Defining Your Own Success:
Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery
by Diana West
Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2001
Available from the LLLI Online Store.
Reviewed by Unity Dienes
Hollis NH USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 6, November-December 2001, p. 222
Until now, women seeking to learn more about breastfeeding after breast reduction surgery ("BFAR") have had few resources and no comprehensive guide to the experience. Diana West's DEFINING YOUR OWN SUCCESS: BREASTFEEDING AFTER BREAST REDUCTION SURGERY is a groundbreaking new book from La Leche League International that fills this need with cutting-edge data, first-hand experience, and an upbeat, empathetic attitude.
For mothers who have had reduction surgery, this book is absolutely essential, and the questions confronting them are carefully and sensitively addressed. Will I ever be able to produce enough milk? Can I do anything to increase the amount of milk I do produce? How do I know if I need to supplement, and how do I do that without jeopardizing breastfeeding? How will common breastfeeding problems that I may face be affected by my past surgery? Most importantly, how do I achieve a successful, happy breastfeeding relationship in spite of sometimes overwhelming technical difficulties?
West does not provide pat answers to such complex questions. Instead, she provides information derived from the latest scientific research on BFAR, from the collective experiences of many BFAR women who have faced these problems, and from an impressive understanding of general breastfeeding dynamics. Some issues facing BFAR mothers, while not unique to their situation, may nonetheless be exacerbated by their prior surgery. As a result, DEFINING YOUR OWN SUCCESS covers many of the same topics of a more standard breastfeeding book, but is packed with the subtle ways in which breastfeeding is experienced differently by women who have undergone breast reduction. It is never assumed, however, that there is a single BFAR experience, a point that is made clear by the personal stories of thirteen BFAR mothers presented between the chapters. West strongly encourages women to develop their own support network (either online or in person) of other mothers to combat the all-too-common feeling of facing the difficulties of breastfeeding after reduction surgery alone.
The author's warmth and positive attitude provide a foundation of that support network, even when the technical information she presents is occasionally discouraging. Never judgmental, West gives many possible solutions to problems and encourages mothers to make choices that will work best in their particular situation, even if they are sometimes not ideal. After all, she reminds readers that any baby who suckles at the breast is a breastfed baby, regardless of actual milk intake, and she maintains that "the only factors necessary to breastfeed are at least one breast and nipple, information, and support." If mothers provide the breast and the nipple, West will provide the information and support they need to get started and keep going.
This is a peerless resource for mothers wanting to breastfeed after reduction surgery, yet in many ways, this book transcends its unique context. For example, human milk is honored as a priceless treasure in any quantity a baby may receive. This perspective can be appreciated by any breastfeeding mother, since many women for many reasons face an uphill battle and lots of discouragement in their efforts to breastfeed. One chapter contains cutting-edge information on the unique qualities of human milk, including detailed tables and charts of its immunological and nutritional components. In keeping with the upbeat tone of the book, however, artificial baby milk is not disparaged but is respected as adequate infant nutrition if full breastfeeding is not possible. This approach is both inspiring for the Herculean efforts to breastfeed and forgiving of compromises mothers may need to make.
Also inspiring are the descriptions of the almost miraculous functioning of the breast. It can be so hard for mothers to trust their bodies to provide for their infants, and so easy to fear they will be unable to produce enough milk. For women breastfeeding after reduction, this very real concern necessitates extra record-keeping and more detailed knowledge about the signs of healthy infant growth.
All of this is covered in extensive detail in this book, of course, and will be essential to mothers in this situation. But both BFAR mothers and women without a surgical history may be impressed by the well-illustrated and simply explained discussions of both normal breast functioning and post-surgical lactation experiences. The amazing information about the ability of the breast to "recanalize" (to reconnect severed milk ducts) and to "reinnervate" (to grow new nerves) may help all women have more faith and confidence in the ability of their breasts to function as intended.
The primary audience of this book is clearly made up of pregnant or breastfeeding women who have had breast reduction surgery and the professionals or volunteers who help them, such as their doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, or La Leche League Leaders. But many others would benefit from a more casual reading, and would be impressed both by the book's clearly explained technical information and by its personal stories of triumph over adversity. As the author powerfully concludes, "Each BFAR mother is a heroine....Your exceptional efforts and deep devotion to your child add a new dimension to the definition of motherhood and inspire mothers everywhere to reach greater heights of nurturing" (271). Like a BFAR mother, this book, too, has the power to inspire mothers with any breastfeeding background with its example of a passionate devotion to children and the wisdom earned through struggle.