What we hear often enough, we start to believe. Those beliefs shape the decisions we make. This is often the case when we are making decisions about parenting and especially breastfeeding. What we have heard from our friends or family or online, we start to believe and before we know it, we start to say things to ourselves like:
"I won’t be able to breastfeed my baby because my breasts are too small. "
"I can never breastfeed my baby because my breasts are much too large."
If these are things that you have heard, wondered about, or believe they could stop you from breastfeeding your baby.
These beliefs have stopped a lot of moms from even trying to breastfeed their babies.
Moms who may be struggling to get started with breastfeeding may find themselves blaming the size of their breasts for their difficulty.
But, here is the truth:
The size of your breasts does not have anything to do with whether you can breastfeed your baby. Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Women with very small breasts and very large breasts and all sizes in between are capable of providing all the breastmilk their babies need.
Breast size is determined by how much fatty tissue is in the breast. You may have experienced this if you were ever trying to lose a few pounds and realized that your breasts were the first part of your body to lose the weight.
The fatty tissue in your breasts isn’t responsible for making milk. The milk-making tissue in your breasts is called the glandular tissue. This is where milk is made and stored.
During your pregnancy and during breastfeeding, your glandular, or milk-making tissue increases. What is more important than the size of your breasts is if your breasts increased in size during your pregnancy. Did your breasts get larger? Did you have to get a new bra size? These are indicators that your body is producing more glandular tissue in preparation for making milk and this is a very good sign that you will be able to produce milk for your baby.
The amount of glandular tissue in your breasts determines how much milk you are able to make and store at one time.
Women with large and small breasts are capable of making the same amount of breast milk.
So what does size have to do with anything?
Remember playing the gossip game when you were a kid? The first person in line whispered something to the next person and it was passed down the line until the last person said the phrase out loud. Sometimes what that last person said had some vague similarities to what was said in the beginning. Often is was totally different.
Facts and information about breastfeeding often get misconstrued just like the gossip game. There is a vague similarity to the truth, but it is clear to see how the confusion came in and where this false belief started to spread.
Breast size is important in how much milk the breast can store (or hold) at one time. A mom with large breasts and a mom with small breasts are both capable of producing the same amount of milk over the course of the day. They may not be able to hold the same amount at one time.
The mom with larger breasts may have more capacity to hold more milk at one time. Because of this, her baby may be able to take more milk in one feeding. She may be able to feed her baby a little less frequently - maybe she can feed her baby 8 times per day. The mom with smaller breasts may not be able to hold as much milk at once so her baby takes a little less milk at one time. She may need to feed her baby more often and her baby may need to take 12 feedings per day. Both babies may receive the same amount of milk over the course of the day but they get that milk in a different number of feedings throughout the day.
I think of it this way.
I used to collect teacups. Once a friend gave me a beautiful but tiny teacup from Turkey. That cup was just like all the other teacups in my collection - except it was very small. I didn’t look at that teacup and say “This cup won’t work for drinking tea because it is too small” No. It functioned exactly the same. The only difference was it didn’t hold as much tea as my other teacups. I could drink the same amount of tea from that cup - I just needed to fill it up more often.
That is exactly the same for small breasts. Small breasts produce as much milk as larger breasts. They just may not be able to hold as much milk at one time and need to be filled up more often. The way that breasts are filled up more often (making more milk) is by emptying them more regularly (feeding the baby or pumping). (That is another subject we will save for another time)
(If you don't experience change in your breast size during your pregnancy or after delivery, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for help)
How else might breast size make a difference for your baby?
Large breasted women sometimes have a little more difficulty with getting their babies positioned at the breast. This can certainly take some practice and time to figure out for you and your baby. When you are new motherhood, everything just feels awkward, breastfeeding including. But you will find some positions that you feel help make breastfeeding easier for you and baby. You might need to support the weight of your breast for the baby. Laying back or on your side might help.
If you are worried that your breast size might make positioning your baby difficult, make sure you seek out assistance from a lactation consultant to help you learn about these positions to make breastfeeding easier. Breastfeeding has so many benefits for you and your baby and this is a problem that is easily solved.
Some moms are concerned that their baby’s mouth will not be able to accommodate the size of their nipples. If you don’t know this already, listen closely. Baby’s don’t breastfeed by sucking on the nipple like a straw. The baby's mouth needs to engulf the entire nipple, so that the baby’s mouth can compress the areola. Nipples are usually elastic and stretchy and babies are usually able to fit the mom’s nipple into the mouth without problem. Occasionally, in the beginning, mom’s nipples and baby’s mouth can seem to be a little bit of a mismatched pair as they are learning each other. This is particularly a problem with preemie babies. There are several strategies for dealing with this as mom and baby get this sorted out. And I will admit, this can feel very frustrating. But, moms and babies are made to be a fit and there are lots of choices to help with this. So, I urge you to have faith in yourself and your baby to figure this out.
If you find that this is a problem for you and your baby, finding that lactation consultant quickly can help you and baby to find a solution to help the two of you become well matched. Sometimes it just takes a bit of support and someone to help find the right solution. This is one of those times that it is best to ask for help.
Conditions That Might Need More Help
There are a few conditions that can make breastfeeding more challenging. I bring these up -not to cause you to cross breastfeeding off as an option for you - but so that you can be prepared to seek help early if you need it. If you have one of these underlying situations you may even want to schedule a consult with a breastfeeding specialist before you deliver your baby to develop a plan to avoid any problems or tackle any problems you might have early on. These are absolutely NOT reasons to stop you from breastfeeding. They just could be more challenging - especially if you aren't prepared.
Let’s talk about each one of these below :
Many moms wonder about whether their implants might affect their ability to breastfeed. Breast surgeons will often place these in such a way that they won’t interfere with your milk-making tissue. If your nipple or areola were not affected during the surgery, you likely will have a successful breastfeeding experience without any difficulty.
Here is what I want you to know about implants.
In the early days as your milk production (supply) is ramping up and your breasts are getting fuller, you might notice that your breasts feel extra full and may even be a bit uncomfortable. This may be due to the implants taking up some of the space needed for your milk-making (glandular) tissue to expand. This fullness doesn’t usually last very long as your milk supply regulates for your baby. This is called engorgement and there are many ways to help ease this.
If you have implants, make sure you discuss this with your lactation consultant. (If you had breast implants for unusually shaped, irregular, different sized or hypoplastic breasts, see the section down below on hypoplastic breasts) Be reassured that your implants will not stop you from breastfeeding your baby.
I see moms all the time who have had breast reductions in the past who now worry about their ability to breastfeed their babies. This is definitely a situation that you want to keep a close eye on, but let me reassure you that you can absolutely breastfeed your baby. During breast reduction surgery, fatty tissue is reduced, breast tissue is reshaped and the nipple is repositioned.
It is often difficult for moms who have had this type of surgery to produce a full milk supply for their baby. But, the amount of milk produced is different for every mom, depending on how much the nerve supply or the glandular (milk-making) tissue was disrupted during the surgery. The amount of milk supply also depends on the type of surgical procedure performed and the length of time since surgery (the longer the time since the surgery, the better)
I don't want you to be discouraged hearing that. Some moms are able to fully provide all of their baby’s milk at the breast, while others will need to supplement their milk supply with donor milk or baby formula to help their baby grow.
This is the important point I want you to know - you don’t have to be able to supply ALL of the milk your baby needs to be successful at breastfeeding. ANY breastmilk you provide for your baby is beneficial to your baby’s health and growth. And the comfort and nurturing you provide at the breast means the same to your baby, no matter how much milk your provide.
You will want to work closely with your health care provider or an experienced International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to monitor your supply and the baby’s growth if you have had any breast surgery. If you are struggling with supply, your lactation consultant can help you with ways to increase your supply and to add any additional nutritional supplement for your baby. The good news is, there are ways to provide this supplement right at the breast while you are actively feeding your baby.
Hypoplastic breasts are pretty rare and different than just small breasts. They are typically wide-spaced, small breasts that may be tubular or elongated or even different sizes. The nipples and areolas may be very large in proportion to the breast size. It may be difficult for a mom with hypoplastic breasts to provide a full milk supply for her baby as there may be insufficient glandular or milk making tissue present. Sometimes moms with hypoplastic breasts have other underlying medical conditions such as have struggles with infertility problems or other hormonal issues present that could affect milk production too.
If you have hypoplastic breasts, should you attempt to breastfeed your baby? Absolutely! Until your baby is born and you begin the breastfeeding process, you won’t know what is possible.
This is the important point to know - as I said earlier...
You don’t have to be able to supply ALL of the milk your baby needs to be successful at breastfeeding. ANY breastmilk you provide for your baby is beneficial to your baby’s health and growth. And the comfort and nurturing you provide at the breast is one of the most important benefits of breastfeeding for you and for your baby.
It’s not all about the milk.
If you did not notice any or much change in your breast tissue during your pregnancy, or if you know or suspect that you have hypoplastic breasts, talking to a lactation consult early -even before the baby is born - will be very helpful for developing a plan for maximizing the amount of breastmilk you can supply for your baby.
If you received breast implants because of hypoplastic breasts, your health care providers may not be aware of this and it is important to let them know that you are planning to breastfeed so that you can receive the support that you will need to be successful and so your baby’s growth can be followed more closely.
We all doubt our abilities as a mom and we naturally have a tendency to fault ourselves if something is not going exactly as we envisioned it to be. But, one thing that will help you early on in your motherhood journey, is to define what being a good mom looks like to you. Is it something measurable - like how many ounces of breast milk you are able to provide for your baby? Is it knowing that you are doing everything you can to provide for your baby to the best of your ability? Defining that for yourself may take a lot of pressure off of you as a new mom.
Breastfeeding looks differently on every mom. Your success does not have anything to do with the size of our breasts.
If you are an expectant mom interested in learning more about breastfeeding, sign up on our waitlist HERE for our video based Prenatal Breastfeeding Class which is coming soon
If you would like more information about breastfeeding your baby, visit our Breastfeeding page for more information