Thursday, July 30, 2009

The best decision

Twelve years ago, over Christmas break during my Junior year of college I had a breast reduction.

I lost 2 pounds from my right side and three from my left side going from a 40DD to a 36C.

It was, at that time, the best decision I had ever made.


I was told when I had the surgery that I most likely would not be able to breastfeed, but that meant nothing to me.

Fast forward to when I got pregnant with Little G and I was again told that I would most likely not be able to breastfeed.

Then a good friend of mine asked me if I would be breastfeeding and I said that I didn't think I could and she said that was nonsense! That I could breastfeed. She pointed me in the direction of the Breastfeeding After Reduction (BFAR) website. She was turns out I COULD breastfeed, even if just a little.

I told my mom that even if I could just breastfeed for one hour, it would be enough for me and I set out to learn everything I could to help that dream come true.

I read the books on the subject.

I spoke to lactation consultants about it.

I discussed it with our doula.

I explored the concept of natural childbirth so that I could better my chances of success.

I researched pediatricians with it in consideration.

I decided on a hospital based on it.

I prepared my breasts in the hopes of being able to overcome it.

And then he was born. And I breastfed him within the first hour and he took to my breast like a champ. And I continued to breastfeed him at every feeding. I felt everything I was supposed to feel; my uterus cramped when he was on the breast in those first few days, just like it was supposed to. I felt my milk come in a few mornings after coming home. I even fed him at at his first pediatrician appointment so they could weigh him before and after a feeding.

I had milk. I had lots and lots of nourishing, antibody producing, mother's milk.

And then I got an infection on my left nipple. It was an infection from Little G not latching properly over the span of just a few hours. We went to the pediatrician because I thought we had thrush, we didn't. I went to the OB because we thought I had mastitis, I didn't. Instead, it was a topical infection and I was put on antibiotics and told not to feed from that side. Not to even give what I was pumping from that side to him.

So for over a week, I only breastfed from the right side. And we supplemented with formula because I wasn't pumping enough to feed him. It was an incredibly rough week. I was trying to pump 8-10 times a day, on top of feeding him from my right breast and supplementing from a bottle - all while being home with him alone for the first time. To make matters worse, he was going through his 2 week growth spurt and was cluster feeding.

I didn't do well. He was very cranky. And I yelled at him and felt awful things towards him. All things I am told are normal feelings, but still, when you yell at your newborn and then he cries even harder, you start to cry and feel like a horrible person and then your newborn cries even more and sooner than later you are both sniveling messes sitting on the living room floor trying to make sense of what the hell just happened.

I called the lactation consultant sobbing and she suggested that my milk supply was low and to start taking Fenugreek, an herb that helps to boost milk production. She also suggested pumping every two hours, so my husband and I worked out a timeline for him to feed/change/etc. at night while I pumped.

Finally, after ten days, I was given the go-ahead to nurse again. Little G latched on the same as before, with gusto. And for two days, I fed him exclusively from my breasts. We both felt much better, but he was still very fussy after a feeding. We thought it was because he was just a fussy baby, so we introduced him to the pacifier which seemed to help.

A visiting nurse came on Monday and noted that Little G had lost weight since her last visit. I mentioned that I was going to a breastfeeding support group the next day and she suggested that I weigh him before and after feeding him again.

So I went to the group and we weighed him and he only gained half an ounce from feeding from both my breasts. That isn't enough.

The lactation consultant started telling me about another drug I could take that wasn't approved in the US, but was available in Canada that would also help to boost my supply. And she suggested that I pump some more so that I could supplement Little G with breast milk.

I got home from the meeting and he was hungry and my breasts were soft. So I made him some formula.

In the middle of the night, my husband and I had yet another long, tearful talk about our options and we decided rather than quitting, I would feed Little G from the breast and then supplement with a couple of ounces after each feeding.

The next morning, I tried to breastfeed and the pain was ridiculous. I decided right then to cut my losses and fully transition to formula feeding our child. That was yesterday.

I wrote a letter to Little G that fully explained how much I wanted this for him and how hard I had tried and that even though this wasn't the decision I wanted to make, it was the best decision for us. Sadly, the letter is forever lost in cyberspace.

I can not even begin to describe the emotions running through this entire sequence of events. I never ever thought that breastfeeding was even an option for us. But I was doing it...and doing it well! I had milk! I had lots and lots of milk!! And now I don't. I know that giving him what I was able to give him was the best gift I could give him...and yet I am so angry that I can't continue to give that gift.

I am scared to tell my friends that I have failed at this. I live in an area where I am afraid people will look down at me for not breastfeeding my child. I am afraid of people saying 'I told you so' when they hear I finally quit. I am frustrated at the amount of money I poured into nursing bras, shirts, pjs, breast pads, pump equipment, etc. I am annoyed at myself for even considering the cost of all of this as a factor. I am sad that in the end, I quit because I couldn't find a way to feed my child and pump and supplement without losing my mind; as a mother, I should be able to fight a lion for my child, and yet I gave up, I didn't fight hard enough.


Twelve years ago, I had a breast reduction. It was, at that time, the best decision I have ever made.

I do not regret having the surgery. If I hadn't, I most likely wouldn't have worked at Disney in entertainment, I wouldn't have met a boy and moved to Jacksonville. I wouldn't have had to escape Jacksonville for the first place that responded and ended up in Boston. I wouldn't have met my amazing husband. I wouldn't have my beautiful son.

Yesterday, I decided to lay down my weapons and surrender the fight. No matter how much it hurts, it is the best decision I have ever made; for my child, myself and my family.


  1. As I am not a mother, I cannot comment on what seems like your feelings of inadequacy, except to say that of course it is certainly not the case. A failure of a mother is one who does not care for her child; switching from breast milk to formula will hardly be something affecting him 20 years from now.

    But I will say that I am disgusted by all the comments society makes in regards to women who do choose to feed with formula. My mother was unable to breastfeed for several reasons, and everyone had negative comments for her. They told her I would be unhealthy and catch every disease that swept through. They said I would be less intelligent being raised off formula. And you know what? It's a load of crap. My mother was never able to breastfeed -- not even the few weeks you got in -- and aside from some larger health complications that have NOTHING to do with breastfeeding, I have always been extremely healthy. I was never sick with viruses or bacterial infections as a baby or child. I never had respiratory problems, ear infections, bad allergies, or any of the other things that breastfeeding is supposed to prevent. I went on to graduate second in my high school class, received a nearly full scholarship to a top notch university, and am now 5 years into my Ph.D. in biochemistry. Looks like they were wrong on the intelligence front, too. I am not saying that there are no benefits to breastfeeding, but rather, by using formula instead, you are not dooming your child, the way may breastfeeding fanatics seem to believe.

    Do not let ANYONE make you feel like less of a mother or a failure for not breastfeeding. What matters is providing a warm, nurturing, encouraging home for your child, not the precise source of food for the first years of his life, and from what I know about you, you will excel at this.

  2. I am delurking to say that I can't echo Ethidium Bromide's words enough. My mother, for a variety of reasons, was not able to breastfeed me or my 4 brothers. I cannot tell you how little that has affected our health, development and later success.

    Please don't beat your self up about this. Just like a lot of things in parenting, you gave it a great effort and realized it wasn't the best choice. The best choice for your child is what keeps you a happy and stable parent-- what keeps your marriage happy and supportive-- and what maintains your confidence to keep trying, keep weighing the options and keep choosing what's best for YOU, as a family, on the long road of choices ahead. You are doing a great job.

  3. I am delurking too. You are an awesome mom. One of the hardest parts of learning to be a mom is learning to accept what we have been taught constitute "failures." Don't forget. You are a smart, strong, beautiful, awesome mom.

  4. A good friend of mine went through a similar situation - she wanted to breastfeed, did so successfully for the first few weeks, but had to stop for medical reasons. She also received some criticism from family and community (the ones who didn't know the truth) for using formula. But I babysit for the baby twice a week and I do not see anything but love, health, and happiness radiating from him and his family.

    I was breastfed, but my younger sister wasn't (my mother had had a tough pregnancy with her and was too weak and ill to breastfeed). Was she any less loved than me? No. Does she FEEL any less loved than me? No. Is she less healthy than me in any way? No.

    You are a strong, courageous woman and a terrific mom. You tried your best but it just wasn't meant to be. Don't let this stumbling block get to you! Little G is a lucky guy with one hell of a mom. :-)

  5. My mother was a Le Leche League coach for years so though I don't have personal experience I feel like I know a little. It is awesome you had the chance to breastfeed if even for just a little bit. It is awesome you had the chance to experience this with your child. You are not a bad mother at all just because you are unable to breastfeed now. You gave it a go and made it work at least for a short period of time. Enjoy your son. He is a wonderful gift and you are a wonderful mother.

  6. Big hugs to you! What a lot to deal with when you are already having to deal with so many adjustments. I love your honesty, your commitment to your family, and your outlook. You are doing great.

  7. I had to stop breastfeeding my son at about six weeks because he could not latch on properly, no matter how hard both he and I tried. I felt horrible at first, until he thrived on formula.

    I asked him once if it bothered him that he was bottle fed,but his sister was not. He was about 20 at the time and thoroughly grossed out, so that that was fun! :)

    My point is that a great mom does whatever she needs to do to help her child. I did that and so did you.

  8. I still haven't gotten around to writing my own breastfeeding opus, but I had a similar journey. Except that my milk never came in in the first place -- with ENORMOUS effort (trust me, I know that fenugreek scent!), I was able to pump 4 ounces a day. At best. I struggled on for 6 weeks before giving up, exhausted from the endless struggle to pump. And when I gave up, I grieved.

    Three months later, this week I caught myself thinking, "Wow, why did I make such a big deal out of breastfeeding?" Formula is going fine, and I haven't had any second thoughts at all.

    (But I still get a little pissed when I read the "breastfeeding is best" health warnings on our cans of formula. Because by the time you're buying cans of formula, you've made your choice. It's not like I'm giving my baby cigarettes, for crying out loud.)

  9. Thank you for sharing. I'm not a mom yet so I can't relate, but I am certain your story is helping others cope too.

  10. We all make the best decisions we can based on what we know and need can manage at one particular time. I breastfed the first child nine months, the second child six months and the third child six days. My reasons for stopping were different from yours but just as unavoidable. I hope you can be gentle with yourself, and I want to assure you that my daughter and I bonded during bottle-feeding eye contact as surely as I had bonded with her brothers. Also, she has a better bite and she's the only one with no allergies! Go figure!!!
    Hugs to mama and baby.

  11. I'm sorry that you didn't get the outcome you had hoped for after investing so much thought, time, and energy into making it work. It sounds like such a frustrating experience. In the end, though, it's your willingness and desire to invest and dedicate so much of yourself to your child that makes you a wonderful mom.

  12. I just wish I can reach into the computer and give you a BIG hug... Coz I know exactly how you feel as we're sort of in the same boat. I too had surgery before (a minor one) to diagnose some chronic nipple inflammation. This skin condition is now causing problems in breastfeeding (skin keeps breaking down, and I'm covered in blisters and sores, ouch!) Our baby is also tongue-tied, which made things even more difficult (she just got clipped yesterday, a decision I hope will turn out to be the right one).

    I ditto the way you feel, on one hand, I feel almost relieved when my LC told me I can rest my breasts for the wound to heal, but on the other hand guilty and disappointed that I'm not able to feed my child. We're also supplementing now, we'll see how things go in the next few days.

    Whatever choice you made is based on circumstances that only you and nobody else knows, and you know your baby the best and what's best for your family. I know it's disappointing when you've made all the plans to bf and things turn out differently (trust me, everytime I look at the nursing cover my friend made me I wanna cry), but one thing I've learned is that raising a baby (unlike work or anything else you've attempted previously) is full of things out of your control. I'm still learning to let go of the "if you put your mind to it you'll succeed" mentality, since biology seems to take precedence here.

    You are doing the right thing by your family, stick to it and be strong! And if all else fails, have a good cry and e-mail me, we can chat and share our misery ;)

  13. I think you'll know what I say, but I'll say it anyway: screw what "everyone" thinks of you.

    You did a loving, nourishing thing for Lil G, and you tried your hardest.

    Think of the alternative - now you won't have to endure all the spiteful glances of people who would give you the stink eye for (gasp!) breastfeeding in public.



  14. My own breast reduction was 3 years ago, and at the time they asked me over and over if I wanted to breastfeed. Of course I wanted the watermelons off my chest so I said it didn't matter enough to prevent the surgery.

    Now, as we are trying to conceive, I worry that I will experience the same anxiety you have experienced. But I wasn't breastfed, and my mom wasn't either.

    Thank you for taking the time to write down this story. It might really come in handy if I experience those same feelings myself someday.

  15. Thank you for writing this post.

  16. "I am scared to tell my friends that I have failed at this. I live in an area where I am afraid people will look down at me for not breastfeeding my child. I am afraid of people saying 'I told you so' when they hear I finally quit. I am frustrated at the amount of money I poured into nursing bras, shirts, pjs, breast pads, pump equipment, etc. I am annoyed at myself for even considering the cost of all of this as a factor. I am sad that in the end, I quit because I couldn't find a way to feed my child and pump and supplement without losing my mind; as a mother, I should be able to fight a lion for my child, and yet I gave up, I didn't fight hard enough."
    That.  I have been reading blogs for almost 4 years looking for someone who felt like I did after I had my second.  It was a different situation but breastfeeding didn't work out, and we transitioned fully to formula, and this is how I felt.  I have never read another paragraph that spoke to me like this one just did.  Thank you for posting it.