Can I nurse after nipple piercings or breast surgery?
Nipple piercings: I’ve worked with many people who’ve had no problem breastfeeding post nipple piercings. However, it is possible piercings can affect breastfeeding, so here are a few things to keep in mind. Scar tissue from the piercing can block milk ducts, inhibiting milk flow and ultimately milk production. Milk may also come out of the holes created by the piercings, creating a faster flow for the baby (or babies). Be sure to remove any nipple jewelry before breastfeeding, in order to avoid a choking hazard.
Breast surgery: To what extent breastfeeding is affected by breast surgery depends on the type of surgery and its impact on the milk ducts and nipples. Many people have had breast biopsies or fibroadenoma removals with little to no impact on breastfeeding. While lumpectomy, breast augmentation, and reduction are risk factors for low milk production, it’s not possible to know how milk production is affected, if at all, before breastfeeding. In the case of a one-sided mastectomy, when one breast is removed, the other breast can make a substantial and even full milk supply. If someone has had a double mastectomy and cannot breastfeed, skin to skin is one important and special way to bond with the baby or babies.
Top surgery: While there is a high risk of low milk supply after top surgery, chestfeeding is still possible. Chestfeeding is about more than nutrition; it’s also about bonding. Infants can be supplemented with donor milk and/or formula while they’re chestfeeding. A supplemental nutrition system is a tube that’s attached to a bag or bottle on one end and to the chest, near the nipple, on the other, so that at the same time the infant is chestfeeding and transferring milk directly from the parent, they’re also getting supplementation they need. Read more about Trevor McDonald’s experience chestfeeding. Most recently on his blog, he wrote about trans women, inducing lactation, and breastfeeding.
In all of these situations, it’s ideal to talk with a lactation specialist. Many lactation specialists work at clinics, hospitals, WIC, and do home visits, which may be covered by insurance. Look for breastfeeding clinics and support groups, like La Leche League, as well.
What if I have small breasts?
Size doesn’t matter! Breast size is related to fatty tissue, not mammary glands, which produce milk.
How to support someone who decides to nurse
Breastfeeding isn’t really a choice unless we have support.
Following the recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of a child’s life is not easy when you don’t have paid parent leave and need to return to work or school after six weeks (or less). Here are a few ways we can support each other.
In the US, breastfeeding in public, covered or uncovered, is a legal right. A video of a man verbally assaulting Jessie Maher for breastfeeding in public, and of the people who defended her, went viral a few years ago. If you see someone getting harassed for breastfeeding, and it feels safe for you to do so, intervene as a bystander. If you want to look up breastfeeding laws specific to your state, go here.
If you’re a brick and mortar business owner, create more private breastfeeding spaces and post signs like this in your windows. Or, as patrons, we can request storeowners do this. NYC has five nursing pods throughout the city.
Advocate for your breast pumping coworkers, especially if you’re a cis man who is less vulnerable to any pushback around the topic. Does your workplace have a private pumping room that’s not a bathroom? If not, and particularly if you work at a company with more than fifty employees, demand one, because it’s now federal law as part of the Affordable Care Act that people are given adequate work time to breast pump for up to three years. If your workplace is smaller, insist on a pumping space, and help your coworker out if they need to pump for fifteen to thirty minutes a few times throughout the day. Also, high five your colleague for simultaneously working really hard and making food for another human being with their own body!
What are the benefits of breast milk?
Breast milk is alive, meaning it’s responsive to its environment. (Side note: it also changes flavor based on what you’re eating!). When the breastfeeding parent is exposed to potentially harmful bacteria, they make antibodies, or bacteria-fighting cells. Antibodies get transferred to the baby through breast milk, providing the baby with immunity to infections. For infants, breastfeeding decreases risk of ear and respiratory infections and diarrhea. That means less sick days taken off from work or school, too. Plus, nursing can lower the risk of breast cancer and postpartum depression for the nursing parent.
Read more about the personal and public health, economic, and environmental benefits of breastfeeding here.
Touch your chest
Whether or not you can or want to breastfeed, love on your chest. Massaging your chest can increase circulation of blood and lymph fluid. Remember that breast tissue goes from the clavicle to the lower ribs and from under the armpit to the sternum, in the middle of your chest. Chest awareness is one way to get to know your normal, so that you’re better able to detect anything abnormal to tell a health care provider about. Plus, if you do nurse one day, you’ll already have a more comfortable relationship with your chest.