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Asiyah D. Muhsin-Thomas
Asiyah D. Muhsin-Thomas is the founder and executive director of Mother Nature’s Belly Pregnancy & Lactation Center, Inc., near Atlanta, GA. Asiyah began studying the art of midwifery in 1994. Nearly 18 years later, Asiyah is more committed than ever to continuing her mission as a midwife and assisting pregnant women and new mothers.
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Interview About Successfully Breastfeeding Despite Challenges: Asiyah D. Muhsin-Thomas
Asiyah D. Muhsin-Thomas overcame a number of challenges in order to breastfeed her youngest son. First, she is a breast cancer survivor. Second, even though she adopted her youngest son, she induced lactation so that she could breastfeed him. Learn more about Asiyah’s experience and find advice for women who need support with breastfeeding in this interview.
Tell us about yourself.
I've always been fascinated with birth and babies. I am a traditional midwife, Licensed Practical Nurse, labor and postpartum doula, childbirth education instructor, lactation consultant, infant massage instructor, and women's nutrition specialist. In addition, I am a licensed foster parent and an adoptive mother. My husband and I have four children: a 13-year-old boy, twin 10-year-old-boys, and the youngest, who no longer lives with us, is four months old. We adopted the three youngest children.
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer? Can you tell us about that experience?
In late April 2010, I noticed a rash-like raised bump on my right breast, just underneath the nipple. It was about the size of a dime. At the time I was 33, in good health, and active. The bump seemed to appear overnight. Initially I thought it was a kind of dermatitis. However, after treating it for a few weeks with over-the-counter creams, ointments, and homemade salves, it remained unchanged.
I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. She sent me for a mammogram and sonogram. Since the age of 27, I had received yearly mammograms due to my family history of breast cancer. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. I went in for the mammogram and sonogram. Within two weeks, I returned to my doctor for the results. The test came back negative. My doctor prescribed a steroid cream to treat the lesion. After a couple of months, I returned for a follow-up visit. The lesion was still there and had not changed. Although the previous test was negative, my doctor was still concerned and referred me to a dermatologist.
The dermatologist took a biopsy of the lesion. The biopsy found cancer cells. It took four months from discovering the lesion to diagnosis and my first treatment. I received treatment for three months. For six months after my final treatment, I saw my doctor for monthly visits.
I'm now in remission and return to the doctor each year for an exam and mammogram. During much of 2010, I felt distraught, overwhelmed, and highly depressed. My family and my mother stood by me and encouraged me to fight instead of give up.
After your breast cancer went into remission, what was your main concern? How did the cancer affect your outlook on life?
My main concern has always been staying healthy and alive for my children. It’s frightening to deal with breast cancer. I've seen many women die from this disease in my community. I am grateful to be alive and healthy. As a result of surviving breast cancer, I am more patient and take pleasure in the little things in life. Life is truly short and full of unexpected events. The joy in life comes through struggle and uncertainty because, when the situation is over, you can stand tall, hold your head high, and know that you are a champion!
When did you adopt your sons?
My husband and I became foster parents to our 10-year-old twins about eight years ago. Their adoption was finalized when they were four. Our baby came to us through private adoption at just shy of three-weeks-old. We then found out that his birth father had not consented to the adoption. Our son went back to his birth father. That was a very difficult time for my whole family.
After becoming a mom, you induced lactation so you could breastfeed your son. Can you explain how you did this?
I did not have the opportunity to breastfeed my twins as they were two when we became their parents. I knew that if we ever adopted again, and the child was an infant, that I would induce lactation so that I could breastfeed to help build attachment with the child. When our baby arrived, I began nursing him within hours of bringing him home. He latched perfectly the first time!
I knew from my experience with lactation consulting that induction (or re-lactation) was possible by simply putting a baby to my breast. I bought the nursing trainer system, which allowed me to fill a reservoir with his birth mother's breast milk and nurse him at the same time. The stimulation from his suckling allowed me to produce drops of breast milk within 2 weeks. After 2 months, I had a 40 to 50 percent milk supply. I nursed him with the nursing trainer first and, if he was still hungry afterwards, he nursed with the trainer off. On average, he nursed about 10 times per day. I did not use a breast pump to stimulate my breasts between feedings. His latch was enough.
Why was it important to you to breastfeed your son?
As a midwife and lactation consultant, I know the benefits of breastfeeding go far beyond the breast milk. For adopted babies, breastfeeding helps them bond and adjust to being separated from their birth mother. It also helps the adoptive mother feel close to her new child. My son and I developed a bond very quickly because of breastfeeding.
It was also important for me to show my older children that breastfeeding is a normal way for a mother to feed a baby. By incorporating breastfeeding into our regular routine, I encouraged them to choose breastfeeding when they become parents.
Did your previous experience with breast cancer affect your ability to breastfeed at all? If so, how?
Yes, it did. Although my son latched with no problem right away, he did tend to favor the left breast and nursed more often on that one. My right breast has a scar underneath the nipple on the areola and he rubbed his tongue along the scar for a time before nursing. The right breast also made a lot less milk than the left breast, probably because a portion of the tissue was removed when I had breast cancer.
You certainly overcame a lot of challenges in order to breastfeed. When times were difficult, where did you find support to keep trying?
My husband was my biggest supporter. He always made sure the baby and I were comfortable. He brought me water or a snack while I nursed. Sometimes he rubbed my back after I fell asleep while nursing. When times were rough, I remembered that I was breastfeeding because it was best for my baby. My family and community members were also very supportive. With each milestone I shared with them, they rallied around me in support. My most memorable moment of support was when a midwife friend of mine brought me a one-week supply of his birth mother's milk at 11 p.m. one night, when my reserves began to run low.
What kind of advice do you have for women who struggle with breastfeeding?
Don't give up! Attend breastfeeding support groups, La Leche League meetings, or get help from a lactation counselor. Know that you are doing what's best for your baby. If you know that you plan to breastfeed prior to your baby's birth, get all of the information you can while pregnant. It will make the process of breastfeeding go much smoother.
Always remember that breastfeeding is not an exact science. Each baby will be different and your experience with each of your children will differ as well. That's ok! Embrace the experience as it is and enjoy the ride. You will succeed at breastfeeding!
Content last updated June 1, 2012.
Interview contents copyright © 2012, Asiyah D. Muhsin-Thomas.
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