Courtesy of Allison Cooper

I Couldn’t Breastfeed After My Breast Reduction

My teenage years were difficult for me, because I spent most of my time feeling self-conscious about my huge boobs. In 7th grade, my boobs started growing at a pretty rapid pace, going from an A-cup to a C-cup within just a few months. By the time I was in high school, I was well beyond a D-cup.

At the time, I practiced ballet three days a week. I loathed what I saw in the mirrors of my practice room, which allowed me to hate my body from every single angle. On top of my struggles with self-image, I also developed back pain, which was exacerbated whenever I went running. I'd have to wear multiple bras for support.

I hated my boobs and yearned for a breast reduction in the worst way possible. But it honestly never crossed my mind back then how a breast reduction might affect my life, including my ability to breastfeed. I just wanted my big boobs gone.

Finally, at age 17, when my self-loathing was at an all-time high, I decided to get the surgery. I had a heart-to-heart with my mom, who made an appointment with a plastic surgeon. After just one consultation, we all agreed that my boobs were quite literally weighing me down. We booked the procedure after receiving approval from our insurance company and I decided to go from a 36 DDD to a 36C.

I was overjoyed. Finally, I would no longer have to worry about my giant boobs.

Courtesy of Allison Cooper

When I think back to my surgery, I don’t remember the plastic surgeon saying anything to me about how my breast reduction would affect my ability to breastfeed. The only side effect she ever brought up to me was potential numbness in my breast. But I later learned that having any type of breast surgery can potentially cause nerve damage and impair milk duct production, according to the La Leche League. While some women can establish a breastfeeding relationship after surgery, "no matter if the surgery was to augment or reduce breast size, remove a lump or for some other reason, the main concern is whether or not milk ducts and major nerves were cut or damaged," the website says.

I have no clue whether my nerves were damaged during my surgery. I was under anesthesia the whole time, though my doctor later told me my nipples were removed during the procedure, which has been linked to limited milk flow. All I know is that cosmetically, everything looked OK after it was done.

After a month of trying and practically working myself into a frenzy every day, I realized it just wasn’t going to happen.

When I was pregnant with my older son, I didn't even try to breastfeed. But when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was determined to at least attempt to do it, because I wanted to have that bonding experience. So, I joined a BFAR (breastfeeding after reduction) Facebook group and sat in bed every night, scrolling through all the advice and tips women shared.

I learned that many of these women had their surgery done more recently, so they made sure to have the breastfeeding conversation with their surgeon beforehand so they could preserve their precious milk ducts. I also learned that it was indeed possible for milk ducts to grow back over time, which would make it possible to breastfeed. After I gave birth, my lactation consultant assured me that was true, and that everything would be fine. I was hopeful I could make this work.

Courtesy of Allison Cooper

When I actually tried to breastfeed my daughter, however, I realized that the women in the Facebook group made it sound easier than it actually was. Immediately after coming home from the hospital I entered a vicious cycle of breastfeeding, pumping, supplementing, drinking gallons of water, and taking all the fenugreek supplements I could get my hands on. It became an obsession during the first month of my daughter's life to make breastfeeding work, and I gave it my all.

Even though my decision to have a breast reduction affected me in ways I couldn't predict, I don’t regret it. I had to do what was right for me at the time, and I will always stand by that.

After a month of trying and practically working myself into a fit every day, however, I realized it just wasn’t going to happen. I was devastated I couldn't breastfeed, but the whole experience taught me an important lesson about not being able to control every aspect of my life.

Courtesy of Allison Cooper

Even though my decision to have a breast reduction affected me in ways I couldn't predict, I don’t regret it. I had to do what was right for me at the time, and I will always stand by that. I had a great feeding experience with my daughter regardless, and I was able to bond with both of my kids without breastfeeding either of them.

Knowing the struggles that I had while trying to breastfeed our daughter, I wish that I had talked to my surgeon about preserving as many milk ducts as possible during the procedure. But I can't go back in time, so instead of dwelling on the past, I'm focusing on the present. Breastfeeding or no breastfeeding, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.