Here are my credentials:
- 4.5 years of breastfeeding experience with two different children
- La Leche League certified leader with 2.5 years of experience leading an LLL group, keeping up with the latest research, and attending educational conferences on breastfeeding
But as I write this within the first two weeks of third-time motherhood, I am fully reminded that breastfeeding is just plain hard, no matter your background or experience! Why?
Brand new babies have the most adorable mouths. Except that those precious puckered lips mask vice-like jaws that can leave your nipples RAW. And it’s often hard (or impossible depending on the size of your baby) to get those lips to open up wide enough to get a deep latch from your new baby. Shallow latches = sore nipples at best, but you could find yourself with cracked and bleeding nipples as a result. All of this is just as true for your third baby as your first!
With my second baby, I took for granted that I knew what I was doing – I was a veteran nurser after all! The first night in the hospital, I never turned on a light, assuming my latching skills were solid. By day two, I saw what damage I’d done in the dark. So for baby three, I knew I’d need lights on, breastfeeding hold 101 (i.e. the cross cradle hold rather than the “comes later” cradle hold), and to be intentional about every latch. I’d need to relearn to breastfeed and this new baby would need to learn for the first time. But … I forgot all of these intentions as I excitedly nursed my son for the first time. That first nursing and my son’s tiny mouth started some damage that meant I’d have added soreness to the already normal soreness of the first days.
If you’ve had more than one child, you know what I’m talking about. Basically, your uterus is in overdrive working to contract down to its pre-pregnancy size. These contractions are stimulated by breastfeeding. My uterus got complimented in the hospital on its amazing progress! Let’s just say I felt every single millimeter of shrinkage! Ouch!!
No rhythm … yet
You can’t expect a newborn baby to have any concept of day or night. Add to that the many interruptions that happen at a hospital, and sleep for mama becomes a joke. On nights three and four, at home, there was still no pattern to feedings, and I was up 4-5 times to nurse. After a week, we settled into a solid 3 feedings within the night.
Ladies and gentlemen: waking up every 2 hours (give or take), needing to turn on the light, hauling your sore body up to a seated position, painstakingly positioning your tiny baby at your sore breast, and then gritting your teeth through an initial latch is INTENSE. And I’m talking about my life these last two weeks with my THIRD baby – walking through the newborn phase is still an intense path, no matter what number you are on!
I write all this to validate the challenges that breastfeeding presents to the new AND veteran mother. It IS hard. While your baby benefits from your breastmilk and the breastfeeding bond from day one, the real perks for mom are not immediately evident.
But thankfully, tiny mouths grow, errors can be corrected, and a breastfeeding rhythm does come! And then breastfeeding can be downright marvelous.
And this is the kind of breastfeeding I remembered as I prepared to nurse my second child. Thus, I remember being surprised in those early days that I was NOT loving nursing. It hurt, it ruled my schedule, and I was TIRED. Women, myself included, forget these early weeks. Just like childbirth, the exact sensations dull to the point that you actually feel EXCITED to be about to do it again!
More than anything. I nursed her for 2.5 years and our nursing memories are beyond precious to me.
So as I prep my “station” for night time duty with baby #3 (diapers, wipes, extra burp cloths, breast pads, triple antibiotic nipple cream, ice water, pad to record when I nurse and what side, Boppy), let me share a few tactics for the second/third/fourth time mom.
Keep those nursing logs
When you are worrying that the amount your new baby is nursing can’t possibly be enough, the best confidence boost will be looking back at what was normal for YOU with your last baby. Each of my children has a box that I store special keepsakes in, and I had indeed kept the paper nursing logs I’d used in the early weeks. Since there is no “normal” for nursing lengths, it was helpful for me to see what my daughter had been nursing like after a week so I had a good comparison for my new son.
Recruit serious, committed help
It is near impossible to function after a night of 90 minute sleep stretches broken up by 45 minute feedings. Is there someone who can sleep over in week one (and two??!!) to tend to your other children’s nighttime needs? If there is no outside help, enlist your partner. Me: baby, You: other children. Second to nighttime help is early morning help. Let your helper get up with your other children and make breakfast so you can sleep until you naturally wake up.
Don’t be shy to ask for help!
It does not matter that you’ve successfully breastfed before. Consider the analogy that you are now driving a new, entirely different car and you may need a few tutorials! As much as I know about breastfeeding, I was quick to call in the lactation nurses at the hospital so they could also take a look at my baby’s latch and see what other tips they could offer for getting it to be deeper. I read every handout I was given, and I did get reminded of things that helped with my positioning.
Do just as much to establish successful breastfeeding with baby #2/3/4 as you did with #1; you want to make sure you are comfortable and that your baby is nursing well in those early weeks to set yourself up for long term success.
I know I’m just a few weeks away from surmounting the early nursing challenges. As my little baby grows on my milk, his mouth will get bigger, my milk supply will regulate, and I’ll no longer be engorged. Together, we’ll learn how to nurse in the side-lying (a.k.a. Mommy Can Sleep) position, and the I-love-you-your-milk-is-so-awesome gazes will soon start.
So, pregnant moms, appropriately set your expectations. Be in it for the long haul and the rewards will come!
And fellow newborn nursing moms, I wish you all the pampering in the world!