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Breast-Feeding After Surgery

After reading Leanne’s fantastic post about Milk donation, it got me thinking about my own experiences with breast-feeding and so thought I would follow it up by putting fingers to the keyboard…

During pregnancy I knew that I wanted to breast-feed my baby, but I also knew that having had breast-surgery five years previously, that I may find this more difficult than most. Read on…

breastfeedingDetermined to do everything I could to make this possible, I wore the right maternity bras, drank lots of water and though lactational thoughts! I paid good attention in the NCT class. I sat with the other expectant mums as we sheepishly took turns ‘feeding’ our dollies, trying to perfect the optimum holds and feeding positions which, with a massive eight and a half month baby-bump getting in the way, was actually harder than first thought! Like most expectant mums, I believed that with something as natural as feeding your baby, when the time came, nature would take it’s course and the skills would come easily – I mean, how hard could it be???

Previous breast surgery did indeed greatly contribute to the difficulties and acute pain that I went on to experience during breast feeding. But I discovered very quickly that I was not alone in my struggle to successfully nurse my baby and during a week long stay in hospital after birth I saw many mums come up against the [unexpectedly] challenging process of learning how to breast-feed.

It was amazing to me that such a natural phenomenon seemed to catch us all by of guard and was in fact a very steep learning curve fraught with all sorts of treats such as engorging, expressing, mastitis, and everybody’s favourite, cracked nipples – but not necessarily in that order!

I remember thinking, ‘why did nobody prepare us for this?’, I then quickly came to the conclusion that it was for the very same reason that nobody tells you what labour is REALLY like – because no-one would believe it!!! I do think though that if women were better prepared for the trials of breast-feeding then it would be a less isolating experience and ultimately, perhaps, less would feel that they were privately failing in their breast-feeding mission and thus make the decision to turn to the bottle – that would be the Formula variety. For the baby. Not the dry, white variety for the mummy!

Because I had a very low milk-supply initially, I ended up ‘topping-up’ with formula which my daughter seemed more than happy with. I still desperately wanted to breast-feed exclusively, but because I was experiencing such high levels of pain doing this I found the majority of my support network were encouraging me to stop and formula feed on it’s own. I kept thinking, ‘it will get better in a day or two…’ or, ‘I’ll see if I can make it to two weeks…three weeks…four…’. By week six, I was still experiencing high pain levels and was still having to ‘top-up’ with the bottle, but I struck gold when I finally plucked up the courage to attend my local breast-feeding support group.

I had previously resisted going to said group, as I had a preconceived idea about what it would be like (think incense and sitting in a circle chanting and you are about there!). I was so relieved to find that I was so very wrong, and if fact it was full of new (and very normal) mums in EXACTLY the same boat as me, all struggling, and all previously thinking that they too were alone. I got wonderful encouragement from the advisor who reassured me that even after six weeks we could turn things around and get my milk-supply up and pain levels down – if I hadn’t been so tired and sore, I’ve have jumped up and down and cheered!

I was shown alternative feeding positions which helped both myself and my baby and I was encouraged to try to do a bit less and spend more time relaxing with my baby, bonding and feeding and thus encouraging milk-supply. How true is it that so many women feel like they have to busy, busy, busy so soon after giving birth, like the world will stop spinning if that load of laundry doesn’t get done or if, heavens alive, anything other than a freshly prepared meal is eaten that night!

It took about 12 weeks for my pain to subside but throughout that time the thing that really kept me going on the breast-feeding highway was the fact that I had found this incredible thing that despite surgery and my doubts, my body could do, and in spite of the pain, it was truly wonderful!

Breast-feeding my baby has been one of the most remarkable and rewarding things I have ever done. I am so incredibly glad that I persevered. I feel so lucky that I didn’t miss out on this most wonderful of bonding experiences – it was worth every second of expressing, pain, and application of nipple cream (again, not necessarily in that order)!

Honey is nearly 8 months old now and although thoroughly enjoying her solid food she is still my boobs biggest fan! I can’t recommend breast-feeding enough, if you want to, and you can, then do it! Please don’t be put off by early difficulties, it is the most worth-while of challenges and the rewards for nurturing your baby just couldn’t be greater.

For more information and support visit the Breastfeeding Network site

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