By Doula Jen
Nicole, a close friend of mine, contacted me shortly after the births of both of her children. I was not yet a doula when she had her first child, but was a long time breastfeeding mother myself and an advocate of support for new families. By the time she had her daughter, I was a certified postpartum doula with quite a bit of experience helping new parents. Because of my obvious interest in breastfeeding and motherhood, I enthusiastically talked with her throughout those first few days of her babies’ lives. I recently asked Nicole to chat with me again—albeit more formally than our normal phone calls—in hopes that her real-life experiences could provide valuable education and encouragement for both new and second-time mothers struggling with breastfeeding.
Can you tell us about your experience breastfeeding your first child?
I really wanted to breastfeed my son, but we had trouble right from the start. I remember the first night in the hospital he was just crying inconsolably, and I didn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t latch on to my breast, and the nurses had provided those little 1 serving formula bottles for infants. In desperation, I gave him one. He sucked it down like he had been starving and then slept like a champ. Looking back, I wish I had been more assertive about insisting that I wanted help breastfeeding, but I was a new mom who felt completely overwhelmed by this new little person.
Once home from the hospital, I finally got my son to latch and he stayed on the breast for a really long time. I was so excited! I thought I had it down. That night, my milk came in and from that point on, trying to latch my son was a battle. He would scream and pull back, he would arch his back, and we would both end up just sitting there crying. I felt like a failure and was sure there must have been something wrong with me. I finally decided to try pumping and bottle feeding him breast milk. Actually, I think it was you, Jen, who finally helped me feel OK with that and encouraged me to do whatever worked best for me and my baby.
That’s so nice to hear. I guess I was a doula even before becoming a doula! I wish I could have helped you more the first time around. I know you ended up pumping and feeding for quite a while. What were the biggest challenges you faced with that set up?
I did end up pumping so that I could still give my son breast milk, and I did it for 10 months! It was exhausting though. My little guy had reflux and wouldn’t sleep more than about 2 hours at a time. Combine that with pumping every two or three hours and there were some days where I only slept in one hour increments.
One of the other challenges was leaving the house. I had to have a portable pump with me wherever I went, and in those early months, every 3-4 hours, I would have to find a private place to pump. I kept thinking I wouldn’t stick with the arrangement, so I never bought one of the nice double pumps, which meant that the whole process would take about 20 – 30 minutes with a single. It really took a lot of motivation and will power to keep up with the pumping. I pumped in airports, in the car, at friends’ houses. The other challenge was that once I had pumped, I still had to actually feed the baby, so, often a feeding was a really long, drawn out experience.
I am so incredibly proud of you for sticking with such a rigorous routine. That’s amazing! Given your somewhat rocky first experience, I’m sure—and actually, I know from our talks—that you felt some anxiety during your second pregnancy. Can you tell us what feelings surfaced and perhaps evolved as you waited for the arrival of your second child?
When I was expecting my second baby, breastfeeding was one of my biggest concerns. I wanted to “get it right” the second time around, but secretly thought I just did not have the ability to breastfeed. I was exhausted just thinking about pumping exclusively again, but felt like I would be a failure if I gave in to formula.
Luckily, I have such a supportive group of people around me, and they all told me that as long as I did what I felt was best for me and the baby, it would all be fine. That support was a huge factor in strengthening my resolve to try breastfeeding again. I wanted it to work, and once I want something…I tend to dig in my heels! Although I was determined, the feelings of self-doubt and fear were always in the back of my mind.
Did you expect to pump and feed as with the first?
To be honest, I really didn’t want to go that route. It was so exhausting, so time consuming, and so limiting. With my son, I didn’t work until he was about 6 months old. With my second baby, I knew that I would be going back to work when she was around 3 months old, if only part-time. I was very worried about sleeping so little, and then having to work all day. I think I had decided that I would pump if I had to, but only as a last resort.
Where you afraid to try breastfeeding again?
I was nervous. I had this secret fear that everyone else could breastfeed, but not me. I wanted it so badly though and I felt like I had more knowledge this second time around. Mixed emotions, I guess. I felt excited that I had a second chance, and also scared that I would screw it up!
So, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t know that things were very different with your daughter and that breastfeeding eventually became not only easy for you, but enjoyable as well. This is so exciting. Please share your story! What changed?
I think there were many factors that made my experience with my daughter different. I gave birth in a different state, and the hospital was really big on breastfeeding. I was not given any formula, and the minute the baby was born, the nurses were latching her onto my breast. Two days after I left the hospital, I had a follow up appointment with a lactation consultant. Of course, my milk didn’t come in until the day after that appointment, and as soon as my milk came in, I started having the same breastfeeding problems I’d had with my son. I immediately felt like a failure. I remember grocery shopping while talking to my mom on the phone. She asked how breastfeeding was going and I just started sobbing in the middle of the store.
This time though, I felt like I knew where to go for help. With my son, I didn’t know about lactation consultants, La Leche League, or even the KellyMom website. I just didn’t know where to turn for help. None of my breastfeeding friends—like you—lived near me.
With my daughter on the other hand, I knew there were resources available. I just had to reach out. So on a Saturday morning, about 3 days after my milk had come in and my daughter was refusing the breast, I started calling lactation consultants around town. Since it was a Saturday, most places were closed, but I managed to get a hold of someone. It turned out it was this woman’s personal cell phone number. Even though she didn’t know me, it was a weekend, and she wasn’t going to get paid for helping me…she talked me through and gave me advice and tips. She even called back the next day to see how it was going. That support made all the difference. Once I had the mindset that I could breastfeed and furthermore realized that there were people and resources to help me, I was able to stop worrying about being a failure, and just focus on what I could tweak or adjust to be able to be nurse my daughter. It was an amazing feeling.
Yay! Well, you know how I feel about good postpartum support. Are you still nursing?
I am still nursing! My daughter is almost 13 months old.
And how’s it going?
It’s actually hard to believe we had rough start because she and I are both naturals at it now. I don’t even think about it anymore and I love that no matter how busy the day, I get to carve out some time where I just sit and hold my daughter and nurse her.
What would you say to new moms who are nervous about breastfeeding or moms who have encountered breastfeeding complications in the past?
First of all, it is misleading when people tell you breastfeeding is easy. It is, once you learn how to do it, but as with anything, you have to master the skill first. For some moms and babies, it is as natural as breathing. They are the lucky ones! For many of us, it was a skill that had to be learned and practiced. That doesn’t mean we are failures!
If you really want to breastfeed, keep trying. Exhaust all options, find out what resources you have in your community, Google your questions if you have to! You can do it, and once you do, it is so amazing.
One of the biggest things that made a difference for me was having support from my family. My friends, my husband, my mom – they all believed I could do it and they were supportive, and wouldn’t let me just give up. Being a new mom is so full of self-doubt and anxiety. Having people to cheer me on really helped. I suggest letting your support system know how much breastfeeding your baby means to you. And don’t be afraid to ask them for help!
Much thanks to Nicole for sharing her stories with us. The message? Support is important. Of course, all of us here at Welcome Baby Care believe that. Beyond great lactation counselors, doulas, friends, support groups, and spouses however, is this mother’s determination and optimism—her ability to look at a second baby as a second chance, not a predestined path certain to mirror the first experience. This “new day, new opportunity” outlook applies to all aspects of motherhood—birth, breastfeeding, potty training. You name it. Every baby, every day, is different.