I love science.

I do a ton of breast surgery.  I have 3 kids.  I am a huge fan of breastfeeding.  How can I advise my patients about breast surgery and the relationship to breastfeeding?   I know a lot from being in practice for over a decade, and I read a lot of studies.  Every piece of information helps in the decision making.

There are women who are going to have a hard time breastfeeding.  Some of these women have had breast surgery, others did not.  Is there some way to predict who is whom?  Who will have a harder time?

A study came out in Birth, Sept 1990 looking at the influence of different factors on your ability to breastfeed a baby.  The study followed 319 women who were pregnant with their first baby who intended to breastfeed.  These women were evaluated in their last trimester for their initial measurements.  They looked at:

  • surgical incisions
  • size
  • symmetry
  • nipple protuberance (do you have inverted nipples?)
  • and the woman’s estimate of their breast increase during the pregnancy

At two visits after the first 2 weeks postpartum (all were term babies), the infants were weighed and the moms estimated how big their breasts got when their milk came in.  Breastfeeding was evaluated and help was given when there were problems, looking particularly at how to maximize the amount of milk made.

“Sufficient” milk production related to an average weight gain daily of 28.5g between visits.  If they had to supplement with formula this was noted as well. 

What was related?                                                              

  • 85% of mothers had sufficient lactation
  • 15% had insufficient lactation, despite intervention
  • 7% had some kind of breast surgery prior to their first pregnancy.  If a periareolar incision was used, these women had a 5x rate of lactation insufficiency compared to those without any surgery.
  • Insufficient lactation was significantly associated with minimal prenatal breast enlargement
  • Insufficient lactation was significantly associated with minimal postpartum breast enlargement when the milk came in
  • Inverted nipples were more likely to have lactation insufficiency (not statistically significant)

 

So. How can you anticipate?  If you have inverted nipples, or prior breast surgery with an incision in the periareolar area, you may have decreased milk production.  15% of women in this study had insufficient milk production, and many did not have any prior surgery or inverted nipples.  If your breasts get much larger with pregnancy and when your milk comes in, signs are good you will produce enough milk. 

What I have seen in my plastic surgery practice here in Palo Alto, where there is positive peer pressure to breastfeed, is prior surgery does not mean you can’t breastfeed.  What I found in practice and these studies is your milk production may be lower.  But any breast milk is good for you, your baby, and your bond.