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Breastfeeding Success after Breast Reduction

Tee A.
South Africa
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 4, July-August 201, pp. 128-129

For the first six-and-a-half months of his life, I exclusively nursed our baby. At 13 months, we are still nursing with solids in between breastfeedings. This does not sound unusual, I know, except that I had breast reduction surgery almost four years ago, which removed two-and-a-half pounds from my ample bosom. Our first two children were breastfed before my reduction, although for less time and less successfully than my current nursing child. I can attribute this personal success to a number of things.

I owe thanks to my surgeon, who performed the reduction with fantastic results, even though he told me categorically I would not be able to breastfeed again and if I tried, it would be excruciatingly painful. I attribute some of this success to our third child, who was stillborn and wasn't able to drink the milk that followed his birth, but whose time in my womb probably helped repair and prepare my breasts further. I later learned that ducts can repair themselves during a pregnancy.

Breastfeeding after reduction is a very viable possibility and one in which success should not be measured by how much milk a mother can provide. Breastfeeding after a reduction does not need to be "all or nothing." Any human milk is better than none at all. My story, however, is different. In fact, my breastfeeding experience this time has outdone what I managed to achieve twice before with non-surgically altered breasts.

Sadly, until recently I had considered myself a failure to both Emily and Max in my attempts to give them mother's milk. Emily and Max did not follow the formula-fed growth charts to the letter and their own consistent growth was ignored. They were slower to pick up weight during their first three months. I was told on many occasions, "You're starving your children!" The remaining two months of their time at the breast were spent in turmoil. My intuition told me one thing and the professionals I was supposed to trust were telling me another. I was told to supplement, told to wean, told to stop feeding during the night, and I did because they were right, weren't they? Nobody picked up on my children's individuality, or mine for that matter; they just blamed everything on my milk.

As I now know, all this information put into practice added up to a dwindling milk supply and the end of breastfeeding. I experienced this as a great loss, twice, with both of my older children. We hadn't been able to do what nature had intended us to. No one seemed to want to understand my emotions; they thought it was all easier with a bottle.

My disappointment led me to educate myself. Today I know I did not fail my children; the health care system failed me. Facing up to my past breastfeeding experiences and educating myself gave me strength and determination to try again to fulfill my dream of breastfeeding for as long as my child and I chose, even after my reduction surgery. I knew after my third pregnancy that I had a good chance because I leaked everywhere after Angus' stillbirth. What I needed more than anything was reassurance. This came from my midwife, Kate, and later from my lactation consultant, Jean. If it weren't for them, and their unendingly available support, I might have believed the skeptics who were telling me that breastfeeding wouldn't work for me during my fourth pregnancy.

Four days after my fourth child, Fergus, was born, my midwife came to my home and greeted me with a huge smile. I told her about my breast reduction and she was unfazed. If she had any worries about my breastfeeding after a reduction, she kept them to herself. Kate heard sucking and swallowing as Fergus nursed, saw adequate wet and dirty nappies, and told me it was perfectly normal for a breastfed baby to take two or sometimes three weeks to regain his/her birth weight. During this time she encouraged me to believe in myself. Kate didn't use a textbook to assess our breastfeeding relationship. She saw a healthy, happy baby. She didn't judge me, but rather she empathized and empowered me. She abstained from interfering with the delicate early weeks of supply and demand, while things looked good. We waited that time out. Since then Fergus' weight gain and growth have been consistently perfect for him.

Jean, a lactation consultant, joined the team and continued in the same vein and together we've proved that breastfeeding works. The knowledge, enthusiasm, support, and patience Kate and Jean have imparted have been so valuable. They have helped me through times when I worried that I did not have enough milk, and I have not had to give supplements.

I thank my husband for his support, as he continually tells me what a great job I'm doing, especially in the small hours of the night when it matters the most. And, obviously, credit goes to my son, Fergus, whose milky smiles encourage me to carry on to the next stage toddler nursing.

I have found and still do find breastfeeding a challenge, but what I've needed most is a pair or two of listening ears. Support for breastfeeding shouldn't depend on luck, but I am lucky to have found Kate and Jean. Mothers deserve up-to-date information from doctors, midwives, health visitors, and lactation consultants, with a sensitive, convincing, empowering approach.

Every woman's capacity and experience will be different after breast reduction surgery. But without my history, I probably wouldn't have written about my experience, insisting it's every woman's right to be properly informed and encouraged to do what's normal, to breastfeed her child. Education, support, a large bucket of determination, and faith are what you need for breastfeeding success.

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