Let’s say you pick up a new hobby or sport, or even start work in a new industry – if you consistently do that new thing for multiple hours of every single day for weeks, months, even up to or over a year – then you would expect to be quite skilled. The next time you went to try it, even after a break for some months or even years – chances are you wouldn’t be back at the beginning. Muscle memory would kick in, and it would be like riding that proverbial bicycle – it would just come back to you.
Is breastfeeding the same? Does one hard-fought-but-successful breastfeeding story guarantee you another? Will it be a smoother ride this time just because I have experience under my belt? It’s something I have been wondering as I sit each evening and try to hand-express colostrum before the arrival of my second child.
My hands felt a bit awkward as I tried to remember the right positioning – and in fact, after almost a week of trying, I was still collecting LESS than I was in the lead up to my first baby’s birth. Huh? Shouldn’t there be more this time?
I also tried to think back to the early days with my now two year old son – we had difficulties with his latch being shallow and ineffective, and I remember there were different techniques and positions I used to help him – but I wouldn’t be able to show you those now.
I shared my first breastfeeding story on the OMM Label blog almost exactly a year ago now, soon after I found the brand and fell in love with it (you can check it out: here). Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the start of a beautiful connection with Ophélie that saw me become part of the team as the label’s resident writer. My first breastfeeding chapter with my son ended only a few months later, during my first trimester of this pregnancy, with our last feed now six or so months ago.
Six months doesn’t seem so long ago, but by then we had well and truly found our rhythm and I had actually become a pretty passive participant in feeding after the challenging fourth trimester. There was no more remembering which side to start on or getting the latch just right – I really just provided access and he took care of the rest.
So now as I sit and neatly fold my well-loved (but still in mint condition!) collection of OMM Label t-shirts, jumpers and dresses into my hospital bag, it makes me think about the next chapter or story – the one that is about to unfold.
I decided to look into it a little more – to try and understand a bit more about how women’s experiences differ when breastfeeding for the second (or third or fourth...) time.
Statistically, it’s not surprising that women who are able to establish breastfeeding with one child have a better baseline chance of doing so again with their second or subsequent children. But it’s by no means a guarantee. The available literature and support material reminds us that each breastfeeding story is unique – and with the different circumstances of each pregnancy and birth – including just age and hormones – a woman’s body responds very differently.
The other thing that is easy to overlook is that breastfeeding is a relationship – you and your baby are a team. Just like a new baby isn’t necessarily going to look like or have the same personality as their sibling(s) – so too are they an individual when it comes to feeding. There may be a reason – physiologically, anatomically or otherwise – why your baby isn’t able or willing to feed effectively, even with all the planning, professional support, early intervention and best efforts in the world.
Just like a successful first breastfeeding story isn’t a guarantee of another, the reverse is also true. It was so incredible to find and read many stories of women who are able to breastfeed – either for the very first time or for longer – with a subsequent child, even though they could not or chose not to continue with their first. For these mothers, it can be an incredibly healing and rewarding experience to be able to have the feeding journey they may have wished for, but were not able to have the first time around.
In this way it is quite similar to birth – each birth is an opportunity to have a different experience. Although how birth unfolds is sometimes very outside of our control, there are still things that we can do as women to set ourselves up for the outcomes we want, and at very least, to feel informed and empowered in our choices. We know that many women who experience a traumatic or difficult birth will often seek out different supports or choose a different care path to try and set themselves up for a more positive subsequent birth experience. In the same way, women who have a relatively positive or empowering birth may also take active steps to try and ensure their subsequent births can be similar or even better.
So, what about breastfeeding? Well, my research in writing this blog led me to something I didn’t quite expect: a big lesson and a very timely reminder for me. I have put time, energy and thought into setting up the right care and support to try to have a very different birth story the second time around – but I have put close to no time, energy or thought into preparing for breastfeeding.
Setting myself up for success is one thing I can gift to my future self and my little growing baby – having the things I need around me that made it easier last time, knowing where to get support if I need it again (and reaching out in advance!), and just spending some time refreshing myself on many of the things I had forgotten were involved in those intense first weeks and months of establishing feeding and my supply.
The good news is, doing this doesn’t have to be hard work, take lots of time or feel like cramming for an exam – there are fantastic supports available online and on social media about beginning or re-beginning breastfeeding which you can easily tap into.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) website has lots of information readily available and their article called Breastfeeding a second (or third or fourth) baby is a great starting point, whether you had a successful time breastfeeding the first time around or not. The ABA is also available to chat to via their free helpline – just dial 1800 686 268 (easy to remember if you just dial 1800-mum-2-mum!)
Some of our other favourite social media accounts to follow that give lots of tips and encouragement are:
- Milky Business Lactation
- Susie Prout Lactation
- Maternal Instincts by Amberley
- Pinky Mckay
- Seasons of mama
- The Milk Project
While knowledge and support is key, one thing I remember from the first time is that breastfeeding, especially in the early stages, takes far more than just a breast and a baby. That’s where OMM Label’s new Breastfeeding Essentials Gift Box is your best friend – it has taken all the things I didn’t realise I needed to get through those first few weeks last time around, and put them into one stylish package – the perfect gift for yourself or a new or seasoned Mama. When I opened it, I popped everything straight into my hospital bag and crossed a bunch of things off my list, feeling reassured that I was off to a good start.
However my next chapter or story turns out, I’m starting to feel ready and I’m really excited to share it with you all.