According to Ena Pieterse, a lactation consultant from La Leche League South Africa, your ability to breastfeed depends on the type of surgery you had and how successful it was. “If the surgeon takes the areola out and places the implant in this way, it can be an issue as the risk of damaging milk ducts is increased. If the surgeon uses an incision under the breast to place the implant under the breast muscle, thereby avoiding the milk ducts, this is rarely an issue,” she explains.
Even if the milk ducts are partially damaged, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to breastfeed. “Your body and milk supply will adapt to the situation,” says Ena, highlighting that many women only feed from one breast for a variety of reasons, including mastitis, pain or injury. “Women are able to establish sufficient milk for exclusive breastfeeding from one breast and supplementary feeding is rarely an issue,” she says.
Why breast surgery in the first place?
Many women opt for breast surgery because they have underdeveloped (hypoplastic) breasts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights that this lack of breast tissue can affect your breastfeeding ability – but it’s not impossible. In other words, difficulty breastfeeding after surgery should not be confused with this condition. They state on their website: “Mothers who have had hypoplastic breasts may not be able to produce enough milk (primary lactation failure) and will need lactation support to learn how to stimulate production and/or how to supplement with pasteurised donor human milk or formula.”
Ena advises moms to leave as much time as possible between surgery and breastfeeding in order for the tissue and nerves to recover. She also urges any woman considering breast surgery to make it clear to the surgeon that she will want to breastfeed in the future. In this way any risks can be reduced as far as possible.
Is it safe?
There’s limited research on whether silicon negatively affects breastmilk quality and the Centers for Disease Control state “there have been no recent reports of clinical problems in infants of mothers with silicone breast implants.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also sited “insufficient evidence to justify classifying silicone implants as a contraindication to breastfeeding.”
Widré Scheepers had breast augmentation six years before having her baby and says she had no problem breastfeeding as the implant was placed under the muscle. “My breasts did get much larger when I was breastfeeding, but they have since gone back to normal,” she says.
On the other hand, Lucy Williams had her breasts done about 9 years before having her child as she had an athletic build with a flat chest. She wanted to feel more confident at the time and believed this would be the answer. Like Widré, she went from an A to a C cup and had the implants placed under the muscle. While Lucy can’t say for sure whether the surgery interfered with breastfeeding, she did have a tough time with it. “I had a lot of engorgement pain, but at the same time I wasn’t producing a lot of milk. I struggled to feed on demand and I had to pump.” Due to her daughter’s jaundice, it was also recommended she supplement with formula, so this could have had an effect, too. “I breastfed for 14 weeks and in my heart of hearts I believe the surgery did affect my experience.”
More about the expert:
Ena Pieterse is a La Leche League leader in Benoni who offers support and advice to mothers throughout their breastfeeding journey.
Marianne is a freelance content creator and copy editor. She has been part of the Living and Loving team in various capacities over the last six years, but since becoming a mom to a boisterous boy, she has found a special interest in parenting issues including discipline, education and early childhood development. When not running after, and negotiating with, her three-year-old, you’ll find her experimenting in the kitchen.