For as long as I can remember, I have had large boobs. When I finally decided to have a reduction, I was a 34F. I was 20 years old and all I could think about was fitting into clothes, being able to do exercise, and not being uncomfortable anymore. It was the summer of 2001 and I had finally decided to do it. I have no memories of asking the surgeon about breastfeeding in the future. I may have, but it was definitely not my focus. I became a large C/small D and I was thrilled.
Fast forward to my 20s. I wanted to find someone, get married, and have kids. I have always, always wanted to be a mom. My own mom told me that I used to tell her, “When I grow up, I want to be a mom.” When I met my husband, I was 31. We got married at 34 and I immediately wanted to start trying. We were very fortunate in that we immediately got pregnant in the first month of trying.
I didn’t have special birth plans; as long as both the baby and I ended up healthy, I would be happy. But I wanted to breastfeed. I really, really wanted to breastfeed. I wanted my body to be able to feed my child. I wanted the closeness, the bond that breastfeeding gives. But I knew there was a good chance I would need to supplement with formula. Still, I hoped that maybe I wouldn’t.
I was referred by my OB-GYN to Katie. We had a pre-natal consultation when I was six months pregnant. She told me that the process would be hard but that what I needed to do was maximize my supply. I would tell my breasts that I had had more than one child. I would feed the baby and then pump, supplementing with a bottle afterwards if needed. I would use a nipple shield because of my flat nipples (a common side effect of reductions). I didn’t care if it would be hard, I was ready to do it.
On August 26, 2016, my amazing little girl came into this world via C-section. As soon as she was handed to me in the recovery room, I tried to nurse. It was so very painful and I wasn’t getting much colostrum. My baby cried. I cried. By day two, we were supplementing with formula out of pure need. Baby Hannah had lost 11% of her birth weight. Her health was most important.
When Hannah was five days old, we went in to see Katie. I was exhausted but ready to do anything I could to breastfeed. At that point my milk was just starting to come in. The left boob was producing about five milliliters every couple hours and the right boob—my champion boob—produced about 25 milliliters. At this point, Hannah wasn’t latching, so I was pumping many times a day and then bottle-feeding her whatever I made. We left Katie’s office with a plan. I saw Katie every week for the first six weeks or so, always leaving her office with a written plan. Katie would say, “If this seems hard, remember that this is our plan for this week. Don’t worry about next week or next month.” Keeping focused on the present helped me.
Hannah had a lip and tongue tie. Because we already had enough issues nursing, we decided it was best to put that issue on the back burner. Hannah was a reluctant nurser. Even when I could get her to latch, she didn’t really want to nurse. She preferred the bottle. She got frustrated with my low supply and with waiting for a letdown. She would punch at me and hit me. Still I persisted. If she wouldn’t latch, I pumped. When she did latch, I pumped afterward to get all the milk out of my boobs.
Something amazing happened around two months. Hannah began latching more and not fighting me. We developed a nursing relationship. I loved it. This is what I had fought for. She was a very slow nurser, hanging out on the boob for 45 minutes to an hour. I didn’t care. We were doing it!! I was making about 10 to 12 ounces a day. I was thrilled! At three and a half months, though, distracted nursing hit. Hannah didn’t want to nurse. She heard people talking, or saw things going on around her, and she didn’t have time to hang out with me anymore. It broke my heart. I went back to pumping. But Hannah never stopped nursing in the middle of the night. That was still our time. I cherished it even though I was exhausted.
At four months, Hannah’s doctor informed us that she most likely had a milk protein allergy. I needed to stop eating all dairy and she needed to go on a special formula. I persisted. I took out all dairy, I pumped, and I kept nursing in the middle of the night. But it had finally started to wear me down. Hannah was still having issues with her diaper and I knew it could be due to slip ups in my diet. We had battled low supply, a lip and tongue tie, Hannah’s reluctance, and, now, a dairy allergy. I missed the foods that I loved and was ready to stop—at least, part of me was.
Telling my body to stop nursing was physically uncomfortable, but it was much harder emotionally. I hand expressed into the sink, watching my liquid gold go down the drain. I wanted to nurse her, but knew I couldn’t since I had gone back to eating dairy. We made it to five months before I had finally started to wean.
Looking back I know it would have been so much easier to exclusively bottle feed. I could have given up since my body couldn’t produce everything she needed. I could have given up because Hannah didn’t love nursing. I could have given up because her latch wasn’t great and it hurt. But I didn’t. And while I wish I were still nursing her, I am so happy for the time we had nursing. Now I enjoy the snuggles and closeness from bottle feeding. There’s absolutely nothing I would have done differently.