Every woman's breastfeeding story is different, unique, and beautiful. Some mothers have the easiest time nursing their baby, others overcome great difficulties, and there are even the mamas who yearn and try so earnestly yet are unable. Some are stories of joy, others of heartache.
If you didn't know, August is internationally known as "Breastfeeding Awareness Month". This week, specifically, was National Breastfeeding Week. So, to raise awareness I thought I would share a piece of my breastfeeding story…
We have two darling babes. Well, one is almost in kindergarten now. That would be my son. We had a beautiful nursing relationship for almost 32 months. Yes, 32 months. I battled and conquered NINE boughts of mastitis, handled the stares and comments (some not as nice as one would like to hear), and shared an experience with my nursling that I am proud and thankful of. I nursed so long because we loved it. I wasn't sure if our subsequent children would breastfeed. And in the end, it was me who decided to give the relationship it's farewell and watch it blossom into something else. Our second baby, a girl, just turned one. We are still happily nursing, and THANKFULLY I have not had to endure another round of mastitis (fingers crossed). We are currently going through some of the "joyful" stages of nursing such as teething, and frequent night nursing (yay!).
Almost two months ago now, I experienced something I never thought I would. Ever. I found a lump in my breast. Right there! I could feel it! A mass thick and hard, the very presence of it making me numb. My first response was shock and confusion. And then, of course, I went online to learn more about breast lumps. We all know how great Dr.Google can make us feel… I ended up placing a call to the public health nurse to ask for her advice on what my next steps would be. But because I was breastfeeding she kept repeating to me that it could be mastitis, a blocked milk flow duct. Now, if you recall I have had that M word nine times. I knew that this was not it. In the end, I decided to wait it out until morning and go to the doctors when they were next open. Which, I know we all hate going all night long with anxious thoughts running in our heads while still needing to parent in the night and morning.
At the doctor, he agreed the lump was something to get looked into. An ultrasound was ordered after a manual exam… For one week later. Oh perfect! Just what I wanted – to wait another week before hearing what this lump might be! Now, as you can imagine one of the theories of the lump is that it could be cancer. This was what was scaring me, the thought of not knowing. More possibilities included mastitis, a cystic infection, a benign tumour, etc. When the ultrasound date finally came I was overjoyed to hear my diagnosis: a galactocele. This strange word was a lifesaver in that moment. A sterile milk filled cyst that can occur in women who are pregnant or lactating. But all I could think of was "NOT CANCER!". I returned one week later to have the fluid drained, to prevent any chance of it getting infected and turning into mastitis due to my track record. It eventually came back, but my mind is at ease now as I know it is normal and harmless.
As I was getting the cyst drained I was talking to the radiologist about breast cancer, and breast lumps in general. Surprisingly, he said there are still a good many women who still do not perform regular self breast exams. Many lactating women, especially. I fully understand that when nursing our lady lumps are a little, well, lumpy. But mamas, we need to be diligent! Did you know that breastfeeding reduces a woman’s breast cancer risk? According to a recent report, a woman’s risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3 percent for every year she breastfeeds. This is due in part to lactational amenorrhea (lack of menstral cycle while nursing). BUT this is not to say that a woman who is breastfeeding cannot get breast cancer. IT HAPPENS. And the sad thing is, that when we don't do normal self exams (even when nursing) we don't notice when something irregular comes along. Sometimes we don't notice until it is much later. And the not so happy endings are always the hardest.
This is not just an article on breast cancer. This is me telling you my story, and sharing what I learned about breast cancer and other breast health through that journey. During this, I got to learn even more about breast health, and also read stories from other women who had been through their journeys. One of the most impacting, from a woman who was a nursing mother and indeed did have breast cancer. She had ignored a lump because she believed breastfeeding protected her from cancer. You can read more of her story here : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1043158/I-ignored-lump-I-believed-breastfeeding-safe-cancer-Now-Im-lucky-alive.html
So to all your breastfeeding moms and moms to be who are planning on OR even thinking about nursing your little and big ones, keep up the good work. For the mamas who choose not to, you are no less a mother. And for the mothers who are just not able to, my heart breaks along with yours and you are a woman of strength. But above all, and despite your nursing status PLEASE be aware of breast health. Just because you are breastfeeding does not make you immune to cancer. So, let's all slip a hand over them once in a while and keep "a-breast" of everything there.
If you would like to know more about breast health and breastfeeding, you can find out more here : http://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/lv/lvdecjan03p136.html