As a mama-of-three who has breastfed two of my three munchkins well into toddlerhood (#ripnipples), it’s safe to say that I’ve logged some solid hours on the boob beat. In fact, at last estimate, I’d spent around 54 months (and counting) in a maternity bra. I’ve learnt a few (dozen) things along the way. And while these days it comes as easily as, well, pouring a cup of milk, it wasn’t always that way. Not at all.
The first time around didn’t work very well. At all. Undiagnosed tongue and lip ties.Shredded nipples. A persistent staph infection. Pain on top of pain. Couple that with a mama who knew NOTHING about what breastfeeding was actually all about (‘Doesn’t it just happen?’) and it was not smooth sailing. While we limped to 7 months, it was a huge learning curve and one which ended up informing my next two breastfeeding experiences.
Second (and third) time around? I KNEW stuff. I knew that breastfeeding, especially in the early days, wasn’t easy. It was exhausting. And anxiety provoking. Painful at times. Did I mention exhausting? The biggest difference though? I clung on to the knowledge that ‘this too shall pass.’ I understood that establishing breastfeeding took time and support. For some women, it just clicks from Day One. I was not one of those women. Not the first time, second time, or third time. But I had experience on my side.
Breastfeeding, the second (and third) time around can be very different. This is what I discovered.
You’re prepared – Nothing can prepare you for birth or breastfeeding that first time. It’s just not possible. Somehow all the photos and videos in the world don’t quite manage to capture it. Second time around? You get it. You remember, vividly, what the first few days with a tiny newborn who is learning to latch, are like. You stock up on Hydrogel Breast Discs (a true saviour in a purple packet). You know which breast pads are the softest and therefore best for tender nipples. You realise that you may need a pump and make sure that you’ve got one handy (instead of scrambling around at 4am trying to figure out where all the bits go. Not that I ever did that. Really.)
You get that it’s ALL about the latch –In your life BB (before breastfeeding), the words ‘perfect latch’ probably didn’t mean much. Once you’ve breastfed though? Yeah, they take on a whole new meaning. A good latch means a well attached baby. It means comfortable, not shredded nipples. Good weight gain. A (relatively) content newborn. A poor latch? Well that’s the danger zone and where problems are most likely to begin cropping up. Sort out the latch and you’re golden(ish). Establishing that mythical good latch can be tricky. Second time round, you know to seek advice and support from those who can help; your midwife or a Lactation Consultant, instead of struggling on cluelessly.
You’re gentle on yourself- The moment you become a mother, everything changes. More so than you ever thought possible. You can’t possibly be prepared for it. The second time around it’s still life altering but you’ve been there before. You know that good things take time and that you’re doing your very best. You understand that it’s ok to ask for help and support and to make decisions with your best interests at heart. And you know intrinsically that you are the number one expert on your baby. You trust your gut far more, and that knowledge and confidence can make all the difference.
Everyone will have a different breastfeeding journey. What’s safe to say is that it’ll often unfold in ways you never expected or anticipated. I had never planned on feeding my second child until she was almost 3. I never dreamed I’d have a bub who completely refused a bottle and woke through the night for close to two years. Now, 17 months in to feeding my third, I’m still learning all the time.
The best advice I was ever given? Expect the unexpected. And always remember that ‘this too shall pass.’
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