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Breastfeeding after Reduction

Jeanne W.
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 3, May-June 2002, p. 92

I was 19 when I decided to have a breast reduction. The surgeon informed me that breastfeeding would be questionable after the surgery. I remember thinking that children were a long way off for me and besides, breastfeeding was not something I had really ever thought about before. After all, I did not grow up in a culture that was supportive of breastfeeding.

The reduction changed my life. It improved every aspect of my life and everything about it was positive until I became pregnant. It was as if I suddenly realized what my decision eight years earlier could mean for both my baby and me. I started reading as much as I could and was thrilled when I discovered a picture of the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) in Sears' The Baby Book. I was fascinated by the ingenuity of such a device and reassured that no matter what my milk supply was, I could "nurse" my baby. I was determined that I would indeed breastfeed, even if I produced no milk at all.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when my milk came in before we even left the hospital. Although our sweet Alex was fussy, he was indeed gaining weight and had plenty of wet and dirty diapers for the first three weeks of his life. I quit compulsively monitoring his weight and then at his six-week checkup discovered that he had not gained any weight in the previous three weeks. I was shocked and felt terribly guilty. I was told to go home and breastfeed him constantly, and check back in a week. In my attempt to pursue an exclusive breastfeeding relationship, we did nothing the following week but nurse. Alex gained one ounce. I was devastated. I went home and gave my beautiful baby his first bottle. I was sad because my baby had spent all of those weeks hungry but I was also relieved that more food could be the answer to his unhappiness. He fell asleep peacefully in my arms.

A lactation consultant at the hospital helped me figure out the logistics of the SNS. It saved our breastfeeding relationship. I've heard many stories of a "love-hate" relationship with the SNS, and it was true for me, too. Although I longed to nurse him free from the confines of plastic, tape, and formula, I knew I wanted to give him the kind of attachment only nursing can provide. It helped more than words can say that my husband was a source of constant support and encouragement. He helped me get "hooked up" more times than either of us cares to calculate. We continued using the SNS until Alex was one year old.

Alex was still intensely nursing at age two-and-a-half, when I became pregnant. I consulted many times via email with Diana West, author of Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery (Available from the LLLI Online Store), as well as other La Leche League Leaders. The hope among all of us was that having an enthusiastic nurser would have given my milk ducts an opportunity to recanalize, restoring their flow so that I might be able to exclusively breastfeed this new baby. I had no idea the body was even capable of such repair. I was skeptical, but thrilled.

Ben was welcomed into this world five months ago. He weighs 19 pounds. Amazingly, he has only had his mama's milk. His brother gave him the gift of recanalized milk ducts and Ben has given his mother the gift of above average weight gain, to reassure me during those times of doubting my body. Both of my babies have given me the gift of trusting my body to heal and to provide sustenance in more ways than I had ever imagined possible. There are truly blessings all around!

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