By Rita Little
I wanted to do what was best for my son and I couldn’t. A decision I made 12 years ago, before I became a mother, was impacting me now. I was 17 years old and uncomfortable in my body. I’d been teased and dealt with physical pain due to my breast size. While out clothes shopping, my mom heard me crying in the dressing room. Trying to get a shirt down from around my neck she asked me what was wrong. I told her I wanted to wear this shirt and couldn’t. She heard me gripe and complain about my breasts size before and dusted it off, but in that moment she saw how badly it was hurting me and decided we would begin the process of breast reduction surgery. Every doctor we consulted gave a standard one liner about the surgery’s impact on breastfeeding. “You may or may not be able to breastfeed after having this surgery, we won’t know until you try.” At 17, In 2006 I had my surgery. I thought it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
In 2017 I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Swirling with a million different emotions, I wondered, “will I be able to breastfeed?” Within a week of finding out I was pregnant, I called my surgeon from 12 years ago and spoke with the physician’s assistant who assisted in my surgery. Surprisingly, she remembered me. She said it wasn’t often patients so young had that type of surgery. I asked her what my chances of breastfeeding were from a surgical perspective. She replied with great optimism, saying my surgery was uncomplicated and because my nipples were not removed the chances of having connected ducts were greater. What breastfeeding looked like plagued my entire pregnancy. I worried about it 24-7. I joined Facebook groups and researched the topic to educate myself. I went into labor feeling ready but had no idea how unprepared I really was.
His first six weeks was a haze of triple feeding. Bringing him to the breast for an hour, pumping a quarter of an ounce after nursing and bottle feeding to meet his needs. By the time the cycle ended, I prayed he was calm enough to let me sleep twenty minutes before the regimen restarted.
I stayed in the hospital an additional day to access a lactation consultant whose help was lackluster. I went back for visits after I was discharged for three weeks; only to have weighted feeds done and be told I might not be able to breastfeed. I was even referred to a clinic with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. No matter what I tried, I could never get to exclusive breastfeeding. Triple feeding was destroying my mental health, but I was determined to breastfeed.
Along the way I met an amazing breastfeeding specialist named Keva. Keva didn’t have all the answers but she was supportive and introduced me to my son’s first milk mommy, Kathryn. This amazing woman provided enough breast milk to supplement what I could not provide from the breast until my son was 9 months old. Thousands of ounces in milk pumped and donated in a labor of love.
Informal milk sharing allowed my son to be exclusively fed breast milk until he was introduced to complementary foods. Kathryn was the first bulk donor I had, and a few other moms helped after she no longer produced. All in all, I was able to provide 60% of his needs and milk donors closed the gap.
After 17 months, our breastfeeding journey ended. I became a believer in trusting informal milk sharing relationships. It truly saved our journey. I learned to re-define what a “successful” breastfeeding journey looked like.