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At Milkbar, we're passionate about celebrating the journey of motherhood. There's nothing more empowering than sharing stories and experiences that shed light on the joys and challenges that go along with it.

Today we have paired up with Heather, a mum of one with another on the way, who is sharing with us how she is navigating motherhood all while managing the demands of entrepreneurship with her small business Milk Ensemble!

Experiencing pregnancy with a toddler

What a rollercoaster it is to be pregnant with a toddler (just under 2 years old)!

I have been extremely lucky and have not experienced too much nausea or unpleasant symptoms which I think has been a huge saving grace! However, I am finding that as I get further through the pregnancy, carrying a 13kg toddler along with the weight of the baby is becoming harder and harder. It has been so beautiful though preparing my toddler for the arrival of his little sibling. Every scan we go to, he comes and he always says ‘baby brother’ and mimics the baby’s heartbeat. It’s honestly the sweetest thing!

Early surprises and challenges of pregnancy the second time around

I have really loved being pregnant, second-time round. I think I am a lot less anxious this pregnancy (mainly because I don’t have time to be anxious as I am running after my toddler!), which in a way has made it really special. I now have perspective on how fast the 9 months actually goes and I am not sure whether we will ever have a third- so trying to cherish this pregnancy and cherish the movements in case they are my last. Both pregnancies I have really enjoyed (for the most part) and I honestly missed the movements when my son was born.

I have been extremely lucky and have not experienced too much nausea or unpleasant symptoms which I think has been a huge saving grace! However, I am finding that as I get further through the pregnancy, carrying a 13kg toddler along with the weight of the baby is becoming harder and harder. It has been so beautiful though preparing my toddler for the arrival of his little sibling. Every scan we go to, he comes and he always says ‘baby brother’ and mimics the baby’s heartbeat. It’s honestly the sweetest thing!

Mental and emotional preparation from the first to the second

I definitely feel more prepared this time around in regards to breastfeeding and how to look after a newborn, but we are very far behind in preparing the nursery etc! Prior to my firstborn I listened daily to podcasts (Australian birth stories, Beyond the Bump etc) trying to prepare myself for birth. This time I feel a lot more comfortable having already experienced birth (although I know it could look entirely different) and I feel more comfortable going into the newborn phase- something I did not consider enough before my first was born. I think I focused so much on preparing myself for birth, that I did not really prepare myself for bringing home a baby! So I feel like that was a real shock.

I had a really challenging time breastfeeding (experiencing mastitis 5 times within the first 12 weeks) and our son was diagnosed with hip dysplasia the day after he was born. So 24 hours after giving birth, when hormones were raging, our little baby was put into a brace which was just the most confronting thing to see. His tiny little body being man-handled by a doctor putting on this huge fabric brace. The doctor who diagnosed him also had terrible communication skills and honestly we had no idea what was going on. He was trying to airdrop us all these files about hip dysplasia, when I wasn’t connected to the internet and didn’t have signal and he was rushing us and our baby was screaming for a feed! It was a lot! All at once. We didn’t know anything about hip dysplasia so it was all new to us. In hindsight we are very glad our toddler went into the brace because it was only a short 6 weeks and he has had no issues since, but still was very overwhelmed at the time.

Navigating breastfeeding anxieties

As mentioned previously I had a really challenging breastfeeding journey and I am honestly feeling a bit nervous going into my second. After seeing countless lactation consultants, we are still unsure exactly what happened with my first but it seemed I had some sort of inflammatory issue whereby I would (daily) get incredibly painful clogs in my breasts. I remember any time I would even lie on my side to play with my son, I would feel a pain which would then get increasingly painful until the point I was in tears. I also found all of the mixed information online so confusing. Some experts saying massage, others saying don’t massage, some saying use warmth, others saying use cold icepacks! It was just so conflicting! I honestly felt like the first 12 weeks of having my son was focused on being bedridden with mastitis, barely being able to hold my son, spending hours in the shower trying to sort clogged milk ducts and spending hours in doctors/lactation consultants seeking help!

It was honestly so confusing. I kept thinking - I just want someone to tell me exactly what to do and that's it.

I also found it so overwhelming in the hospital being told completely different feeding methods by every person that walked into our room. One person would say feed this side for 5 minutes, that side for 5 minutes. The next person would come in and say feed only this side for this feed, then the other side for the next feed. Then the next person would say feed for as long as the baby needs, then the next person would say there’s no point feeding more than 20 minutes because then the baby is just using you for comfort! It was honestly so confusing. I kept thinking- I just want someone to tell me exactly what to do and that’s it. Also having to learn to breastfeed with my son in the hip brace was really challenging. It meant that I couldn’t feed in certain positions, which made it more challenging to learn how to feed. On top of this, I had to use a nipple shield for the first several weeks because of his latch. This made it so hard to go out and about, because you would always have to bring a shield with you- popping it on in a café with a hungry baby is not the easiest thing!

This time around, whilst feeling nervous about whether I am going to experience it all over again, I do feel more confident going into it. I now realise that every single feeding journey is different and to let my baby lead the way. I feel like I feel more confident in positioning now too.

Trust in yourself and enjoy it in the moment

I think the first time around I listened to too many people’s advice regarding feeding and baby sleep! Everybody loves to tell you their opinion and what worked for them. I think this time round I will just go with the flow more and do what I feel is right. I also feel I focused so much on trying to get my son into a good sleep pattern, that I didn’t have as many newborn cuddles as I would have loved. So this time I am so excited to soak it all up and enjoy every second!

Doubt to triumph in the entrepreneurship space

The first 12 weeks of my postpartum period were so challenging for me which definitely inspired me to start Milk Ensemble. I ended up wearing such daggy bras that had no shape, were boring plain colours and had huge clunky straps and feeding clips. After going through all the pain, I just wanted something that honestly made me feel good. You’re unclipping 10 times a day, seeing it. The newborn period is definitely a period where self-prioritisation takes a backseat. With long nights feeding, hormones still raging and covered constantly in breastmilk/baby spit up, I just wanted to be able to get myself something that made me feel special. I remember so clearly thinking, ‘I just wish I could look down whilst breastfeeding and see a bra I loved- something that would brighten my day’. After all, dressing myself each day was the little thing I got to do for myself. I felt like I had already given up so much of myself as a new mum, so to also throw away access to fashionable clothes that made me feel good, just felt awful! So, I had to make a change as I knew other women felt the same as me and why must we only have access to such a limited range of breastfeeding bras?

There have definitely been times where I have doubted myself and how Milk Ensemble was going to go. There is always that little voice in my head saying ‘what if you don’t sell anything’, ‘what if no one likes your bras’, ‘what will other people think’. However, I have just had to focus on the ‘what if it actually does do really well’. When we first launched (and since then) the support we have received from mums and the kind words have definitely proved that we have targeted a gap in the market and that other mums are looking for this exact product. Each day I open my inbox to the most amazing messages and reviews, reflecting how much mums appreciate having access to fashion forward breastfeeding activewear! So I am so glad that I didn’t let the self-doubt stop me!

Balancing the demands of running a business with being a mum

This is something that I am really struggling with and it is a lot more difficult than I ever thought it would be. The demands of social media is one thing that I am still trying to get on top of and there have been some very late nights (packing orders, planning content for social media, responding to customers)! I really want to ensure that each customer feels they can approach me for assistance with fit consultations or any other questions they have. This does take a long time, but I absolutely love it and wouldn’t change it for the world. I know first-hand that mums don’t have time to be uncomfortable, so helping mums get that perfect fit is just so important to me. So whilst it’s really challenging, I am absolutely loving it!

Something that has always been important to me is being present with my son. Being home with him was really important to me. So I try to only work when he is asleep for his nap or at the end of the day once he has gone to sleep at night (other than quick replies to inquiries here and there). Opening milk ensemble was so that I could continue being home with him, so I really don’t want to forget that. However, this has definitely been harder than I thought it would be. When it is just me doing everything- there is a lot to do and never enough time to do it all. I need to begin planning how I will manage the business, a toddler and a newborn all at once! But I am really grateful that I have such a supportive husband who really does help me out a lot. He races home from work so that I can have a bit of time to film reels etc before dinner time and he often takes my son out on Saturday/Sunday mornings so that I can dive into work. This helps a lot! I wonder how he will go taking two out haha!

Tips for managing a work-family balance

I think the key thing is just constantly reminding myself how I wanted to be there for my son as he grew up. So I often have to remind myself to be present, to hop off my phone and cherish this time I have. But it is really hard!

I think a huge thing that has helped take the pressure off me, is getting mummas to take photos in their Milk Ensemble outfits! This not only helps sell the items (as mummas want to see the outfits on other mums), but also means it helps take the pressure off me creating content.

Most rewarding aspects of being a mum and a business owner

I really think to be able to be the best mum to your kids you need to fill your own cup in some way. Milk Ensemble does just that for me. It allows me to express my creativity, challenges me, keeps each day exciting and gives me a ‘buzz’. I absolutely love it. I love how one moment I am at the park with my son, then next moment he is sleeping and I am either assisting mums to find their perfect size bra, packing orders or creating social media content! Every day has been different as a small business owner and I love that. I also love that I can shape the business in whatever direction I want. Having had breastfeeding experience and now going through my second pregnancy, I feel I can really relate with my customers!  

I love how my whole family is involved in my business. From my toddler helping me carry orders to the post office, to my husband helping me pack orders- it is a whole family effort!

Advice for expectant mothers who are preparing for the journey of motherhood (and possibly entrepreneurship)?

For expectant mothers preparing for the journey of motherhood I would say just listen to your inner voice and gut feelings. You will receive mountains of advice from every other mum out there who thinks they know best, but ultimately you know what is best for you and your baby. Let your baby guide you in what they need. Cherish those newborn moments because they go so incredibly fast.

Start off small and grow from there. If you don't start it, that burning desire will always be there. Why not see where it takes you?

In regards to entrepreneurship- jump on it. My dad once said to me ‘rather have disappointments than regrets’ and since that day I have always tried to live by that saying. I would rather try something and have it fail, then always wonder ‘what if’. So far it is definitely paying off and mums have been loving it. We can’t wait to show you all of the exciting things we have planned for milk ensemble. Having a baby makes you reevaluate everything in your life and if you are thinking about starting a business of your own, what is there to lose? Start off small and grow from there. If you don’t start it, that burning desire will always be there. Why not see where it takes you?

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