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Nursing after Breast Surgery

Farr Carey
Ithaca NY USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2008, pp. 13-14

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I eagerly awaited her arrival. In particular, I looked forward to the bonding experience of breastfeeding. Despite my commitment to breastfeeding, I had a nagging feeling that I might encounter problems since I had a significant amount of scar tissue on one of my breasts from two previous cyst removal surgeries. During one of my prenatal visits I spoke to my doctor about my concerns. She said that we would have to wait and see what happened after the baby arrived. When my daughter, Sadie, was born she refused to nurse. Every time I tried to get her to latch on she would scream and cry. Despite my attempts and requests for help from the nurses, I was initially unsuccessful. I felt rejected and had little confidence in my ability to nurse my baby. We ended up staying in the hospital for five days due to jaundice.

I was still in the hospital when my milk finally came in. Even though I was pumping frequently, I became painfully engorged on one side due to the scar tissue. The next day my doctor told me I would not be able to breastfeed at all because I would be at risk for developing frequent mastitis. She said that even if I nursed only on the breast that was not affected by scar tissue, both breasts would continue to produce milk and this would cause persistent problems. Unfortunately, the hospital lactation specialist was not available for consultation and there were no other breastfeeding resources available in the very small town where we lived. Assuming my doctor knew what she was talking about, I resigned myself to the idea that I was not going to be able to breastfeed. My daughter and I were sent home with formula and bottles. I was exhausted, in tears, and completely devastated. I felt as if I had been robbed of an important maternal experience. I was so upset that I was unable to talk about it without crying, much less ask questions or seek information.

Over the next few weeks, Sadie was bottle-fed with formula and my milk supply dried up. Even though she seemed perfectly content with the feeding situation, I was not able to let it go. She was an intense baby who cried a lot and was not easily consoled. I kept thinking that if I could nurse her I could help her to calm down. Several weeks later, when I could talk about breastfeeding without crying, I began searching for information. I contacted my breast surgeon first, who informed me that my doctor had given me incorrect information and that even though the scar tissue might affect milk supply in the affected breast, I should be able to nurse on both breasts. She referred me to a lactation specialist who reiterated what the surgeon had told me. After speaking with several other lactation consultants and specialists, I began to feel angry that I had needlessly been told to stop breastfeeding, but I also felt empowered.

Three and a half weeks after Sadie was born I called a La Leche League Leader. She helped me develop a plan to bring my milk supply back and teach Sadie to nurse. My family thought I was crazy, but supported me as I began the process. After spending two weeks pumping every two hours and persistently trying to get Sadie to latch on, I achieved success. Sadie finally began nursing at five weeks old! Within a month or so I was able to get her down to one bottle of formula per day. She breastfed for the next 16 months. It was a lot of work, but well worth the effort.

When I became pregnant with my son, James, similar questions and anxieties began to arise. However, armed with my prior experience and knowledge I was confident that I would be able to nurse him as I had my daughter. I began the process of gathering information early and consulted with several professionals about what I might expect the second time around. This time I was prepared for whatever obstacles I might encounter and had a plan in place. After his birth, the maternity ward and pediatric nurses were supportive and encouraging. They reassured me that my nipples were fine and that I had plenty of milk. To my surprise, I encountered no problems the second time around. I experienced nothing beyond typical engorgement, even on the breast affected by the scar tissue. James took to nursing immediately. Now at four months, he is a healthy, happy 16-pound baby and has never had a drop of formula.

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