A Second Chance At Breastfeeding

Moms who’ve had a bad first experience with nursing deserve a lot of credit for putting their hat into the “breastfeeding” ring again. When you’ve had a bad first experience, it can stick with you for awhile.  Like PTSD-style.

I want to put my arm around these women and reassure them that this time will be different (and in my experience, it usually IS better, for reasons I’ll elaborate on later). But the truth is, I haven’t met their baby yet and I actually do NOT know with 100% certainty that this time will be better. So often, latching depends on the baby. Many variables can play into breastfeeding (birth, hospital experiences, culture, support–or lack thereof–from family/friends and pediatrician’s office), and the baby is not an inconsequential variable in this mix. No matter how hard the mom tries, and no matter how many lactation consultants try to help, the baby will sometimes not latch (or does so in a way that causes unbearable pain for mom). And if baby does not latch, things can go “south” quickly. Because if baby doesn’t latch, then we must turn to the pump which can have challenges of it’s own (including flashbacks of the sound of the pump!).

When I talk to or meet with a second time mom, for whom breastfeeding did NOT go well with the first baby, I offer up a few nuggets of advice:

Acknowledge the ghost in the room

Namely, all of the “baggage” and memories that come to the forefront when baby #2 comes along. It’s nearly impossible not to be stricken with the memory of the bad first experience. Anxiety. Pain. Worry. All of those emotions were very real, and can be reexperienced when one starts to breastfeed again. I see it in their eyes that they are so fearful of a repeat performance. And now with a toddler running around, they are TERRIFIED of a repeat performance. “How can I pump 8 times a day, try to nurse new baby, bottlefed, clean bottles AND run after my toddler?” Take a deep breath. Have a good cry about the grief you experienced when breastfeeding did not go the way you had hoped with your first one. Don’t try to suppress or ignore the pain you felt. Embrace it and acknowledge that it is now part of your history. This baby is a different human being, and so are you. You are starting fresh, in many ways, with this new little baby and breastfeeding.

Surround yourself with super-supportive people

People who are helpful will be cheerful and encouraging–keep them on speed dial. Keep telling yourself that although baby may not be breastfeeding today, that doesn’t mean they won’t catch on and do it in the future. They usually DO figure it out if given enough time and patience and practice. Having people by your side to buoy you up can make all the difference in the world. Moms groups. Breastfeeding support groups. Upbeat and reputable websites. Encouraging lactation consultants and pediatricians. And not least of all, your supportive partner/husband—having him as your biggest cheerleader is huge at 2 a.m.

Read Stephanie Casemore’s book

Breastfeeding, Take Two”. This writer does an amazing job of not only acknowledging the feelings associated with not meeting your breastfeeding goals, but also with direction on how to stack the deck in your favor the second time around. She also sheds light on how the various social/cultural and institutional systems in your world can affect how breastfeeding plays out. Interesting, thought-provoking information. Lots of personal testimonials makes this a lovely, encouraging read; this type of prenatal education is priceless.

Know that typically, mother’s milk is more abundant and faster with second baby

We as postpartum nurses and lactation consultants have always felt this was the case, but only recently has a study been done to possibly explain why. Apparently, mice breasts have an epigenetic “memory” of having lactated before, and the production of milk is facilitated much easier/faster with second pregnancy. Now mind you, this research was done on the mammary glands of mice, but mice bear a good mammalian resemblance to us, so it’s worth thinking about! If you’re a science lover, check this article out. Another thought is that mothers are more confident and less anxious with the second baby, and there may certainly be something to that-I know I had more patience and calmness with my second baby. I guess that comes with anything. When I see a mother of 6, she is quite calm in all that she does whether it’s breastfeeding or diapering, but I’m sure she didn’t start out that way with baby #1. Confidence grows with experience.

If you are looking for support and more information with second baby, please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected]. Consider joining the Milk Club for your first month after delivery in order to get timely (even daily) support via group and private settings, emails, phone calls—the whole nine yards–like a lactation consultant in your back pocket! I also host a prenatal breastfeeding class called Breastfeeding: Getting A Strong Start where I’ll go over the most practical of information to help prepare you for anything that comes your way. I look forward to meeting you–you brave, strong woman!