Can I breastfeed With Breast Implants?

QUESTION

Dear Lactation Consultant,
I breastfed both of my kids, now seven and three years old, with no problem. I got breast implants about a year and a half ago and I was wondering if I might expect any problems breastfeeding with implants.

I am five weeks pregnant and I really want to breastfeed this baby also.

Tracy

ANSWER

Hi Tracy,
Any woman who has had breast, chest, or cardiac surgery should check with her surgeon to see if any functional breast tissue was affected by the procedure. Breast augmentation usually doesn't involve severing milk ducts or destruction of functional breast tissue, and is usually compatible with lactation. On the other hand, breast reduction is a much more invasive surgery that almost always has an adverse effect on lactation.Anytime a surgeon performs invasive surgery on the breasts, there is the possibility of damage to the milk ducts, and some mothers who have had implants do experience problems with milk supply, plugged ducts, and engorgement. These problems are usually fairly minor, and rarely prevent the mother from breastfeeding successfully.

A lot depends on whether or not the surgeon who performed the procedure made a deliberate effort to leave the blood supply and nerve pathways intact. If the incision is made around the areola, rather than under the breast or armpit, then there is more of a risk of breastfeeding problems and a loss of sensation.

Most implants now are filled with saline rather than silicone. There has been a lot of concern about silicone implants leaking into the breastmilk, but studies have shown that the risk is small and the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risk of silicone leakage. There is about a 1.5% chance that the implants will leak, but since silicone isn't absorbed into the GI tract, it is unlikely that it would get into your milk.

Mothers who have had breast surgery need to closely monitor the baby's weight gain to establish the potential need for supplemental feedings. Chances are that you will not encounter serious problems with nursing, but even if it turns out that enough milk ducts have been damaged to significantly reduce your milk production, you can still breastfeed while offering supplements. Nursing is more than just a feeding method, so your baby can still derive the emotional as well as nutritional benefits of breastmilk even if you don't produce enough breastmilk to feed him exclusively.

All the best,
-- Anne, IBCLC

Kathleen Tackett

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Research Associate Professor of Psychology specializing in women's health at the Family Research Lab, University of New Hampshire. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in both the Divisions of Health Psychology and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a La Leche League leader, chair of the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce, and the Area Coordinator of Leaders for La Leche League of Maine and New Hampshire.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is author of more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and other publications, and author or editor of 15 books including The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood (2005, Hale Publications), Depression in New Mothers (2005, Haworth), and Breastfeeding Made Simple, co-authored with Nancy Mohrbacher (2005, New Harbinger). She is on the editorial boards of the journals Child Abuse and Neglect, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse and the Journal of Human Lactation, and regularly reviews for 27 other journals in the fields of trauma, women's health, interpersonal violence, depression, and child development. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is the "Ask a Lactation Consultant" columnist on Pregnancy.org and serves on the Board of Directors of Attachment Parenting International.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in psychology from California State University, Chico, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in social and developmental psychology. She has won several awards including the Outstanding Research Study Award from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and was named 2003 Distinguished Alumna, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, California State University, Chico.