Last year, 26-year-old Sarah Boyle was a happy new mom to a son named Teddy, who she says had taken to breastfeeding “fantastically well.” But as the British mom recently told BBC News, when Teddy reached 6 months old, he became noticeably fussy during feedings.
“He became very unhappy and even hit out,” Boyle told BBC News. “For an 8-month baby to push his mother away was really heartbreaking.”
But what stuck out to Boyle most was that Teddy only fussed on her right breast, not her left. In fact, he became “very distressed” every time she tried to feed him on that side at all.
Boyle tells Babble that she first noticed a lump on her right breast back in 2013, before Teddy was born, but had been told by doctors that it was a benign cyst. But once Teddy became fussy during his feedings, something told Boyle to visit the doctor again. This time, she got a different answer: Boyle’s doctor told her that the lump was probably a plugged duct, a normal and common occurrence for breastfeeding moms.
But something about that diagnosis didn’t sit well with the new mom, either. Boyle felt certain that the lump had changed, becoming firmer, larger, and more painful. Plus, she just couldn’t ignore the messages she was receiving from her baby, and felt certain that Teddy’s fussiness over her breast — at exactly the spot where the lump was — was no coincidence.
So despite the fact that Boyle’s doctors dismissed her concerns, she persevered, demanding they biopsy her breast anyway.
And thank goodness they did. As BBC News reports, when Boyle went back to the doctor a second time, she had a scan that showed cancer. Boyle was soon diagnosed with Grade 2 triple negative breast cancer.
She was stunned.
“I remember it was 11:55 AM on November 16,” Boyle told BBC.
The mom, who is currently halfway through chemotherapy at Royal Stoke University Hospital, and is set to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, credits her son with saving her life. She believes that her breast milk must have tasted different to Teddy on the affected side, and his extreme fussing was a message that something was wrong.
She tells Babble that if she had taken the first doctor’s advice, she “can’t even imagine” where she’d be right now. “I just knew Teddy was telling me something,” she says of her son, who just celebrated his first birthday.
Having times of fussiness while breastfeeding is totally normal, according to KellyMom.com; and most of the time that a baby becomes fussy, including refusing one breast in particular, cancer is not the cause. However, Catherine Priestley, a clinical nurse specialist, told BBC News that she has heard from a “small number of women” who noticed that their babies started refusing one breast shortly before the moms received a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Boyle tells Babble that part of the reason she wanted to get her story out there is so that more moms will be aware of this as something to explore if their baby refuses one breast and their instincts tell them that something is out of the ordinary. In fact, Boyle says that since her story has been shared, a mother from France contacted her, sharing that something similar happened to her.
“She is in the hospital as we speak having just had an emergency mastectomy after doctors ignored her pledge that her baby was telling her something,” Boyle tells Babble. This mom’s baby had also stopped feeding on one side, Boyle explained.
Some specialists don’t believe that a baby would be able to detect changes in the breast while breastfeeding. Dr Jasmine Just, a health information officer at Cancer Research UK, tells BBC News that there is “no good evidence that difficulties breastfeeding are likely to be caused by breast cancer or that the disease changes breast milk so that a baby might not want to feed.”
But regardless of what anyone says, Boyle remains convinced that her son played an instrumental role in her cancer detection. As she told BBC, “[it’s] because of him that I’m now being treated.”
More than anything, Boyle’s story underlines the power and importance of a mother’s intuition, and that if anything seems “off” when it comes to your health, you shouldn’t take no for an answer. It is always wise to seek more than one opinion.
Boyle’s story also shows the amazing connection between moms and their babies, and how our children have the power to save us in ways we may not have imagined.
“Nobody can say for certain whether it was Teddy,” Boyle shared with BBC News. “But I know that if it wasn’t for him then this time next year it could’ve been completely different if I’d listened to doctors, but instead I listened to Teddy.”