post baby breast


This will be the first in a line of blogs about this topic.

Let me start first with an email I received from a patient,  “I just want let you know that I have had no problem breastfeeding.  I am grateful that nothing was damaged during my breast lift surgery.  Nice job to you!!  We had a beautiful girl.  I was worried about breastfeeding but it is going great.  I have a ton of milk supply on both breasts.   I just wanted to let you know. “

All breast surgery affects the breast.  Seems like a simple concept, but we forget it sometimes.  A 20 year old woman who wants a breast reduction may be more focused on getting her breasts smaller and somewhere above her waist, not the bonding and nutrition she may give with breastfeeding 10 years down the road when she decides to have kids. 

So I discuss it. 

Any woman who has not had children and wants to do any surgery of the breast needs to consider the effect surgery will have on the breast and your ability to breastfeed.  Thankfully, for most women, they are able to make milk.  The studies show there may be a decreased amount of milk, but I have had many patients who have had breast augmentation or breast reductions and lifts who have successfully gone on to breastfeed.

If you are a decade away from thinking about kids or you have a lot of issues with your breasts (backpain, droop, asymmetry, etc), then know there are techniques which help maximize your future ability to breastfeed.  If you are on the verge of having kids, wait to do the surgery.   It will totally preserve your ability to breastfeed among other advantages:
Anectode:  I had a friend who was 38, newly married, who wanted a breast augmentation.  I am a straight shooter, so I told her, “You are older.  You can’t wait to have kids.  Have your kids.  You’ll need to have them in the next year or two.  Your breasts will get bigger with pregnancy.  Your breasts will get bigger while breastfeeding.  When you know you are done, then do the surgery.  Pregnancy and breastfeeding changes the breasts a lot- shape, volume, symmetry.”  She did not listen, and went to someone else for surgery.  She has now had two surgeries within 3 years.  Had she waited until done with kids, she might have had just one surgery, and the results could have been better. 
 
I am a huge fan of breastfeeding.  I am not saying to do surgery or not do surgery.  I am not dictating the timing of your surgery.  This is all about educating you to make the right choices for you.

I saw a patient today in clinic who wants to change her breasts.  She has been unhappy with their size and shape as long as she can remember. 

Perfect candidate for breast surgery! Sign her up?!

Not quite.  She should consider waiting.

Why?  She is in her mid thirties. She wants to have kids.  Even when she said, “I won’t breastfeed because I want to minimize changes in the breast” (which I don’t recommend due to the overwhelming evidence of the benefit of breastfeeding, but those are topics for other blogs), your breasts still change.  She is not a 20 year old who has a good decade before having children.  She is in her mid 30s and will have them in the next year or two.  I could make her breasts perfect- exactly what she wants- and pregnancy and/or breastfeeding will change them. 

What do we see?

  • Loss of volume (Rarely increase in volume)
  • Skin laxity/droop
  • Stretch marks
  • Sensory change
  • Shape change

 

Other thoughts…

Pregnancy is tough.  It is hard to work on making your body look good for decades and then lose control of it in pregnancy.  I don’t want you to ever regret or have negative feelings about having a child and breastfeeding because it is doing “damage” to your breast.  If you are in my office you are not adverse to doing surgery to improve things.  Great! So time your surgery well.  If you are on the cusp of your babymaking years, go have that baby. Breastfeed.  Enjoy it.  When you are done with all your kids, your issues with your breast will have changed.  Your breasts will be different.  Let’s address it then.

If you live in Northern California as I do, women breastfeed.  I would even venture to say there is peer pressure to breastfeed.  When I had my first child I went to a mommy and me gathering for new moms at Stanford.  All these moms from Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, and Woodside gathered in a circle to discuss their babies.   A mom took out a bottle to feed her child. As people looked, there was almost a hush in the room.  I could feel her discomfort- she wasn’t breastfeeding her baby.  My girlfriend advice (I’m putting on my girlfriend hat, not my doctor hat) is to see how you feel when you have your baby, perhaps even try breastfeeding, before you decide you will or will not do it.

Now if you are 20, flat chested, and self conscious about your breasts, I would advise differently.  For you  it makes a lot more sense.  You could easily have a decade until you even think about babies.  And I have women who understand everything I mentioned above but still want the breast augmentation now.  That is fine. 

I believe in choice.  I am here to educate you and to help you understand the issues.  I will support you (and be honored to be your surgeon) regardless of your choice.

OUCH!

I have a friend who lives in LA who just had a tummy tuck and breast augmentation.  She is on her first day after surgery.  She is a tough cookie, and her words to me today were, “This really hurts!!”

One of the most common mommy makeover surgeries is breast augmentation and tummy tuck.   These by themselves are the two most painful surgeries we do as plastic surgeons.  These surgeries hurt because of the muscle.  For tummy tucks, I like to put in a pain pump which drips numbing medication internally to help.  In addition we give you pain medication and some of us use muscle relaxants as well.  Even with all of this, it still hurts.

For planning how to deal with your family life (as you are a mom, hence the mommy makeover):

  • the first 2-3 days you are OUT. You will be on medication round the clock.  Someone else should care for your kids.  And you. 
  • The first one to two weeks you will be very sore.  No driving until you are off pain medication.  As for when you will feel normal again and be doing your daily life things, people vary.  Every person is different as to when they get over the “hump” and feel better. 
  • No heavy lifting (yes, this includes your adorable children) until much farther out.  Exactly when you can lift something over 5-10 pounds is not a hard rule.  Some of it depends on you and your tissue.  Your doctor will know what that means.  Here plastic surgeons differ on their recommendations for activity level, so defer to your doctor.  Tensile strength of your wound (how strong your repair is) is weakest at three weeks out from surgery.  Usually you can’t do any exercise until at least 6 weeks out.  For core body exercise (pilates, crunches, that favorite daily method place in menlo park, etc) I extend that until 3 months.

Give yourself time.  It took you 9 months (and for those of you with multiple kids, multiply that time) to get into this mess, it will take you a while until you feel normal again.  This is normal.

I had a patient who after three kids wants a tummy tuck.  Her belly was blown out after her second child, and she has back pain, so we knew a tummy tuck was in her future to repair it all after her third child.  She wants to do it when her baby turns one.

But she has been reading my blog (Go Bay Area blog reading mommies!) and said, “I know I should wait for 2-3 years until I do surgery, but I don’t want to wait.”   I realized I have not been clear.  It is true, the most common time I see women after babies is about 2-3 years out.  I think that timing is good- you have gotten out of the fog of babydom and given yourself a chance to get back into shape and see what comes back … and what doesn’t.  So the flip of that…

When is the soonest? Should you wait?

  • Normal blood level.  You lose a fair amount of blood after birth.  You need 3 months to rebuild your blood store.
  • Nutrition.  Your baby has spent the last 10 months preferentially getting your nutrients.  You need time to restore. 
  • Sleep.  Surgery is a stress on the body.  I liken it to running a marathon.  If you are sleep deprived you won’t have the reserve to help you heal well.
  • Breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding continues to take calories, energy, and nutrition for your newborn.  I am a HUGE breastfeeding fan.  The benefits to you and your child are immense.  If doing breast surgery, you need the breasts to be empty of milk, which takes about 3-6 months after you stop breastfeeding.  If doing other surgery, you can’t breastfeed at the same time- it would be too tough on your body to devote energy to healing and to your baby, and the medications needed for surgery and healing would get in your milk.  Also, see the nutrition point- breastfeeding can deplete you, so you need time after you stop to rebuild your internal stores.

 

My two to three year window is for women in the dreaded grey zone.  The grey zone? Those women who’s breasts and bellies aren’t like they were before babies, but they aren’t so bad.  In the right time of day, right angle, or if you stand up straight (posture girls!) you look okay.  Those are the women who should wait. 

But some women have things time will not help.  Particularly for the abdomen, horrible stretch marks, a wide diastasis (separation of the muscles), hernias, and hanging skin won’t go away with time and exercise.  Two years will not make these better.

So see your doctor.  Every patient and situation is different.  I get timing is tricky.  Many of you work, have multiple kids, and husbands schedules and other things you juggle.  But this is elective surgery.  And I know, from the title of this blog, you have an incredible responsibility- you are a mom. 

Elective surgery needs to be safe. 

There is a time and place for everything. Talk to your doctor.

Yes, yes.  I am a true believer in the benefits of breast feeding. 

I do not go into this starry eyed.  I know there is a cosmetic hit we breast feeding moms take (it is a lot of what I fix doing my mommy makeover work.)  But if you aren’t going to do it for your child’s health (less infections, etc), or for your health (lowers the rate of diabetes and heart risk), then do it for your country.

Medical costs are soaring.  The government is becoming increasingly involved in medicine.  I saw a recent study published in the news about how breastfeeding for six months could save 13 billion dollars. (!!)  You mean I can make a dent in America’s staggering spending by breastfeeding my baby?

Yes.

This is not new news.  In March 2001, a study of “The Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Review and Analysis” was published for the USDA  (Food Assistance and Nutrition Report (FANRR13):

“A minimum of $3.6 billion would be saved if breastfeeding were increased from current levels (64 percent in-hospital, 29 percent at 6 months) to those recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General (75 and 50 percent). This figure is likely an underestimation of the total savings because it represents cost savings from the treatment of only three childhood illnesses: otitis media, gastroenteritis, and necrotizing enterocolitis. This report reviews breastfeeding trends and previous studies that assessed the economic benefits of breastfeeding”

http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/FANRR13/

The recent numbers are an extension of the original study, which only looked at three major illnesses, and wasn’t corrected for today’s economics. 

So.  Breastfeed- For your baby, for your health, and for your country.

I just got back from a playgroup. There was a mom who just had twins 6 months ago and has another child who is 2.  She had tried to do an intense exercise and diet program to get back into shape.  Here is a woman who has three kids within 2 years, the twins are boys, she is not sleeping through the night.  I was looking at her thinking, “You showered!” “Your shoes match!” “You aren’t wearing sweats!”  So I will repeat what I, the plastic surgeon and mother of three said to her:

Give yourself a break.

I know it is tough.  We see magazine articles of “how famous so and so actress lost her baby weight in three months!”  And there will be some lovely article about broiled chicken and fish and salad and yoga.  Or better yet, “I lost the weight just chasing after my kids.” Oh how lovely.  Here in the Bay Area there are many uber athletic thin women.  Some women I know look smaller when they are 9 months pregnant than the average American woman is non pregnant. 

Give yourself a break.

There are those genetically blessed women who “pop” right back into form quickly.  Yes, it isn’t all genes.  Keeping in shape while you are pregnant, not gaining more than the baby weight, not using pregnancy as carte blanche to try all the flavors of Ben and Jerrys … these all are important. 

But at six months out with a new baby, particularly if you have other children, and are breastfeeding/ working/ making dinners/ laundry/ cleaning up/ making lunches/ bathtimes/ buying diapers/ afterschool activities/ playgroups/ clean the house again…

There is a time and place for everything.  Sometime not so far away, your baby won’t be a baby.  He will be sleeping through the night.  YOU will be sleeping through the night.  I see the majority of my mommy makeover patients 2-3 years after their last child.  I think that timing is good.  It gives you time…. time to enjoy being a mother.  Time to breastfeed.  Time to give your body a chance to get back to normal.   Then you can work out.  Diet.  Exercise hard.  See where you can get to on your own.   

So give yourself a break.  Your baby won’t be a baby for long.  Savor every moment while you can.

When I started my practice a decade ago, most of my breast reductions were covered by insurance.  I think they are a great surgery, improving posture, neck pain, back pain, shoulder notching, and the ability to go jogging.

Things have changed.

Now almost none of my reductions can get covered. It is frustrating for me and my patients, as I see many large breasted women who can’t get covered.  What changed?

First, I now do a short scar breast reduction technique, called a vertical breast reduction.  I “cut out” less breast tissue with this technique.  Why did I change?  First and foremost: much shorter scar.  Also, I find this breast reduction better at shaping, with a longer lasting result.  I love it.  But with this technique I do liposuction of the lateral breast in the armpit area.  Insurance won’t include this fat as part of my “breast tissue removed” total.

Second, the amounts they require have gotten higher.  Not a good combo with my short scar technique where the amounts I directly cut out went down anyway.

scaleThe Schnur scale came out of a study in the plastic surgery literature.  They did the study to prove breast reductions objectively, medically IMPROVE symptoms. During the 1980s plastic surgeons started to see insurance companies refusing to pay for breast reductions, calling them “cosmetic.”  So multiple studies followed, documenting scientifically that back pain, neck pain, and breast pain had about an 80% improvement after surgery.  (And patient satisfaction was around 90%.  Pretty fantastic, particularly given those were the days of the longer anchor scar.)

The Schnur study came up with a scale used to show the volume which needed to be removed for breast reductions done for medical reasons only.  The issue is the Schnur study had a mean height of patients being 5’4″, 163 pounds, and a mean total amount of breast tissue being removed was 1515g. (That is over 3 pounds per breast.)

Ug.  When I started my practice, if a woman was going down about 2 cup sizes, they would get covered.  I used to have to remove about 300g for insurance coverage.  Now it is adjusted to the body surface area, and the required amounts have gone up.  With current recommendations, a 5′6″ woman who weighs 140 pounds needs a reduction of 370-400 grams per breast to be covered.  If she weighs 160, she would need about 450 grams per breast.  Liposuctioned fat cannot be applied to this total.  In my office I can show you visually what “volume” (using an implant sizer) this would be.  Many times the amount looks like the total of the entire breast, essentially being a mastectomy.

You don’t need to convince me a breast reduction and lift is a good idea. Insurance is another story though.

BODY SURFACE AREA CALCULATOR at http://www.bcbst.com/providers/calculator.asp

SCHNUR SLIDING SCALE at http://www.bcbst.com/mpmanual/The_Schnur_Sliding_Scale_chart.htm

I was recently the featured interview for an online magazine for busy moms to talk about the mommy makeover.

http://bizymoms.com/palo-alto/surgery/mommy-makeover-palo-alto.php

I received a question today asking if there was a natural, nonsurgical way to lift the breast.  Ah… If only I were magic.

The breast is not a muscle.  Doing pectoral muscle exercises will not lift the breast.  You can be as toned as possible in your underlying muscle, but it won’t lift the breast tissue, firm the ligaments, or tighten the skin. (or make your breasts larger. sigh.)

Skin tone is like a bathing suit.  When your skin is new, it has great elasticity.  It bounces back well, and doesn’t stretch out, wrinkle, or sag.  As we age, our swimsuit ages as well; and the tone isn’t as good.  We all have different qualities of skin tone based on our age, ethnicity, sun damage, smoking, what we have put it through (major weight changes, pregnancy, etc) and genetics.

Once your skin is stretched out, it is stretched.  There is no proven skin cream, exercise, or laser to improve it.  Many products will claim they firm and lift.  But I think these products prey on our dreams- none of them really work.  I always ask them to show me the science.  Show me the improved skin biopsy; show me the photos of the lift.

Watch out for trickery.  Many cosmetic lasers will show only photos at 1-2 months out.  This is misleading. When you have a little bit of swelling, the skin looks prettier, plumper, and more youthful.  What does it look like at 6 months? A year?  Some of the lasers will take the first photo without flash (always shows more wrinkles and aging) and the second photo with flash.  Or they will take the photos from different angles.  Watch out for this.  I love marketing.  I had a woman who was going to do a “laser bra” in which the laser lifted the breast.  Trust me, I have breastfed three kids.  If there were a simple laser treatment which firmed and lifted, I would be the first to sign up.

So, alas, I am here to tell you there is no magic answer, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The only way to really lift and reshape the breast is with a surgery.

Where to cut?

When you choose to do a breast augmentation, we must get the breast implant inside. (Unfortuantely, it is not magic.)  This is the scar you will see when you are done.  There are pros and cons to each incision.

There are three basic common incisions:

  • Armpit (also known as axilla)
  • Periareolar (at the bottom of the areola, the colored portion of the breast skin)
  • Inframammary fold (also called IMF, the under part of your breast where an underwire goes)

There are other incisions  you hear about such as through the umbilicus (TUBA), through an abdominoplasty incision, and through the base of the  nipple. These are not as common (for real reasons).

IMF: This is the most common incision used.  The scar can go in the crease of the underwire or just above the crease on the bottom curve of the breast.  PROS: On the breast, so only someone seeing you naked will see it.  Preserves ability to breastfeed.  Can use as an open door- when you need a revision surgery due to deflation or capsular contracture, you can fix it through the old scar.  CONS: If you wear a bikini which doesn’t hug your underwire, you may see the scar.  For patients who don’t scar well (read: hyperpigment, keloid, hypertrophic scar) you can see the scar.

AXILLA: Scar goes into the armpit.  PROS: Preserves ability to breastfeed.  No scar on the breast.  CONS:  Scar in a place visible when you wear tank tops or bathing suits.  Usually more of the pocket is done by blunt dissection, so may get more bruise.  More difficult pocket dissection, may lead to implant malposition and upward migration of implant.  Difficult to place gel implants.  Usually need to make a second incision when you need revision surgery for implant replacement.  For patients who don’t scar well (read: hyperpigment, keloid, hypertrophic scar) you can see the scar.

PERIAREOLAR: Scar is at the transition between the areola and the breast skin.  It does NOT go all the way around the areola.  It is at the bottom of the semicircle.  If you see a scar going 360 around the areola, then a breast lift was done.  PROS: I find this incision hides the scar the best, particularly in my patients with darker skin tones: Asian, Phillipino,  Latina,  and Black.  If your scar turns darker / brown, then it tends to blend with the areola.  It is an open door- you can reuse the old scar for any revision surgery.  It does NOT interfere with sensation. (Will go into sensation details below.) The scar is on the breast, so only someone seeing you naked will see it.  It gives the best access to making an accurate pocket dissection, important for smaller implant sizes, which is important for my natural aesthetic in my Bay Area patients.  It allows access to have meticulous bleeding control, important to limit bruising and potentially capsular contracture.  This is my favorite incision as I find the scar fades in most patients to nothingness.  I like it particularly for women who are done with pregnancy and breastfeeding, women with constricted or tubular breasts, and women who may need a lift down the road, so you limit future scars.  CONS: It does cut through some of the breast ducts, so for women who have not had children yet and want to breastfeed, it may impair breastfeeding.

The biggest issue women bring up when discussing breast augmentation incisions, tends to be sensation.  Will my breast sensation change? What affects it?  There is a common perception that cutting at the areola will cause more sensory change.  This is not true.  Funny.  It seems like if you cut at the areola then the nipple sensation should change more than if you cut at the armpit, eh?  A study published in our white journal (the plastic and reconstructive surgery journal- a big deal in my world) showed there was no difference in sensation based on where you cut, but there was a difference based on how big you go.  The sensory nerves come up from the sides.  As you stretch the skin the nerves stretch.  This is what causes the sensory change.  Think about how your breasts feel when you are pregnant- or better yet -when your milk comes in.  That tingly, numb, or hypersensitive-don’t-touch-my-breasts sensation.  Many women report right after augmentation feeling like they did when their milk came in.  This feeling goes away, though your final sensation may be the same, less, or more than prior to surgery. I tend to find sensory change is less for women after having kids, and my thought is they have essentially “prestretched” their breast skin.

SO. Bottom line on sensation? The bigger you go, particularly if you are stretching the skin, the more sensory change you will get.

For photos, check out my gallery.  Most of the incisions you see are periareolar, and most photos are 6 weeks out.

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