Is It Possible to Breastfeed with Implants?

Brandy R. asks: Is it possible to breastfeed after getting a boob-job?

breastfeedingGiven the well-documented benefits of breastfeeding to the long- and short- term health of children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants for at least the first six months, and continuing to nurse, along with giving supplemental foods, throughout the first year of life. In fact, if one so chooses, babies can get everything they need nutritionally from the mother’s milk up until about a year old, at which point their diet must be supplemented with solid foods. However, many women who have had breast implants fear that they may not be able to breastfeed their children, assuming that their implants will impair their ability to nurse, or at least do so effectively; luckily, this is mostly a myth, and, in fact, most women with implants who wish to do so are able to successfully breastfeed their babies.

The primary determinant in whether or not a woman with implants will be able to successfully nurse is not whether the device consists of silicone or saline, but where and how it was placed. Specifically, according to pediatrician and author of Great Expectations: The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding, Dr. Marianne Neifert, nipple incisions should be avoided, as “all the milk ducts that drain the different lobes . . . convene there;” rather, they recommend making an inframammary incision (under the breast crease) or implanting the device under the chest wall muscle to maximize the probability that one would be able to later successfully breastfeed.

Pressure can also potentially be an issue.  Essentially, the less pressure an implant puts on the mammary gland, the better.  As Dr. Miriam Labbok of the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute notes, “The mammary gland, like any other gland, performs normally when it has blood… and space to grow. But when you put pressure on any gland in the body, you risk it malfunctioning and compromising lactation.”

Many women are also concerned that somehow an implant may leak or otherwise contaminate the baby’s milk, but in truth the risks of leakage with modern implants (in the past decade or two) is negligible. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, women with implants who breastfeed are no more likely to experience post-pregnancy sagging than those without. In fact, for both it isn’t the breastfeeding that causes the droop, it’s the swelling of the breasts caused by the hormones that enlarged them during pregnancy, and the subsequent reduction in breast size when they are absent.

So, in the end, while there is some chance that getting breast implants will result in an inability to breastfeed a baby, for the vast majority who choose to have this surgery (nearly a third of a million women in the U.S. per year), they’ll have no (extra) trouble with breastfeeding when the time comes.

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Bonus Facts:

  • The world’s biggest breast augmentation is 38MMM.  Those mammoth mammaries are sported by Sheyla Hershey, originally from Brazil, taking her about a dozen different surgeries to get up to that size.  While her reasoning behind the surgeries may be essentially vanity (wanting to hold and keep the world record), Sheyla claims her augmented breasts once saved her life during a car accident where she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt.  Her implants functioned something like an air bag, keeping her from smashing her head on the dash or windshield.  Lucky for her, considering the volume of fluids in them, her implants did no burst during the accident.
  • A number of state and federal laws have been enacted to help nursing mothers continue to nourish their babies, whether they return to work or are simply out in public. Under the Affordable Care Act, beginning in March 2010, employers are required to “provide reasonable break time” for nursing mothers to express milk, as well as to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public” (emphasis added). Nursing mothers are also exempted from jury duty in California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Virginia, as well as Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico also requires that many public places, including airports, government centers and shopping malls, provide special accommodations for breastfeeding outside of bathrooms. In Louisiana, childcare facilities are prohibited from discriminating against breastfed infants, and its state-owned buildings must provide special areas for lactation and feeding.
  • New York has some of the most dramatic breastfeeding laws. It has instituted a Breastfeeding Mothers’ Bill of Rights, including the right to have the baby stay with the mother immediately after birth and begin breastfeeding within one hour; to have a trained person give information; to not allow the baby to receive a bottle or pacifiers; and to have the baby stay with the mother 24/7. This New York mandate also includes the right to “breastfeed your baby in any location, public or private, where you are otherwise authorized to be.” In addition, any mother committed to a correctional facility in New York may bring her nursing child, and a child born to an incarcerated woman may stay with its mother for the first year of its life.
  • The word “booby,” in English, first popped up in the sense of “fool” or “dummy” around the late sixteenth century and was within decades applied to birds of the Sula genus. These birds have very large feet that make them look clumsy and foolish when they walk or run, instead of fly. In addition, they would often land on ships and were exceptionally easy to catch, making them popular fair for sailors, who began calling these birds “boobies” for their perceived stupidity. All that said, this etymology is not thought to be where the “boobs” moniker for breasts came from.  More on this in an upcoming article.
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