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.

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.

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.

Is plastic surgery a right choice for you?

As I said earlier, there is a price you pay for plastic surgery.  The price is scar, time off work and exercise, healing, getting someone to watch your kids for a week so you can do this, and the risks of surgery.  What price are you willing to pay? How much are you bothered? How easy is it to fix?

Some people scar well.  For these women, when they have a scar, it will start as a red scar, then turn purple, and then fade away into nothingness.  I have seen some of my patients come back, and I can’t find their scar.  I know where it is, but it faded away.  They pay a lower price than someone who may hyperpigment  (fancy way of saying scar turns darker, black, or brown) or keloid (fancy term for a condition where you form an elevated, itchy, ropey scar).

Some surgeries have small scars and potentially large changes.  Breast augmentation, eyelifts, and liposuction tend to have big changes with small scars.   Small price.  But now let’s say you come in, you were a 34D prior to kids and now you are more like a B, and your breasts droop.  Hmmmm. Tougher choice.  Breast lift with an implant is a bigger surgery, more scar, more potential for sensory change, etc etc.  What price are you willing to pay?  Would you rather have a small scar and the ideal sized breast implant for you, but still be a little droopy? Would you rather go to a larger volume breast implant if it meant you could be perkier and avoid doing a lift? How much larger? If you think, “no way! If I am going to go through surgery and get a breast implant, I want them to look perky and fantastic. I need the breasts up!”, then you might need a breast augmentation with a lift, with the larger length of surgery, recovery, and scar it entails.

Most of my photos I show are women 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.  I am reprimanded for it a lot.  Why do you show red scars? Why don’t you show scars when they are farther out? Why don’t you put underwear on your tummy tuck patients so we don’t see the scar?

I have photos of patients a year out with beautiful scars.  Most have beautiful scars. I don’t think that is helpful. You will see the scar the photos hide under the underwear. Anyone can look at a photo of a wrinkled, strech marked, hanging belly and think “of course they should do a tummy tuck.”  But you, the patient, will need to do the surgery.   You will feel the changes. You will see the scar while you heal.

So, find an honest surgeon.  I don’t candy coat.  I show my large surgery scars on purpose when they are new. Red. Raw. Visible.  New.  I discuss the risks and complications in detail.  When you do surgery there are elements we can’t control as plastic surgeons.  How will you heal? How will you scar?  When we say there is a 1% chance of something, will you be that person?  Education can be scary.  When choosing to do elective cosmetic surgery, you need to know what you are choosing.  I do hundreds of surgeries a year.  For these women, the “price” of surgery was worth it.  Only you can make the decision of what is right for you.