require corrective procedures. Complications during corrections can include long-term pain, hardening of the breast around the implant (capsular contracture), surgical removal of scar tissue, repeat breast uplift procedure, change of implant type, location or size, pressure within the breast and infection. 

In the end, the good news is that some glands and ducts can reinnervate or repair themselves after being damaged. For example, the glandular tissue itself also continues to develop thanks to pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones, and areas of the breast that are functioning normally may help compensate for any damaged areas. While a mother might only produce a partial milk supply for her first baby after implant surgery, the babies she has later may enjoy an improved supply. 

Will pregnancy ruin my breast implants?

The size of your breast implants, as well as the size of your breasts prior to surgery, may also play a factor in your outcome after pregnancy. It’s best to wait until you reach 6 months postpartum, or even longer if you are still nursing, to assess the state of your breast implants.

How long after breastfeeding can I get implants?

It is recommended that you wait at least six months after the time you finish breastfeeding your baby before having a breast uplift or breast augmentation so that your results are natural and long-lasting.

Will my breast implants sag after pregnancy?

This is one of the largest myths about breastfeeding after implant and other breast surgeries. 

Breastfeeding has not been shown to cause breast sagging in women with or without implants. But it is common for breasts to sag more with each pregnancy. 

A recent study from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons has found that mothers who have had breast implant surgery and who believe that breastfeeding will cause their breasts to sag are far less likely to succeed with breastfeeding than those who don’t hold this belief.

The researchers pointed out that breastfeeding has no signs to cause breast sagging in women with or without implants. Although breasts sag more with each pregnancy, breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily worsen these effects in women with or without breast implants.

Can breast implants cause birth defects?

Children who are breastfed and born inside the womb of a mother who had a silicone implant done, could have risks. Transmammary or transplacental delivery of silicone during either breast feeding or in the womb is the issue. 

Silicone breast implants may cause transmission since periprosthetic breast tissue, regional lymph nodes, and possibly more distant sites in such women are exposed to silicone fluid by gel fluid diffusion. 

However, there are currently no established methods of study for accurately detecting silicone levels in breast milk. One study measuring the levels of  silicon amounts did not show signs of higher levels in breast milk from women with silicone gel-filled implants when compared to women without implants.

Concerns have been raised on the potential damaging effects on children born to mothers with implants. Two studies in children have found no increased risk of birth defects in children born to mothers who have had breast implant surgery. However, a low birth weight was reported in another third study, other factors like lower pre-pregnancy weight may explain this finding.

How can I lift my breasts after breastfeeding?

To allow nursing your breast tissue and milk-producing glands enlarge and become fuller. Once you’ve finished breastfeeding, they de-swell and go back down to their previous size. You may then notice that your breasts are softer and less full than when you were nursing, resulting in a droopy appearance. Here is how you can help to lift them: 

Ease Into A Workout Lifestyle

Toning the pectoral muscles will give your boobs a slightly more lifted appearance. And at the same time give your body an opportunity to adjust to all of these changes. An abrupt change in size means loose, excess skin, particularly around the breasts that can no longer bounce back. Eat healthy and work out in moderation if you want to slim down in a safe and sustainable manner. 

Posture

Hunched shoulders and poor posture mean unsupported and saggy breasts. 

Eat less animal fat

As opposed to high-cholesterol saturated animal fats consume other fats such as olive oil, vitamin B, and vitamin E which combat wrinkles and improve your skin’s tone and elasticity.

Nursing Comfortably

Reduce stretching by propping your newborn up on a pillow and raising your breast to a comfortable height when breastfeeding. Avoid leaning over and angling your breasts downward because as time goes by, daily feedings will only aggravate droopiness. 

A Good Bra

You breasts need to remain well-supported through the indubitable changes of pregnancy. Start by picking a new bra with the right bra size. 

Wean Your Baby Slowly

When you are beginning to wean your baby, it’s important to carry it out gradually to allow fatty tissues enough time to redeposit in your breasts. Reduce the frequency of nursing sessions little by little in order to restore the breasts pre-pregnancy form. 

Quit Smoking 

Studies have shown that smoking significantly reduces your skin’s ability to repair any damage done to it. The regeneration of skin cells in your body is hindered by heavy tobacco use, leading to premature aging, dryness, and wrinkles. Preserve the shapeliness of your breasts by saying no to cigarettes.   

Surgery

For future surgeries after breastfeeding, you can lift your breast carefully for breast implantation. The inframammary and axillary surgical techniques are thought to have less impact on milk production. 

  • Inframammary technique is currently the most popular technique for breast enlargement. The incision is made under the breast and the implant is placed under the breast tissue or muscle. The scar may not be visible if it is in the inframammary crease (where the breast meets the chest wall). This technique leaves the glandular tissue and nerves intact so has less impact on milk production.
  • Axillary enlargement or transaxillary technique involves inserting the implant under the muscle via an incision under the arm near the armpit. Saline implants tend to be favoured under the muscle (Wambach and Riordan, 2015). Scarring is generally invisible and, as above, the technique leaves the glandular tissue and nerves intact.

Can you breastfeed with implants and lift?

There is a greater likelihood of damaged tissues where a breast is has remodelled (a breast lift) alongside augmentation.

Many mothers who have undergone breast implants can produce milk but it may be full milk production. That’s because the nerves, milk ducts and functional milk-making (glandular) tissue are affected. The good news is that upon being pregnant your milk ducts that were severed during surgery may grow back together or form new pathways, and nerves may regain functionality, enabling the mother to produce milk. 

It’s incredibly important for those with implants and lifts to carefully monitor their baby for adequate weight gain. Some mothers may have had underdeveloped (hypoplastic) breasts prior to having breast surgery. 

Can you pump with implants?

When your breast stops producing milk (which can happen to women with or without implants), you can use your pump after breastfeeding to stimulate continued or increased milk production. This can be done on the only one breast which is producing milk for breastfeeding.

As breast implants are designed to mimic the look and feel of real breast tissue, there is no reason they should inhibit the functionality of a breast pump. But take these points into consideration: 

  • Observe if your pump has a strength or suction regulator and start at the lowest level. You can increase this slowly over time depending on your comfort. As you increase the strength, dont allow pain or pressure on your implants. If you do experience any pain, stop the pump, reposition everything and begin again.
  • Prevent irritation to your nipples and breast skin by avoiding dry pumping. If you have decreased sensation in your nipples, or if your nerves were damaged by breast surgery, your milk may not let down normally but do not dry pump. 

Will pumping damage my breast implants?

Remember that while breast implants are not lifetime devices, they are built to withstand the normal “wear and tear” of life. Even the highest strength of pump suction is far less pressure compared to what your baby creates when breastfeeding directly from the nipple.

Can implants cause mastitis?

Women with implants sometimes need extra help during the engorgement phase, and may be more prone to mastitis which is a breast infection.  Engorgement happens when the milk can’t drain freely from the breast. 

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast which can be caused by a reaction to a build up of breast milk sitting in the breast. If the pressure of milk in the breast gets too high as a woman’s breasts are over full or engorged, it has been said that some of the components of breast milk leak into the surrounding breast tissue causing inflammation. Mastitis is relatively common. 

The symptoms of mastitis can include:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as feeling achey, shivery or run down, headache
  • Soreness, pain, heat and swelling (inflammation) in the breast
  • A painful lump or sore spot inside the breast
  • Areas of red or pink skin on the surface of the breast, may include red streaks or lines
  • Pumped breast milk can be lumpy or clumpy 
  • High sodium levels in breast milk making it taste saltier

If you keep getting episodes of mastitis or blocked ducts your IBCLC lactation consultant can be very helpful to identify the most likely reasons. They will review your history, and check whether your positioning, latch or breastfeeding management could be the cause for mastitis to keep returning. Other risk factors for recurring mastitis include:

  • The original infection or mastitis which is not treated correctly. 
  • Mother being anaemic or very stressed 
  • Breastfeeding on a schedule (e.g. timing or limiting feeds)
  • Recurring blocked ducts
  • Previous breast surgery e.g. breast implants, reduction surgery or any other causes of scarring within the breast.
  • Stopping breastfeeding abruptly on the affected side during an episode of mastitis. 
  • Mastitis may be worsened by a diet that is rich in saturated fats. Eating more polyunsaturated fatty acids and adding lecithin to the mother’s diet may be helpful (Lawrence, 2016). 
  • A diet that is very high in omega-6 fatty acids but has markedly fewer anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids may promote inflammation in the body including breast tissue. 

If mastitis keeps coming back, check your baby’s latch and positioning with your breastfeeding specialist or IBCLC lactation consultant and contact your medical professional.

Bonding with your child during breastfeeding is one of the most special aspects of having a child. More often than not, you won’t face problems with your breast implants. 

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