Can you breastfeed after breast surgery? From implants to reductions and from mastectomies to top surgery, there’s no definitive answer, so let’s talk about how breast surgery can affect mamas when they’re breastfeeding.
Knowledge is power
If you’re planning on getting pregnant, or maybe already are (congrats!), then it’s likely you’ve already started thinking about breastfeeding. And if you’ve undergone any type of breast surgery, you might be wondering, will I even be able to do it?
Instead of consulting Doctor Google, we recommend contacting a breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant. They’ll have probably seen cases like yours before and will be able to provide you with clear, practical advice. It’s even worth booking an appointment before you’re pregnant. That way, you’ll know either way and can start planning accordingly.
Keeping abreast of the facts
While it’s certainly not always the case, most moms who’ve had breast surgery can breastfeed, at least to some extent. Usually, you’ll fall into one of the following categories:
Can breastfeed fully – no issues here mama. You’re good to go.
May need galactagogue – depending on the reason for the low supply, some herbs and medications can help.
Can partially breastfeed – your little one might need some formula feed to supplement your breast milk.
The different types of breast surgery
Your mind might immediately jump to breast reductions and ‘boob jobs’ when thinking about breast surgery, but there are in fact, lots of different types of breast surgery. Each type of surgery can cause different issues, so read on to learn more about the differences.
Breast augmentation, lift, or reduction
Whether for cosmetic purposes or to ease the pressure on your back, breast augmentations, lifts, and reductions have the potential to affect the nerves and ducts within the breast, which can then have an impact on lactation.
Depending on where the implants are placed, you should be able to breastfeed – implants below the muscle typically affect milk production less than implants above the muscle. Now get ready to have your mind blown – if you had breast surgery a while before giving birth, any ducts that were severed may have grown back or formed new pathways, enabling you to produce milk.
When you’re pregnant, be sure to let your doctor know about any procedures you’ve had because it’s likely that you’ll be monitored more closely to make sure your little one is getting sufficient amounts of milk from you.
A single breast can produce enough milk for a healthy baby, so if you’ve been treated for breast cancer with partial or total mastectomy, that doesn’t rule out breastfeeding for you. However, it can result in the removal of breast tissue and damage to essential nerves involved in lactation which could reduce the amount of milk you produce. Speaking with your doctor is encouraged, as they’ll be able to help tailor a breastfeeding plan for your individual needs. Can we also just say you're awesome?
Underdeveloped (hypoplastic) breasts are characterized by breasts that appear tubular, widely spaced, or significantly asymmetrical, and some women with this condition seek reconstructive surgery. If you suffered from hypoplastic breasts, there’s a chance you might not be able to produce enough milk for your baby and will need extra support to stimulate lactation or maybe supplement your supply with formula.
Top surgery (transgender men)
Chestfeeding is a term used by some transgender and non-binary parents when a transgender man breastfeeds. Alongside the physical support that these people need, they will be more likely to need emotional support, too. Help can be given for everything from maximizing milk production to suppressing lactation for those who choose not to breastfeed or chestfeed.
Increasing milk supply
If you have undergone any type of breast surgery, the likelihood is, you will need to make a conscious effort to increase your breast milk supply, so here are some ways you can do just that:
Use a double electric breast pump like Elvie Pump. We’re not just being biased, but this is a great way to unplug ducts and increase your supply.
When your baby arrives, hand express colostrum every 2 to 3 hours (we told you parenting was a full-time job), and as your supply increases, pump at least 8 times a day for 5 to 10 minutes (after nursing) until you’re sure you’re making plenty of milk.
Make sure your infant’s weight is followed closely during the first month, with regular weight checks. Babies will probably lose up to 7% of their birth weight in the first 4 days but should start regaining by day 4 or 5. Most babies are back to birth weight by day 10 to 14. An optimal weight gain is 1 oz a day for the first 3 months.
It’s hard to measure how much milk your baby is actually getting from your breast, but the most reliable measure of adequate milk intake is the amount of weight gain from one day to another, such as over 3 or 5 days.
If your supply is low and you’re supplementing with donor milk or formula, you can still feed at the breast with a feeding tube. That way, your little one will hopefully stay interested in your nipples.
Known as galactagogues, there are some herbal supplements that are recommended which are safe with few side effects. Certain foods may also help boost your supply.
Don’t give up, mama
If you had your heart set on breastfeeding, but your breast surgery means your milk supply is not sufficient on its own, don’t give up! Remember, every drop of milk that your baby receives is precious and every moment a baby spends at your breast is worthwhile.