A lot of women who have undergone breast augmentation may wonder if they will be able to breastfeed if they go on to have children. Will an infant struggle to latch? Is it even safe? And will the physical changes that come with pregnancy and nursing make it necessary to get new implants later on? Ahead, experts weigh in on nursing post-augmentation, while moms who have implants share their experiences.
What experts say
In most cases, “women with breast implants can successfully breastfeed, Dr. Gary Motykie, a plastic surgeon in private practice in Beverly Hills, tells Yahoo Life. While many women with implants don’t require any additional support to nurse, some “may require extra patience and attention to breastfeeding techniques,” Motykie adds.
Because breast implants may affect nipple sensation, some women with implants have a hard time determining whether the baby is latching correctly, Motykie says. According to one study by researchers in Israel, breastfeeding women with implants are significantly more likely to develop mastitis, a painful inflammation of the breast tissue. Nursing women with implants also face the same complications as women without implants, including clogged ducts and breast engorgement, Dr. Joyce Gottesfeld, an ob-gyn at Kaiser Permanente in Denver, tells Yahoo Life. As a result, she says, it’s important for all nursing women to follow good breastfeeding techniques and get help from their doctor or lactation consultant if they experience any difficulties nursing.
While the most common breastfeeding complication reported among women with saline and silicone implants was insufficient milk production (which 19% of women experienced regardless of implant type), researchers noted that “the incidence was comparable to reports in the general population of women who breastfeed.” Motykie explains that a reduced supply usually occurs when the implant surgery impacts the milk ducts and glandular tissue responsible for milk production. Dr. Jessica Madden, a pediatrician, neonatologist and lactation consultant who also serves as medical director for Aeroflow Breastpumps, tells Yahoo Life that implant surgery “can lead to scarring of breast tissues, disruption of milk ducts and damage to nerves involved in milk ‘let-down’ and release,” although these complications are not caused by the implants themselves.
According to Motykie, implants placed under the chest muscle, as opposed to on top of the muscle, are less likely to interfere with breastfeeding. That’s because implants placed under the muscle “have less direct contact with the milk ducts and glandular tissue in the breast, which reduces the chance that milk supply or flow will be impacted,” he explains.
But what about the breast milk itself? Motykie explains that it’s safe to feed with breast implants since they do not typically affect the quality of breast milk in any way. According to Gottesfeld, “there is no increase in silicone levels in the milk of women with implants versus those without.”
But while there aren’t any risks involved specifically in nursing with implants, Motykie says that “there are risks associated with breast implants in general.” Those include the risk of infection, implant rupture and changes in breast sensation. “These risks persist during pregnancy and breastfeeding,” he notes.
That said, Madden says that even in the unlikely event of an implant rupture while nursing, “there is a very low likelihood that any of the material in it would actually get into breast milk.”
So, what’s it like to breastfeed — or try to, at least — with breast implants? Here’s what three moms have to say.
‘I did not require any extra support’
Jennifer Cougill got implants five years before having children — she’s now a mom of two — but wanted to retain the ability to nurse. “I specifically had implants placed underneath the muscle ... to not disrupt the milk glands and potentially have less damage to the nerves around the nipple,” she tells Yahoo Life. Cougill says that her surgeon told her she would be able to breastfeed with implants, but she still worried about having trouble and missing out on the experience of nursing. Fortunately, Cougill was able to go on to successfully nurse her two sons, who are now 1 and 4 years old.
“I did not require any extra support,” she shares. “No issues with latching. Quite honestly, it was amazing.” She adds, “I will never forget the positive flood of emotions I experienced” when her first son latched on to her breast.
Although Cougill considers her breastfeeding journey successful, she also had some complications. With each of her sons, she experienced mastitis multiple times. When she had mastitis for the last time with her younger son, Cougill required antibiotics. “Shortly afterward, my milk dried up,” she says. Cougill also had some capsular contraction, or scar tissue, around her implants, and believes that either mastitis or breastfeeding made the condition worse.
‘The implants were in my body while I was pregnant, so if there are unknown risks he was already exposed’
Amanda McDonald tells Yahoo Life that she was concerned about nursing with implants while expecting her son, who is now a teenager. Ultimately she decided to breastfeed because she “rationalized that the implants were in my body while I was pregnant, so if there are unknown risks he was already exposed.” She also felt that nursing was healthier than using formula, though there’s a lot of data, and debate, on this subject. Looking back, she thinks she made the right choice, and had no issues to report.
‘I felt like a failure as a mom’
For Caren Diane Uithol, a mother of two, nursing “did not go as planned.” She says that her newborn son was “not enthusiastic about breastfeeding” and that her “breast had formed a hardness that made it difficult for him to latch on.” Uithol says that after several weeks of challenges, including “cracked and bloodied” nipples, she asked other new mothers for help. Eventually she realized that she, like Cougill, had capsular contraction. When advanced, this condition can cause the breast to become hard. As a result, breastfeeding “was not pleasant for either of us,” Uithol says, and she stopped nursing altogether. “I was so disappointed ... I felt like a failure as a mom.”
She removed her implants before getting pregnant a second time. “I had a very successful breastfeeding experience with my second child,” she says.
What happens after pregnancy and breastfeeding?
Due to hormonal changes, it’s normal for breast size to change during pregnancy and nursing for women with and without implants, Motykie tells Yahoo Life. Some women with implants are unhappy with the changes in their breasts and elect to get new implants or a reduction after they are finished nursing. However, this is largely a matter of personal preference, Motykie says.
McDonald’s breasts went from a C cup to a “large DD” post-pregnancy and nursing. “I thought that my breasts would return to their normal size after I finished nursing, but that did not happen,” she says. She opted to put off surgery until the end of her implants’ life cycle, but she plans on getting smaller implants when the time comes. Cougill, meanwhile, had a different experience and says that while her breasts grew “much larger” while nursing, they returned to their prepregnancy size after she stopped breastfeeding.
The importance of taking care of yourself
For any woman who wants to breastfeed, with or without implants, Gottesfeld says to stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep and ensure you are eating well. “Whatever happens, try not to be too hard on yourself. Being a mom is hard enough,” she says. “The most important thing is you don’t have to do this alone.”