Can I breastfeed if I have had breast surgery?

So, the simple answer would be – usually!

There is a really good chance that you would be able to breastfeed after having breast surgery, though you may face some challenges, but then again, many women who breastfeed face challenges and some of them are not unique to having had breast surgery.  

If you haven’t had surgery yet and are considering augmentation surgery and also considering that you may want to breastfeed in the future make sure you tell your breast surgeon so they can advise you on the optimal techniques to minimise any damage to the main milk tissue, ducts and nerves.

There have been numerous studies on this topic but a large study on more than 4500 women with breast augmentation found that the vast majority could breastfeed with no complications.  This study found that the most common problem was insufficient milk production, this affected around 20% of women or 1 in 5 women if that helps to understand the impact better. Although studies have found that perceived low milk supply is the main cause of any breastfeeding mother to stop breastfeeding and this is estimated to occur in at least 30% of women – so this does tell us that women who have had augmentation are more able to manage this issue.

Below are the main challenges that women have reported following augmentation surgery:

Low milk supply: this will be very dependent on how the surgery was done and the trauma to the milk ducts and nerves in and around the nipple and areola.

Inhibited let down:  your let down reflex is stimulated when baby is near the breast or begins to suckle.  This is a hormonal response that releases the milk as baby feeds. If the nerves to your nipples were damaged during surgery, they may have lost sensitivity, and that will decrease the bio feedback mechanism that stimulates the reflex.

Sore nipples: surgery may make your nipples more sensitive which can make breastfeeding more difficult and painful.

Engorgement: this is a normal physiological response in the first few days of breastfeeding for any mother but breast implants will take up more room in the breasts so they are at an increased risk for developing an exaggerated breast engorgement.

Mastitis: this literally means inflammation of the breast tissue and if it develops can be painful.  A study on more than 28,000 women showed that there was an increase in the risk of mastitis in the first 6 months with breast augmentation.  (The risk was identified as occurring in 8.3% of women with implants and 6.6% for those without)

Nurse hand taking surgical instrument for group of surgeons at background operating patient in surgical theatre. Steel medical instruments ready to be used. Surgery and emergency concept

So far we have identified that the main challenge is insufficient milk production and this is impacted by:

  • The type of incision used
  • If there was damage caused to milk ducts, glandular tissue, and the nerves
  • An incision made around the areola (the circle of pigmented skin around your nipple) which is more likely to sever milk ducts and affect the nerves that play a role in breastfeeding. (It has been noted that incisions that are made under the breast (where the breast meets the chest wall) or through the armpit usually cause little damage).

The location of the implants can also have an impact – if the implants are placed over the muscle, known as retroglandular implants, they are more likely to cause pressure on the surrounding milk ducts and glands which could slow down milk production. Those women who had implants placed below the pectoral muscle were significantly more likely to be successful at breastfeeding than those who had the implant above.

Sometimes following surgery you can develop scar tissue, and this can cause pain or numbness and is this extends into the milk duct it is likely to impact on the milk supple. If you are experiencing numbness this could indicate that you have some nerve damage.

Why did you have breast surgery?

Small breasts: If you simply just wanted augmentation for larger breasts then the chances of successful breastfeeding are high.

Hypoplastic breasts: these are breasts that have not developed sufficient breast tissue, and this is a condition that you are born with.  You may not even know as hypoplastic breasts can be any size or shape and it is only when you are trying to feed your baby that you realise that your breasts are not filling with milk.

If you have had surgery due to hypoplastic breasts you may have challenges with milk production – this is also the case if you have not had any surgery. Although implants will increase the size of your breasts there is still insufficient breast tissue for milk production.

Mastectomy: if you have had breast augmentation after a mastectomy you will not be able to feed from that breast due to the loss of breast tissue and glands that produce milk.  It is possible to feed exclusively from one breast so this would only be an issue if you have had to have a double mastectomy.

A surgeon drawing lines on a womans breasts to get ready for surgery - blog image for can I breastfeed if I have had breast surgery

When did you have the surgery?

This is an important question.

If you did cause trauma to the breast tissue or nerves they can actually repair themselves but this does take time.  Therefore, the longer that it has been since surgery and becoming pregnant the more likely that any damaged tissue has had the time to heal and be able to produce the milk.

Also, the average time from placement of the implants to revisions (replacing the implants) is seven years. Revisions can further damage nerves and tissue, and increase the risk of challenges with milk production.

Even if surgery has caused any trauma to the parts of the breast responsible for milk production, most mothers can still produce some breast milk – and any amount of breast milk that baby has is beneficial!

What can I do to ensure success?

All new mothers need support with breastfeeding so do not feel that you cannot access the help and support you need – but it will absolutely be worth putting some things in place to maximise you chance of success!

Find a local lactation consultant: a lactation consultant is specially trained to support breastfeeding mothers.  They are different to a midwife or health visitor but unfortunately they are often self employed and there will be a requirement to pay but if you find one that is local to you they will be worth their weight in gold! (We love Alison at The Latch)

A lactation consultant can begin to work with you before baby is born and help you to prepare but after the birth they will get you off to a great start by making sure that your baby is latching on well and giving you self help techniques for good positioning.

Feed, feed, feed: you get the picture!  Put baby to the breast as soon as baby is born and keep doing so – even if you do not feel that baby is getting the colostrum (and then the milk) the more often your baby feeds the more your body will get the signal to produce milk.  A breast pump can also help with this before and after the baby is born.

Learn about your baby’s behaviour: knowledge is power and it is even more powerful when you can apply it to your own individual circumstances.  When you understand what is normal for your baby you will be aware of when to seek more help and support if there is a problem.  For example baby should produce frequent wet and dirty nappies and these will decrease if milk supply is low. Baby may also lose weight or be slow to gain weight and this can indicate the need for further support.

A woman breastfeeding her baby successfully after breast surgery

One final note

There has been a lot in the media about the risk of silicone implants.  In the event that you have had silicone breast implants be reassured that there is NO known risk to baby if you breastfeed.  In fact, formula milk actually contains more of the element silicone than breast milk from mothers who have had implants.

Some women are also concerned that breastfeeding may affect the look of the breasts (particularly if you have had implants for cosmetic reasons).  We know that breastfeeding can change the appearance of your breast due to the increase in breast tissue but a study at Yale University School of Medicine found no differences in measurement or sagging of the breasts caused by breastfeeding in women with implants versus women with implants who did not breastfeed.

Thank you to Jo Parkington (CEO of Epical Global, midwife, entrepreneur) for contributing your wisdom!

10% off your next order?

Yes please

Website by Cognique

  • Visa
  • Mastercard
  • PayPal
All search results
My Basket