Embarrassing Bodies embarrasses themselves

Maureen MinchinMaternal Health

Imagine you meet a young woman who is embarrassed by the fact that one eye is brown and the other green, to the point where she has worn an eyeshade to conceal what she sees as the odd one. There are many solutions to this problem, beginning with discussion and reassurance that this abnormality is not all that abnormal. One option you wouldn’t suggest would be replacing the brown eye with a false one, as the function of the eye is more important than its appearance.

By chance I happened upon an episode of this UK programme that astonished and infuriated me. A young woman embarrassed by a partially inverted nipple is instantly referred for surgery. We are treated to the horrifying sight of a surgeon tethering and pulling out the inverted nipple then blindly slicing away underneath it, with a graphic showing complete severance of all milk ducts. No mention of the function of milk ducts, or less invasive and damaging treatment like the Niplette, much less the potential for change with breastfeeding.

If this young woman has a child, she now has one breast guaranteed to have problems with feeding. The normal breast tissue will produce milk that cannot exit the breast (unless ducts re-canalise, which is not recorded). She will develop serious engorgement with pain and suffering and probably mastitis in that mutilated breast, unless before day two postpartum she discloses what has been done and gets immediate help to suppress lactation in that breast while trying to feed from the other one. That will lead to breast disproportion during lactation. which she may find embarrassing. She is also at increased risk of cancer in that unsuckled breast.

What other bodily organ would be mutilated and have its normal function suppressed in this unthinking way, for purely cosmetic reasons?  If the woman is unable to breastfeed, the harms multiply into the next generations. She, her children and her grandchildren, are at greater risk as a consequence. Doctor Pixie, you need to learn about lactation, and value breasts as much as or more than  you would value sight.  For if your advice had blinded this woman, the harms would have been confined to only one generation.

Again, where are the lawyers interested in class actions? Women whose breasts have been surgically mutilated before they were of an age to consider breastfeeding are surely another set of victims of the myths of artificial feeding safety and equivalence. And doctors who fail to advise them of the inevitable consequences are surely responsible for harm.