We all want to look and feel our best — before, during, and after pregnancy. Whether that’s working out, eating right, or enjoying one of our favorite hobbies, the little things we do every day can boost our mood and how we think about ourselves. Not all is physical, nor should it be, but sometimes women desire an enhanced appearance — one that could include cosmetic surgery, such as breast augmentation. Last year alone, more than 290,000 women in the U.S. got breast implants. But for women considering starting a family, implants could pose their own complications for mom and baby.
There are several factors to consider before getting implants, as well as if you already have them before becoming pregnant. The biggest problem is with breastfeeding baby, which could be either physical (milk production) or psychological (fear).
Below, we’ll go over the following:
- Breast implant statistics in the United States — just how common are they?
- What the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says about breast implants, their risks, and their effects on children.
- If silicone can be transmitted to baby through breastfeeding.
- The problems women experience while breastfeeding with implants.
How popular are breast implants?
More women are getting breast implants every year in the United States. In 2016, 290,467 breast augmentations were reported by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The previous year, about 4% fewer breast augmentations were reported. Meanwhile, just 212,500 breast augmentations were done in 2000 — making last year’s numbers a 37% increase over 16 years.
Surprisingly, many more women were getting breast implant removals in 2000 than they are today — a little over 40,000 back then compared to more than 28,000 in 2016.
Breast augmentation is by far the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in the U.S., with liposuction following at about 55,000 fewer procedures, then nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, and facelifts, respectively. More than 1.78 million cosmetic surgeries were performed in 2016, an increase of 4% from 2015 but decrease of 6% from 2000. Each one of those top five procedures except for breast augmentations has decreased in popularity over the years.
These numbers do not include cosmetic minimally-invasive procedures — like laser hair removal and chemical peels — or reconstructive procedures, such as breast reconstruction, implant removals and breast reductions in reconstructive patients.
Finally, it’s clear which type of implant is more popular: Eighty-four percent of last year’s breast implants were silicone, while 16% were saline.
What are the risks of breast implants?
With any surgery, there are risks. Breast implants come with their own complications, though they occur in about 1 percent of breast implant patients at any given time, according to the FDA.
Some of the risks and complications of breast implants include:
- Pain in the nipple or breast area
- Changes in sensation
- Thinning or shrinking of the skin
- Calcification or calcium deposits — hard lumps under the skin around the implant
- Capsular contracture — scar tissue that forms around the implant and squeezes the implant
- Rupture with or without symptoms of silicone-filled breast implants
- Deflation — leakage of the saltwater (saline) solution with partial or complete collapse of the implant
- Seroma — collection of fluid around the implant, which may cause swelling or bruising; large seromas require a surgical drain
- Ptosis — breast sagging that is usually the result of aging, pregnancy, or weight loss
- Chest wall deformity
Although there haven’t been any known associations with connective tissue disease, breast cancer, or reproductive problems, breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) is a rare T-cell lymphoma that can develop following breast implants.
It’s also important to note that breast implants aren’t lifetime devices. The longer you have them, the higher your risk for complications and the potential need to have them removed. And you may need more than one reoperation. The types of surgeries include implant removal (with or without replacement), capsule removal or surgical release of scar tissue around the implant, scar or wound revision, drainage of a hematoma, repositioning of the implant, or biopsy/cyst removal.
How can breast implants affect my baby?
According to the FDA, it’s unknown if a small amount of silicone may pass from the breast implant silicone shell into breast milk during breastfeeding. No methods have been established for accurately detecting silicone levels in breast milk, but a study measuring silicon (one component in silicone) levels did not indicate higher levels in breast milk from women with silicone gel-filled implants when compared to women without implants.
Between 1992 and 2006, the FDA placed silicone gel-filled breast implants in moratorium due to serious safety concerns. However, while extensive research found no conclusive evidence of infant esophageal disorders associated with breast implants, psychological studies as well as media coverage during this time show a marked effect on concerns among women before operation and their satisfaction after a breast augmentation.
Women with implants or considering implants should know that except in the rare event of a direct rupture of a deposit of silicone into a milk duct, silicone cannot be transferred to the breast milk your baby drinks. Silicone must be diffused and transported across a number of cell membranes.
Additionally, there has been no increased risk of birth defects in children found born to mothers who have breast implants. However, low birth weight has been reported, according to the FDA, but other factors could be at play, such as lower pre-pregnancy weight.
What if I can’t breastfeed?
One of the bigger issues with breast implants is breastfeeding. Just like women who don’t have implants, some women who undergo breast augmentation can successfully breastfeed while others can’t — but they may have more issues with pain or milk production. For women with silicone gel- or saline-filled implants, the frequency of lactation insufficiency ranges from 28% to 64%. Additionally, women who undergo mastectomies and then have breast implant reconstruction surgeries may not be able to breastfeed because of the loss of breast tissue and the glands that produce milk, according to the FDA.
A 2014 systematic review of studies done over the years on breast implants suggests that breast augmentation is associated with a 40% decrease in the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding among women who breastfeed. However, studies are limited and based on small cohorts, so more research is required. It’s also possible that women with silicone implants are less likely to attempt breastfeeding simply because of their hesitance toward the safety of their breast milk — based on what they’ve been led to believe.
The review concluded:
Surprisingly, although breast implants have a history of more than half a century, and in spite of constant development of new and improved augmentation techniques, only three studies were found to examine this important issue (breastfeeding) using adequate, no-surgery control groups. These three studies included small cohorts of women, drawn from only a single source, and were based on heterogeneous study populations. Based on two studies, we found a reduction in exclusive breastfeeding in the subgroup of women with submammary incisions at augmentation surgery, but could not make a conclusion about those with periareolar incisions.
Although studies tout the benefits of breastfeeding — it may prevent allergies, infections, and some diseases in baby — many women choose formula over breast milk because of complications with feeding or their lifestyle. If you’re still keen on trying to breastfeed but having trouble, you can meet with a lactation consultant in your area. Lactation consultants are certified to help with successful breastfeeding practices and managing common concerns such as poor latch, inadequate milk transfer or supply, nipple or breast pain, and calming a fussy baby.
You can find a lactation consultant near you through the International Lactation Consultant Association’s directory. Additionally, you’ll always want to talk over any concerns you have about breastfeeding, whether or not you have implants, with your doctor.
Check out more of our resources on breastfeeding below. Good luck!