Breastfeeding After Breast Surgery

An Interview with Hannah Moss, mom to Henry, 3, and Eleanor, 2 months.

KRL: You had breast surgery long before you had children. Can you tell us about that?Hannah with Henry and Eleanor

HM: I had a breast reduction when I was 17 to alleviate back pain and other issues. At the time, I was not made fully aware of what that could mean for me breastfeeding later. The doctor implied that if there were complications, then I might have trouble breastfeeding. He never said that even if everything went well, I might have supply issues. Plus, I was 17. I didn’t understand this was something that would matter to me as an adult.

KRL: So then you got pregnant with Henry and everything changed!

HM: Right. When Henry was born, I had already been working with a lactation consultant who knew my background. She actually came to the birth and we did the breast crawl. Everyone cheered. It was totally awesome.

KRL: Ooh, how great.

HM: It was great–everyone was so excited that nobody noticed he wasn’t swallowing any milk. He was latched perfectly, but four days later, his skin was starting to sag from his body, he’d lost so much weight. Then, our LC immediately diagnosed a severe tongue tie and we had to deal with surgery for that.

KRL: So with Henry, you actually had a compounded problem.

HM: I was still not sure whether my supply issues were related to my surgery or his tongue tie. I was pumping 12 times a day to stimulate supply and I was extremely stressed out. Henry was drinking formula to supplement at this point.

KRL: But Henry was still nursing?

mother tandem nursing two children.

Hannah feels vulnerable to share this image of her tandem nursing shortly after Eleanor’s birth, but wants to help normalize tandem nursing. Isn’t she amazing?

HM: He was. He actually nursed until about a month ago–so I got to tandem nurse my kids. But I think Henry was basically entirely formula fed. For him, nursing was much more about comfort and attachment.

KRL: Nursing is definitely about more than nutrition for your family, then?

HM: It was also helpful for me, especially when he was a toddler. He was so active and ornery. It was really helpful to have those moments of just holding him and nursing him to help him be centered and peaceful.

KRL: So now that you have Eleanor, can you talk about your milk supply?

HM: My LC was confident that continuing to nurse Henry through my pregnancy would help to stimulate my supply. I was able to exclusively nurse Eleanor for about a week and a half before her weight loss became a concern and we began to supplement. This time, however, we’ve been able to use donor milk! I’ve calculated and I produce 34% of her milk. The rest comes from donor milk.

KRL: Do you use the Supplemental Nursing System or bottles or what?

HM: We used the SNS for a bit, but it was so cumbersome and tedious. Plus I only had one, so I had to wash it every time…it got very hard. We use bottles, but she definitely prefers the breast!

KRL: Can you talk about how you find donor milk for Eleanor?

HM: I’ve made friends with one mama locally who has a daughter 9 months older than Eleanor. She’s a super producer and we’ve been able to get so much milk from her, but I also need to make sure I get milk with a high enough fat content for my newborn, so I’ve used Human Milk 4 Human Babies (their facebook group) to find donors. It’s like online dating, actually.

KRL: That’s a funny way to put it.

HM: But it is! You have no idea who you’ll meet and there’s this blind trust involved. I mean, I’ve been able to get moms’ medical records and verify that nobody has HIV or other communicable diseases, talk about their diets, whether they take medicine. We actually just took a family road trip to meet one of the donor moms. We drove about an hour and a half to meet her in a McDonald’s parking lot.

KRL: What a place to exchange human breastmilk.

HM: Right? But it was great. She got to meet my family and I got to meet her little baby. Then we checked out the Flight 93 memorial since we were out that way anyway.

KRL: What would you say to other moms looking to use donor milk?

HM: People are sometimes squeamish about it because it’s a personal body fluid.

The first time one of my relatives fed my daughter a bottle of donor milk, she asked me if she needed to wear gloves! As if it were a bio hazard.

But I feel weird about feeding cow’s milk to my baby. I’m weirded out thinking about liquid from an animal’s udder. To me, milk sharing is natural. I like feeling a part of this communal system where people take care of each other, much like our ancestors would have done long ago if a mom was unable to nurse her baby for whatever reason.

Also, remember that donor milk cannot be sold person to person–it must be given at no cost. But I always make sure to buy milk bags for my donor mamas as well as something like nursing pads or lactation cookies and a picture of Eleanor, just as a thank-you.

baby nursing
Can you talk about moms struggling with milk supply? What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned?

HM: I would say to be aware of stress and its role in milk supply. Look how much more milk I am able to make for Eleanor than I was for Henry–stress is the biggest factor in that. It’s also important to feel and acknowledge this mindset I (and many women) had that because I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed, I’m somehow inadequate as a mother. It’s so important to sit with that and work through it.

KRL: I experienced those feelings when I had to supplement with my older son.

HM: There’s an emotional aspect of breastfeeding that people don’t like to talk about, but it’s there. With Henry, I was trying not to let on but I was grieving this aspect of a relationship I wanted to have with him. Even with Eleanor, when I knew I had to supplement, I grieved. And that’s normal! So, for other moms, if you have expectations and they don’t come to be, that doesn’t make you a bad mom.

KRL: What’s next for you, Hannah?

HM: I’d like to become an LC. That’s a future career goal. To me, nursing Eleanor has to do with advocating for that and fighting for every drop of breastmilk I can make. A lot of women give up because they can’t make a full supply. Women aren’t aware they can do both, that it’s ok to only have 30% breastmilk. To me that 30% is better than none!

Did you use donor milk or nurse after prior breast surgery? Leave us a comment to share your story!

1 comment to Breastfeeding After Breast Surgery

  • Love the photo of tandem nursing! Thanks so much for being brave enough to share it, Hannah. I’m pregnant with my third baby now – and still nursing my second – so it’s an extra bit of support for me to tandem nurse if it works out that way. Also, love the info about milk donation. Totally makes me want to donate milk in the future!!

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