Breastfeeding after Reduction
by Tee Ashford
I am exclusively feeding with occasional solids, our 11 month old child, after a breast reduction almost 4 years ago, which saw 2 1/2lbs of flesh disappear from my ample bosom. Our first two children were breastfed before my reduction. Not for as long, or as successfully. I can attribute this personal success to a number of things. Not necessarily in this order but:
- A thank you to my surgeon, who performed a sympathetic reduction with fantastic results, even though he told me categorically I would not be able to breast-feed again and if I tried, it would be excruciatingly painful.
- A big thank you goes to our third stillborn child who wasn't able to drink the milk that followed his birth, but who's pregnancy probably helped repair and prepare my breasts further.
Breast Feeding After Reduction, is a very viable possibility and one where success should not be measured in how much milk a mother can provide. Breast Feeding after a reduction does not need to be "all or nothing". Any breast milk is better than none at all.
However my story is different.
In fact my breastfeeding experience this time around, intriguingly has outstripped, by almost six months what I managed to achieve twice before with unreduced breasts.
Sadly until recently I had considered myself a failure to both Emily and Max in my attempts to give them mummies 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 on reaching 3 months of age.
I was told on numerous occasions, "You're starving you're children".
The remaining two months of their time at the breast where spent in turmoil. My intuition told me one thing and the professionals who 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 biorhythms or individuality; they just blamed everything on my milk.
As I know now all this information put into practice added up to a dwindling milk supply and the end of my passionate affairs, leaving me totally bereft. I experienced a great loss, twice. Our potential, to bring to a natural close, what nature had intended us to do was prematurely severed. No one seemed to want to understand my emotions; they thought it was all easier with a bottle.
I actually thank myself. My bitterness gave me the foresight, to educate myself out of naivety. Today I know I did not fail my children, the UK childcare system failed me.
Facing up to my past breastfeeding experiences and educating myself, gave me strength and determination to have another go, to fulfill my dream of breastfeeding for as long as "WE CHOSE'. I knew after my third pregnancy I was in for a good chance, I leaked everywhere after Angus' birth. In fact I didn't think I would be unable to breastfeed. What I needed more than anything was constant reassurance. This came in the form of my Midwife Kate Christie and later to my Lactation Consultant Jean Ridler. A huge, huge thanks goes to them.
If it weren't for them, and their unending available support, all the other skeptics would have got under my skin. My mother breastfed me for two weeks after that I was fed condensed milk. She has at times found it difficult to support my actions, which is hardly surprising given the climate in the sixties surrounding bottles. However she has seen me continue even after I developed a breast abscess the size of a grapefruit, needing to be surgically drained, leaving me with a gaping whole to contend with and now looks at me with admiration.
I was unable to tell the pediatricain about my reduction. I knew straight away upon meeting him that he wasn't gemmed up on breastfeeding especially when he told me I needed to pop vitamin drops into my newborns mouth. So I knew I'd be taken to task if he found out that part of my plumbing was missing.
Even the baby clinic has fed me incorrect advice. When I told them of my reduction, instantly they said "oh we've had one of"those" before and we couldn't even squeeze out colostrum! On one occasion we decided to do a test weigh, because of my increasing nervous disposition. When it became apparent that he'd ingested 60 ml of milk (even though he'd fed an hour earlier), I was told "well that's not enough". It took them a while to remember what an SNS (supplemental Nursing System) was when they suggested I might need to top him up. I left that day convinced I was failing again.. thankfully I picked up the phone and spoke to Kate.
I'll stop rambling and get back to the beginning.......
Kate greeted me with a huge smile for the first time at home four days after Fergus's birth (10th January 2000). I told her about my breast reduction and she was unfazed. If she showed any signs of anxiety over me breastfeeding after a reduction, it was done behind closed doors. Kate heard sucking and swallowing, saw adequate wet and dirty nappies and told me it was perfectly normal for a baby to take two sometimes three weeks to regain his/her birth weight. During this time she encouraged me to "BELIEVE" in myself. Kate didn't text book assess our breastfeeding relationship. She saw a healthy happy baby. She didn't judge, 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 his weight gain and growth have been consistently perfect for him.
Jean joined the team and continued in the same vein and together I feel we've beaten the system. We've squashed the myths and with few exceptions (there will always be some), proved that given the chance and correct environment breastfeeding works. The, knowledge, enthusiasm, support and patience Kate and Jean have imparted have been so valuable.
I've hit three major crisis points of "OH MY GOD NOT ENOUGH MILK", which should be called "OH MY GOD I'VE LOST THE PLOT", and, every time we've got through them, rationally, and not knee jerked into supplementation. In fact I don't think my anxiety will ever entirely leave me, until we've weaned, whenever that may be. Kate and Jean shared these breastfeeding anecdotes, which have become my mantra,
- "Use it or lose it",
- "There's always milk there",
- "Believe in yourself",
- "It's a confidence trick",
- "Take each day as it comes",
- And my own "I can provide the best pre packed convenience food there is".
I thank my husband for being in on the act, 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 to my son Fergus whose milky smiles endear me to carry on and on, to the next stage, toddler nursing.
I have found and still do find breastfeeding a challenging full-time occupation. For me there is no need for substitutes. The only additive I've needed was a pair of listening ears. It shouldn't be luck, but I am lucky to have found a window of opportunity in Kate and Jean. I hope I have managed to imply what an important role a supportive environment plays in a breast-feeding woman's life. The breast-feeding chain has been broken by this bottle-feeding society. Mothers deserve up to date information from Doctors, Midwives, Health Visitors and Lactation Consultants, told with a sensitive, convincing, empowering approach.
I suppose you could call me a member of the breastfeeding militia. This is surprising if you were to view the anchor shaped scars on my breasts. Given hindsight, I would not have had this operation as lady luck might not have taken the ride with me and who knows how I would have felt if I were unable to exclusively feed, but that's another story. What I do know is, 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, breast feed her child.
Education, support, a large bucket of determination and faith are for me the way forward to breastfeeding success.
Tee Ashford (9th December 2000)