Giving Breastfeeding a Second Chance
Giving Breastfeeding a Second Chance
Jennifer came to my Breastfeeding Essentials Class during her pregnancy with her third child, hoping to learn some tips to help her successfully breastfeed her new baby. She was very young when her first child was born, and had not attempted to breastfeed that baby. With her second baby, she tried breastfeeding but after a few weeks of frustration, sore nipples, and low milk supply she switched to formula. This time, Jennifer had more confidence as a mother and was ready to give breastfeeding a second chance. She wondered if there was anything she could do differently this time around that would prevent the problems she had experienced with her second baby. During class, Jennifer learned about the "3 Secrets to Success" that enable most mothers to have a positive, successful breastfeeding journey.
The first secret, she learned, was to breastfeed her baby frequently (at least 8-12 times per 24 hours) and anytime she showed feeding cues. As she thought over her experience with her second baby, she remembered he was very sleepy and that the nurses told her "don't wake a sleeping baby" even though this meant he didn't feed very often. When he finally did wake up from his long naps, he would awake so hungry and mad that he would sometimes scream at the breast instead of latching. When Jennifer called her pediatrician's office they suggested she give him a small bottle of formula to help him calm enough to nurse. She didn't realize at the time the formula was filling his little belly, causing him to take less milk from the breast. As Jennifer thought about the powerful influence of frequent breast emptying on milk supply, she started to make the mental connection that her baby's long spaces between breastfeedings and top ups with formula had inadvertently caused her low milk supply. She was determined this time to be more vigilant about watching for her baby's feeding cues and if needed waking her up to ensure frequent feedings.
The next secret to success Jennifer discovered was the importance of helping baby get a deep, wide latch at the breast. She learned that the more breast in baby's mouth, the less discomfort for mother and the easier for baby to get the milk out. She watched videos of moms practicing different ways to hold baby to help baby attach comfortably with the breast deep in baby's mouth. Her confidence continued to build that this time she would have more "tricks" to try if her baby seemed frustrated trying to latch on. Since bottles and pacifiers don't encourage a wide open mouth like breastfeeding, she realized introducing them too soon could cause baby to "nipple feed" on her. Painful for mom and frustrating for baby! Jennifer planned to go back to work in a few months, but she decided to wait to introduce bottles until her baby was a month old and had mastered breastfeeding. She was so excited to get off to an easier start with breastfeeding this time, she didn't want anything to get in the way!
The third secret to success was to focus on nurturing baby, by spending time snuggling skin-to-skin (boosts breastfeeding hormones!) and by filtering all the baby advice people would give her through the question "Does this sound nurturing?" As a rule of thumb, parenting advice that is not nurturing probably undermines breastfeeding, too. When Jennifer's first two babies were born, she had a lot of visitors in the hospital and baby was passed around soon after birth. When the visitors left, she was afraid of spoiling her babies by holding them too much. This time, she wanted her baby to stay naked against her bare chest for at least an hour after birth so that baby's breastfeeding instincts could lock in. She asked most of her guests to wait several days before visiting, and made sure her parents knew that baby would mostly be nursing or snuggling with her while they visited. She would definitely welcome their help with the older kids! Jennifer looked forward to a more relaxed environment, knowing that babies could not be spoiled and keeping her baby close would only help baby bond, develop, and build their breastfeeding relationship. Having seen her two boys grow up so quickly, she knew those blurry, early days with a newborn would be over before she knew it and she wanted to savor it as much as possible.
A Few Weeks Later...
I got to meet Jennifer's newest little one just a few days after she was born, when I came for a home visit. Jennifer looked tired, of course, but as she described to me the past few days could I could hear a beautiful determination in her voice. Just like she planned, baby Adelynn had been placed skin to skin with her after birth and nursed during the first hour. She had been keeping track of feedings, and was proud to report putting Adelynn to breast with every feeding cue and occasionally waking her up if it had been a few hours. Adelynn's weight and diaper output were right on track, confirming to mom and I that she was getting plenty of breastmilk. Jennifer was so reassured that she had a full milk supply this time, thanks to Adelynn's frequent breastfeeding! She was experiencing some pain while breastfeeding, so we focused on fine tuning positioning and baby's latch. Even experienced moms often need a little practice and can make a few adjustments to increase their comfort. After that, Jennifer and Adelynn continued to thrive. I followed up with them a few more times over the coming months for Breastfeeding Well Checks but every time what struck me most was how in love Jennifer was with her baby. When I asked her what was different this time around, she said she never expected to love breastfeeding her baby so much, since her previous breastfeeding experience hadn't been positive at all. She wants every mom to know, that even if you didn't breastfeed your first (or second!) baby, you may be able to breastfeed future children if you can get the right support and information.
If you are expecting a new baby after a less than positive breastfeeding experience, connect with a lactation consultant now who can proactively support you through the journey. She can talk to you about the difficulties you experienced last time, screen for any underlying physical/health issues that can contribute to difficulties (about 5% of women have a medical reason why breastfeeding was difficult for them), and help you come up with a personalized plan for getting breastfeeding off to a good start. I always recommend taking a comprehensive breastfeeding class even if you've taken a class before. Although this proactive approach doesn't guarantee smooth sailing, it goes a long way to prevent common problems and it connects you with resources to turn to later if help is needed.