Breast augmentation procedures (commonly referred to as breast implants) can present a challenge to breastfeeding. The extent to which breast implants will affect breastfeeding depends on a variety of factors.

What are implants made of?

Most implants have an outer shell made of silicone or polyurethane (a synthetic material like rubber and plastic) and are filled with saline (salt) solution or silicone gel. In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is responsible for governing the use of medical devices and medications, and certain varieties of both saline and silicone-filled implants are TGA-approved.

Can you breastfeed with implants?

The Australian Breastfeeding Association states that most mothers who have had breast surgery can breastfeed “at least to some extent”. While some mothers can breastfeed fully, others find they need to supplement breastfeeding with formula.

Possible complications

Women who have had breast implants sometimes have problems with milk supply. This can depend on the type of surgery involved, the presence of scarring in the milk ducts, and the amount of functional glandular tissue both before and after the surgery.

Breastfeeding difficulties may arise from breasts that are very painful and extremely sensitive (even to normal touch); the altered shape of the breast or nipple; scar tissue making breastfeeding uncomfortable; or a loss of feeling or numbness in the nipple that affects the reflex needed for milk production.

None of this is a given, however. It is possible for nerves to slowly regrow, and pregnancy can promote the development of glandular tissue.

Studies have not found any established risk to babies who are breastfed by mothers with silicone implants.

Before you have surgery

If you are planning to have a baby after having breast implants, you should discuss this with your surgeon before you have the procedure done. The surgeon may be able to adjust the surgical technique to give you the best possible chance of being able to breastfeed in the future.

Before the birth

The Australian Breastfeeding Association suggests that women who have had breast surgery should contact a breastfeeding counsellor or a lactation consultant prior to childbirth and should consider attending a breastfeeding education class.

After birth

Whether or not a woman has had surgery, breastfeeding success is not a given. There can be a number of reasons for difficulty with breastfeeding, many of which have nothing to do with implants.

If you are experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding, speak to your GP, midwife or maternal and child healthcare nurse, or contact the ABA for further advice.