Does Breast Reduction Surgery Affect Breastfeeding?

Woman Breastfeeding InfantHaving naturally oversized breasts can be both physically challenging and emotionally damaging. Many young women with large breasts have experienced the physical limitations of their breast size: the inability to play sports or participate in specific exercises, the difficulty of finding clothing that fits, and the constant back, neck, and shoulder pain—and more.

Then there are the emotional and psychological related issues.

Fortunately, breast reduction surgery can be an extremely effective answer to the real untoward issues affecting daily life associated with very large breasts. One of the issues that some women are concerned about when considering this surgery is the possibility of not being able to breastfeed.

Does Undergoing a Breast Reduction Mean That You Have to Give up Being Able to Breastfeed?

Unfortunately, there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer to this. There are several procedural options that do keep the anatomy necessary for breastfeeding intact but there are still no guarantees that one can effectively breastfeed—just like there is also no guarantee that women without breast reduction surgery can breastfeed. Every woman is different. There are some with giant sized breasts who you’d think could feed a whole nursery full of infants but instead, can’t muster more than a few drops, whereas there are others with tiny breasts who can produce more than enough milk to keep their babies satisfied.

If you are interested in both breast reduction surgery as well as maintaining the option to breastfeed, the following are some facts to keep in mind.

Breast Reduction Removes Breast Tissue, Not Milk-Producing Ducts

Breast Reduction Before and After PhotosIn breast reduction surgery, excess skin, fat, and glandular breast tissue are removed while the remaining tissue is reshaped and lifted. There are milk-producing ducts that remain functionally intact including to the nipple, though the overall capacity to produce that milk will be decreased. I have had many patients over the years who have been able to effectively breastfeed subsequent to breast reduction surgery.

Incision Techniques

There are different techniques available for breast reduction surgery, but as related to the issue of breastfeeding there are two main categories: 1.) those that keep the nipple-areola complex attached to the underlying tissue including to the ducts and 2.) those that detach it completely and place it back as a graft. In the former, the nipple-areola complex is reduced in size and elevated to a more appropriate position on the breast, but it maintains the anatomy that can allow for breastfeeding. With the latter technique, also generally known as a free nipple graft technique, the nipple-areola complex is physically totally detached during the procedure, which permanently negates the ability to breastfeed. This approach does, however, have significant benefits in many areas for certain women who are extremely large or have other health-related concerns.

In the end, there is no way to fully ensure the ability to breastfeed following breast reduction surgery aside from avoiding the free nipple graft approach and not over-reducing to the point that there is little breast tissue remaining (such as going down to an “A” cup). If breastfeeding is an important issue for you, make sure that your plastic surgeon is aware of this so that he/she can take this into consideration when discussing and planning your surgery. The desire for breast reduction doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give up the ability to breastfeed and the desire to be able to breastfeed doesn’t mean you can’t have the surgery that you want.