We’ve all heard that body image is a terrible reason to have a "boob job." But there are other potential consequences besides not learning to love our bodies as they are.
If there’s one thing all women have in common, it’s feeling uncomfortable with our bodies at one point or another. Some of us feel it more intensely than others, and some feel it for much longer in our lives, but all of us have it. For some women, that feeling is mainly about their breasts.
Breastfeeding and breast surgery seem like they come from opposite ends of the earth; in one, the image of a mother and baby, closely snuggled together, comes to mind. In the other, the image is a woman trying to look more sexy and glamorous by getting a "boob job." Neither of these pictures represents the whole story, but they do have one thing in common — they involve the same body part, and the latter can have a more significant impact on the former than many women realize.
Breast Surgery Warnings
We're told that breast surgeries (reductions, implants, and other cosmetic surgeries) are likely to impact our ability to breastfeed. At that moment, it often doesn’t feel that important. But several years down the line, at a different stage of life, sometimes women feel differently, as Diana West, La Leche League Leader and Author writes in her book, Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding after Breast Reduction Surgery:
"Certain of my decision and probably wary of anything that could threaten it, I brushed off his warning with the casual reassurance, 'That’s fine. It doesn’t really matter to me. And besides, formula is just as good.' As you can imagine, that statement haunts me now because, of course, I have since learned just how inadequate formula is and how very much breastfeeding does matter to me."
I brushed off his warning with the casual reassurance, “That’s fine. It doesn’t really matter to me. And besides, formula is just as good.”
West continues, "But at that time, I did not have a serious boyfriend and children were a far-off dream. Being supportive, my mother did not contradict me, having faith that my decision was thoroughly considered. I wish she had, however, because she breastfed her children and must have known how valuable and rewarding the experience would be."
West, like many women, goes on to discover that breastfeeding after her surgery is an uphill battle, with lots of pumping, devices, and reliance on formula to fill the gaps. Many women have to use a supplementer, which is a sort of bottle (of pumped or donated breast milk) with a long tube that tapes on the nipple.
Types of Surgeries and Likelihood of Breastfeeding Ability Loss
Mastectomy, or breast removal, is the most likely. When it comes to cancer, this makes sense. When it comes to "chest masculinization," "top surgery," or "gender confirmation surgery," in which healthy breasts are removed to look more masculine, the likelihood of breastfeeding plummets, and it might not be worth the cost. But the average woman isn’t getting mastectomies or "chest masculinization," even if some do. Most of us are likely to consider reductions or implants, also called augmentations.
The reasons for getting implants vary. Dr. Scott L. Spear, author of Surgery of the Breast: Principles and Art, says that women who want implants tend to have similar reasons for wanting the surgery, "a common thread being their doubts about their femininity." These are women who are often unhappy for various reasons, and rather than seeking to have larger breasts than the women around them, "want to catch up." Implants are less likely than other forms of breast surgery to reduce your ability to breastfeed, but the risk is still there.
Women who want implants tend to have similar reasons for wanting the surgery, a common thread being their doubts about their femininity.
Reductions are for conditions like gigantomastia, in which breasts grow abnormally large, or when a woman feels insecure due to being bigger than the other women around her. It can be frustrating not to fit most clothing, or to feel leered at or judged for breast size, and it’s often why women don’t like having large breasts. Aching backs are often blamed on breast size as well. Reductions are one of the more likely surgeries to destroy the ability to breastfeed.
The Important Questions
While not all of the reasons women might want breast surgery are because of body image, many of them are. The question many of us fail to ask ourselves is, is it worth it? Or, if we have asked the question, have the potential costs been thoroughly understood and considered?
While not all of the reasons women might want breast surgery are because of body image, many of them are. The question many of us fail to ask ourselves is, is it worth it?
In one stage of life, it’s easy to be focused on what seems important right now. The concerns of the future look very distant until they’re upon us. The questions of cloth versus disposable diapers, what kind of wipes to get, where the baby should sleep, and how to feed the baby, only seem urgent when the baby is almost here—and even then, sometimes get put off until the exact moment a decision is needed.
Many of us don’t consider how we might feel about breastfeeding in the future. Sometimes, in the case of surgeries done earlier in life, the question of whether or not to breastfeed is settled before it’s even asked, whether the new mother likes it or not. Or, the problem is complicated — a new mother may need a supplementer, hours and hours of pumping, donated milk, or many other efforts to make breastfeeding work when it might not have otherwise been the case.
It’s understandable for a woman to feel like she doesn’t measure up to the women around her. It’s a pretty ancient problem, from the Biblical Leah and Rachel to the mythical ancient Greek goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. The problem comes when no one else is thinking of your future, and the paths you might end up wanting to take. Whether or not a woman decides to breastfeed, no one wants a choice to be unexpectedly beyond her reach.
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