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Karri-Leigh P. Mastrangelo Headshot

My Breast Isn't Best

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I was a swimmer growing up. When I wasn't in a racing suit at the elementary school pool, I wore a cute one in my grandparents' backyard, but covered it up with a thick, oversized cotton t-shirt. I was more self-conscious of my over-developed chest than the baby fat I held onto through high school graduation. Foolishly, I thought the cover-up disguised my insecurity. Luckily, with receipt of my diploma came the realization that I might really benefit from a breast reduction.

Many years later, I stand by my decision, and remain thankful for my supportive and generous parents. The only thing I regret is not having given more thought to the surgeon's warning that as a result of the surgery, I may lose my ability to breastfeed. I was 18. Childrearing seemed decades away. They'll be able to fix that by then, I thought. I was wrong, and quite possibly had made my first parenting mistake in the same year I became eligible to vote.

Once pregnant with my first daughter, the stress began to set in. Would I be able to provide properly for her financial, emotional, and lactational needs?

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Before I knew it, my husband was in the delivery room swaddling our tiny angel for the very first time. Peaceful as she was then, her first desire to nurse was only moments away. If it weren't, a sorority of pro-breastfeeding nurses was reminding me to encourage her, like clockwork.

Although I'll admit that breastfeeding felt quite unnatural to me, I did give it a solid effort, as did my daughter. There was a learning curve, as there is with all firsts, but we were an incredible team. Then, out of nowhere, she cried, and cried, and cried.

I knew in that moment that the reserves she had been born with were used up, and she was experiencing hunger for the first time -- a hunger I could not satisfy. In my heart I knew that though a wonderful bonding exercise, she had not received nutrients from the breastfeeding.

Upon expressing my concern to the nurses, I felt instantly like the maternity ward black sheep. As adamant disagreement, suggestions of what to do differently and never-ending visits from lactation specialists ensued, my frustration grew. More importantly, my daughter grew more agitated. Finally, I asked for a breast pump, with which I proved my point. I was drier than the Sahara Desert.

Several ounces of formula later, baby was sleeping and I was under fire. My hospital room had become a revolving door of doctors, nurses and staunch supporters of breastfeeding. Don't get me wrong; I didn't mind the support. What I was offended by, though, was the determination with which each delivered their advice.

Everyone had an opinion. I needed to take hot showers. I needed to massage. I needed to change my diet. I needed dietary supplements. I needed to put her on the breast more and skip the pump. I needed to pump more and skip the breast. The list went on and on.

Apparently, what I really needed was a good cry. Once that happened, I realized that while I would consult my mother, my friends, my OB-GYN and my pediatrician throughout the years, the opinion that mattered most was my own. This was the greatest realization I've had as a parent.

I decided (with my husband's support) to bottle feed with formula, but continue pumping several times a day for two weeks in the hope that my body would catch up. Unfortunately, a decision I made well over a decade before my first child was born made the breast or bottle debate a non-issue. Thankfully, I left the guilt attached to it in the maternity ward. In its place, I brought home a commitment to make all of her baby food from scratch, a commitment to her health that I knew I could fulfill.

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Five years later, my daughter towers over all of the girls her age. She is healthy, intelligent, beautiful and has never had an ear infection or allergy. Most important, she is abundantly happy. Her smile is contagious.

I am going to keep an eye out for either of my daughters covering up at the pool. Should they ask for my opinion on my breast reduction, I will be honest. It was one of the best things I ever did, right behind becoming their mother, and was instrumental in teaching me the greatest parenting lesson I've learned.

This post was originally seen on Karri-Leigh's blog, Dirty Laundry & Dirty Diapers.