Breastfeeding After Reduction Story (Part 1)

Breastfeeding After Reduction Story
“You won’t be able to breastfeed” The midwife phrased it as a question: like she was wondering why I ever thought I could, but the midwife at my first ever antenatal appointment seemed to think she was helping me avoid the ‘unnecessary effort’. When a healthcare provider is faced with someone who has had breast surgery they sometimes react like this automatically.  Maybe she heard it a long time ago and never considered an alternative and it’s a real pain and I know other people who’ve had a breast reduction who never tried because they were told not to. You can tell there’s still a lot of anger there because this midwife didn’t give me the support I needed and certainly didn’t go out of the way to help me. When I turned up at the clinic a week later with some printouts about breastfeeding after reduction I never got an apology and she didn’t haver any interest in educating herself; I wonder just how many people have never tried to breastfeed because they were told they couldn’t?

It seems cruel that in a society where nursing our babies is almost rare in comparison to the widespread normalisation of bottle feeding and human milk substitutes that the parents who really really want to nurse their babies are the ones who struggle the most. There are all sorts of reasons why we struggle to breastfeed or chestfeed and when you add surgery into the equation it complicates things even more.  But I’d been brought up with the knowledge that breastfeeding is the best thing for baby so I wanted to see if it was possible even after a breast reduction.

You can read about my breast reduction story here.  My own breast surgeon told me it was 50/50 I’d be able to breastfeed after reduction surgery ,so it seems that even someone with the most in-depth knowledge of how the tissue and ducts and milk canals work might not understand the other aspects of breastfeeding. Then there are the most experienced lactation consultants who have only worked with a few post-surgery nursing parents who don’t understand the surgery itself in depth. It can be so hard to know where to turn.  

Education on Breastfeeding After Reduction

Not long after the dreadful midwife consultation my ever-wonderful husband Hákun (The Viking) presented me with a copy of Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery, Foreword by Jack Newman. I can’t seem to find a Kindle version and it’s a little pricy but worth saving up for. Her other book The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk: Foreword by Martha Sears, RN
was very helpful too and I got a copy not long after Ayla was born. The book on BFAR gave me the knowledge I needed to plan our breastfeeding relationship.

When I was pregnant with Ayla I had a breast cancer scare and I’m lucky that it was beneign and for another reason.  When I went in for my biopsy the oncologist knew a little bit about breastfeeding after breast surgery.  As he took the biopsy he was telling me about the amazing ability of the lactation tissue to repair itself and reinforced what I’d been reading about recanalisation (recanalization).  I left, 7 months pregnant and hopeful!

I chose to do antenatal milk expression while pregnant with Ayla in the hope that it would help prepare my breasts for nursing. Another breastfeeding after reduction store I’d read had said this might help. I hoped that by encouraging milk production earlier it would give what’s called recanalisation a boost and help repair some of the severed and surgically damaged milk ducts.

before and after my breast reduction, 34JJ to 34D
before and after my breast reduction, 34JJ to 34D

As you can see I had a lot of breast tissue removed during my surgery, going from a 34JJ to a 34D (UK sizes) and I’d had severe necrosis after the surgery (you can see that my left side is around a cup size smaller than the right). So I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I was determined. I got little 1ml syringes from the midwives and I planned on buying an at-breast supplementer also known as a supply line.

Ayla’s Birth and Breastfeeding After Reduction Story

Ayla was born two weeks before her due date after a four day induction, ten hour labour and emergency caesarean. We knew she could be poorly but she was rushed straight to NICU within minutes. I’ll blog more about the kids’ births another time but with regards to breastfeeding we had a very bad start. I didn’t see her for six hours when they could find someone to wheel me up, then I didn’t see her again until the next day when The Viking came. There was never anybody to take me and after that they kept telling me to walk. But I had endometritis, an infection in my uterus, and the pain was incredible. They gave me painkillers and I was living in a drugged nightmare. I couldn’t walk that far and the one time I did, I passed out in the parents’ break room on NICU. I was so nervous about feeding her and I didn’t have other people breastfeeding around me to help. I asked the nurses to help but they just said they weren’t trained. Ayla wouldn’t latch and although I kept expressing she soon needed more than I could get. On the third day I was so depressed my milk stopped coming completely and they told me she wouldn’t be able to leave unless I allowed her to have formula. We begged for her to have donor milk but they said it was only for sick and preemie babies and that Ayla was term and getting better. I asked which one and they said they weren’t allowed to tell me.

Ayla Breastfeeding with NG tubing filling her little tummy with formula so she could associate latching on with feeling full
Ayla Breastfeeding with NG tubing filling her little tummy with formula so she could associate latching on with feeling full

They put an NG tube in her and we gave her milk through that while I latched her. She seemed content and it worked. I really wanted a supply line so she could associate breastfeeding with feeling full while my milk came in but the hospital said we weren’t allowed “non-authorised devices”, they took out the NG tube but wouldn’t let me try any at the breast. The next day my lactation consultant (LC) was going to be on shift because she was a midwife at the hospital, that had meant I couldn’t ask her to come as a private consultant but we had just spent all of our money on the Medela SNS anyway.

The LC was ok and showed me how to use a bottle to feed Ayla and gave me a feeding diary to record our breastfeeding after reduction story. She told me to breastfeed, bottle feed and pump; a gruelling routine that seemed to have no end in sight. But it got Ayla onto the ward with me and we got to go home when she was a week old so we could continue our feeding journey. Please sign up to my blog to get an email of the second part of this breastfeeding after reduction story.

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8 thoughts on “Breastfeeding After Reduction Story (Part 1)

  1. Hi,
    I wanted to comment as I myself have had a breast reduction 15 years ago now. But 3 years ago I gave birth to my baby boy who was 4 weeks premature. We had the same situation as you, induction followed by long labour followed by emergency ceserean. I didn’t see/feed my boy for 7 hours, I was so upset my wishes for post birth were not granted, I wished for skin to skin straight away as well as straight to breast but instead they almost sedated me and sent me to a ward whilst baby was in nicu. I finally got to see my baby when the other half came back and wheeled me down. 2 days passed and baby had jaundice which they said was dehydration. So I said about the feeding tube whilst I tried to get more milk to come. I was definitely producing milk because they came with syringes not long after he was born and was able to fill 20ml. Anyway still loosing weight and desperately trying to get on top of it, I was doing skin to skin for 8 hrs a day as well as on demand feeding. But they pressured me so much to give formula that I couldn’t make a decision and ended up feeling like a failure as a mother for not being able to feed my own baby. 8 weeks I tried and failed to get the milk to come. Endless feeding and pumping with no more than 10ml coming… it was so hard. Anyway I’m hoping to be expecting a second soon and will definitely read up what Martha Sears has to say about getting milk supply in. I’m grateful to read your article because it’s exactly us in a lot of ways. Thanks for reading. Sharon and now 3 yard old toddler. X

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