I loved breastfeeding my first baby, but it was difficult in those first few months. As some moms have experienced, there wasn’t really a problem for us at the outset, but a misdiagnosis snowballed into other well-meaning interventions. The result for me was months of pain and infection. I presented to the doctor two days postpartum with what I later learned is called axillary breast tissue engorgement. All I knew at the time was that I had lumps under my arm and they were tender and annoying. All moms have some breast tissue under their arms, but two to six percent will have enough tissue that you can see it. Mine filled up with milk a few days after my baby was born. Unfortunately, the doctor I saw for it had never experienced that in his practice. He determined I needed an immediate operation to remove what he diagnosed as an infection under one of my arms. He claimed to drain the infection, packed the area with tons of gauze and a large bandage, and then put me on antibiotics. At a follow up visit to remove and re-dress the bandage, a nurse determined that it wasn’t an infection all at but breastmilk draining from the incision. I leaked breastmilk from there for six weeks, always nursing with a cloth diaper under my arm. Apparently, there was a good chance that I would always have a sinus in this spot and leak breastmilk for the duration of breastfeeding and with each subsequent baby, but luckily that wasn’t the case.
Aside from leaking breasts from normal engorgement, and then the leaky armpit, the outcome of this needless intervention was a four month thrush infection on my nipples and in my baby’s mouth as a result of the antibiotics. It was red, rashy, itchy and painful. Every time we almost got rid of it, it would come raging back. The latch-on process hurt so much, but even with all these challenges, I never really thought about giving it up. I loved the closeness and marveled at how strong and fast she was growing. I loved being able to nurse her to sleep or comfort her cries. She made it into adulthood without ever getting sick enough to need a hospitalization or antibiotics. She’s smart, creative and successful, and in retrospect, I firmly believe that our tenacity to get breastfeeding off to a good start despite unnecessary interventions laid the foundation for a lifetime of good health and happiness.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t my own breastfeeding challenges that lead me to want to help other moms, although my challenges of course inform my passion for this specialized medical discipline. The main reason I wound up in this field was because it was the way I mothered my three children and lived my life for over a decade. The habits that a breastfeeding mother develops of listening to her children, being intuitive about their needs, and trusting in her innate wisdom have really informed the way I live my life in general, the way I work with others, and the way I have chosen to help others on their own parenting journeys. I am grateful for all the mothers who have inspired me to take this path – my own mother, my grandmothers (one of whom I would later find out had the same axillary tissue as I did but nursed five babies without any issues), my aunts, a few of my school teachers, my childbirth educator, my La Leche League Leaders and fellow La Leche moms, my sister and sisters-in-laws, and those first mommy friends who befriended me with a houseful of noisy toddlers in their warm homes through those first stormy New England winters. What I give to the moms I help comes from them, through me, and soon to the other moms they touch in return.