I had a lot of anxiety and fear surrounding breastfeeding going into my second pregnancy and I attribute a lot of those feelings to the rough experience I had trying to nurse Emie as a first time mom. I know many, many moms feel the same when it comes to the topic of breastfeeding and most of the time, many suffer, worry, or beat themselves up in silence because their journey isn’t as easy as they had thought, hoped, or was led to believe it would be – I was one of them.
First things first…breastfeeding and/or pumping (whether exclusively or in tandem) is hard! Really freaking hard!! And if for whatever reason you’re unable to nurse, it didn’t work out, or you simply choose to not nurse / pump, that’s hard too. There’s no shame in whatever method you choose to feed your baby – FED IS BEST!
I struggled with low supply when I had Emie 4 years ago and at the time, it was something I felt an immense amount of guilt about…especially because my sister had a baby a few months after me and she ended up being an over-producer whereas I struggled for every drop. I believe most my supply issues were attributed to me being sick for nearly 3 weeks postpartum – something I wasn’t prepared for and my milk supply never recovered. I was extremely nauseous all the time following the birth, especially when breastfeeding (which I’ve now come to learn all these years later is a response some women have when they’re having a letdown) – so much so that I wasn’t eating or drinking nearly enough and my body was never able to establish a good supply from the start.
With Milly things have been night and day easier – so much so that we haven’t had to supplement and she is exclusively breastfed. Perhaps part of that is luck / my body knowing what to do, but a lot of my “success” this time around has to do with learning from the things that didn’t work out the first time and just being an overall better advocate for myself from the start. Here are a few key things I’ve zeroed in on that have made my breastfeeding / pumping journey easier as a second time mom…
IN THE HOSPITAL
Ask to see a lactation consultant as soon as you deliver. With Emie I never asked (I didn’t want to be the squeaky wheel) – I just assumed that one would stop by as part of my postpartum care but one never did. As a first time Mom, I took a course on breastfeeding but I had no clue how to put what I had learned into action. The nurses at the hospital did help getting Emie to latch while we were there, so I wasn’t completely fumbling around in the dark, but once I got home, I felt so lost and nursing was very painful as a result.
With Milly, I asked right away and they sent one to our room that first day. The lactation consultant was there for about an hour and gave me a great refresher course on getting baby to latch and between her tips and tricks and what I already knew, I felt more confident about the whole breastfeeding thing from the get-go. The lactation consultant also pointed out that Milly had a slight tongue tie and recommended that we see our pediatrician to get a referral to someone who could revise the tongue tie as soon as possible.
Knowing about the tongue tie early on turned out to be really helpful. We were able to make an appointment to have the tongue tie revised before we even left the hospital and getting that addressed right away set us up for success from the start vs struggling or being in pain for weeks before even realizing that the baby might have some latching issues.
THOSE FIRST 4 WEEKS
I’m just going to be honest and say that for me the first four weeks of breastfeeding absolutely sucked. Both times. There’s nothing easy about it. Breastfeeding is a huge learning curve, you and baby are getting to know one another, you’re trying to find a rhythm whether as a first time mom or as a mom of multiples, you’re exhausted, and honestly…nursing is a huge time suck! Often times during those first four weeks baby will cluster feed which means you might go through periods where baby is hungry every 20 minutes and as a result, your chest area is sore. You’ll find yourself saying “but didn’t I just feed you?” and you’ll feel like you never leave the couch/glider/bed.
The first month of breastfeeding was emotionally taxing for me but it was something I really wanted to do so I tried to do my best every day even when it felt like it was failing (I wasn’t – but you know…hormones). My biggest piece of advice is ask for help when you need it and take the help when it’s offered. That’s what got me through the rough couple weeks of navigating breastfeeding.
During this time I didn’t even think about pumping. I just fed on demand – even if that meant I never got out of my pjs and I was glued to the couch, I just kept at it the best I could even when I felt like giving up. Don’t worry about any sort of schedule, just follow your baby’s hunger cues – whatever that looks like. The first couple weeks are super important to establish your milk supply so if you’re nursing while also pumping, it could result in an oversupply which can lead to infections like mastitis (trust me, you don’t want this) and just an overall feeling of uncomfortableness because you’re unable to empty your milk efficiently. If you do have to supplement early on for whatever reason (there were a few times we did) I always made sure to pump whenever that happened to signal my body that milk was still needed.
If there were times where I felt full, engorged, or uncomfortable – this happens early on as your milk starts coming in – I would either use my Haaka on the opposite side from the side I was nursing to catch my let down on or I would go ahead and pump for a couple minutes but only enough to pump off the pressure. The couple ounces I collected here and there became the start of my freezer stash.
WEEKS 0-4: WHAT HELPED THE MOST
In addition to meeting with a lactation consultant at the hospital, I reached out to one the first week we were home and scheduled a home visit. Even despite being a second time mom, having breastfed before, and consulting with someone in the hospital, I still felt like we could use a little help and I was determined to speak up and ask for help when I felt I needed it. The in-home lactation appointment was completely covered by my insurance (my insurance covers 3 visits so be sure to check your policy too if you find yourself needing some assistance) and she helped a ton with latching and positioning. Plus she was able to weigh Milly before and after feedings which gave me a much needed boost of confidence to see she actually was getting enough to eat. Sometimes it’s hard as a breastfeeding Mama to know or gauge how much your baby is taking in – especially when they’re cluster feeding and they act hungry all the time – and not knowing if they’re getting enough can be mentally exhausting so the weight checks during our lactation visit was really reassuring.
She was able to provide a lot of good tips that made the breastfeeding process a lot less painful and a lot more enjoyable for me. No one ever likes doing something if it makes them uncomfortable or is painful so if you’re able to get help from a professional, take all the advice you can get.
One of the biggest tips she gave me was to pump off the pressure like I mentioned above – not so much for a freezer stash – but moreso because it makes it easier for the baby to latch and if the baby can latch properly, it’s an all around more enjoyable / tolerable experience. Think of it this way…if you’re fully engorged with milk, your chest is as hard as a basketball – now imagine a baby with their cute little mouths, trying to bite down on a basketball…sounds uncomfortable for both parties.
In the beginning, breastfeeding can be painful – especially if you’re cluster feeding a lot and even more so if you’re having latching issues – and these nipple shields by Silverette absolutely saved me in those early weeks. They’re made of pure silver which is naturally antimicrobial and eliminates the need for creams or ointments. They provide protection for your skin between nursing sessions because not much is more painful than a nipple that sticks to your nursing pad and/or bra and having to rip the two apart. Just saying.
As I mentioned earlier, the Haaka was another product I used quite a bit during those first few weeks – specifically for the late night/early morning feeds. If I woke up to nurse during the middle of the night and felt particularly engorged or full, I’d apply the Haaka on the opposite side to catch my let down. It took absolutely no effort at all on my part and this little gadget helped a lot to keep me feeling comfortable all day long while also contributing to the start of my freezer stash.
Additionally the Haaka is a great tool to alleviate pain from milk blisters and clogged ducts which can happen quite often in the beginning from inefficient milk extraction. This post gives you the step-by-step instructions on how to use it for these purposes.
FIVE WEEKS AND BEYOND
I really found my groove after the first month and things got significantly easier. By the end of the first month my milk supply was well established, Milly was gaining weight like a champ, and there weren’t as many bouts with cluster feeding.
There was a blip there where it felt like my milk supply had dropped a bit but after a quick text to my lactation consultant and some reassuring words, her advice was this: “just keep offering baby the breast and it’ll eventually come back. If you have to supplement in the interim, do what you need to keep baby fed and happy, but pump every time you supplement to continue signaling to the body that you need milk.”
I did as she suggested and within a few days/week, we were back in business. Who knows if my milk supply ever truly dropped but that’s what breastfeeding can do to a tired Mom who’s still trying to figure out their babies.
I was also using an app to track everything (which is super helpful early on and great info to have/share with your pediatrician when you’re trying to troubleshoot any issues that may come up) and we had established a pretty good schedule where I wasn’t letting her go longer than 3 hours between feeds even if that meant waking her up from a nap. However, in July we went on a family staycation, my phone fell and broke the first day, and without my app or even just a clock, I was forced to “wing it” schedule wise which turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise.
Looking back, when we were following such a rigid schedule, it caused me a lot of anxiety whenever our schedule shifted a bit. Instead of focusing on my baby’s hunger cues, I fixated on the schedule to tell me what to do next vs just paying attention to what my baby was telling me she needed and it made things harder than they needed to be. For me at least. Now…the only schedule I follow is the EASY schedule: Eat Awake Sleep You schedule.
If you’re not sure what to look for – this graphic helped me a lot:
WEEKS 5+: WHAT HELPED THE MOST
I introduced a pumping session at the beginning of month 2 and my nursing/baby cart came in really handy. Since we have a non-traditional nursery set-up, I put together a mobile nursery of sorts to have with me wherever I was spending the most time that day. I just wheeled it wherever I needed it to be and we had most everything we needed for baby within arms reach.
On the top tier I keep diapers, wipes, creams, sanitizer, and all the different med type stuff: gas drops, gripe water, and such for easy access plus an open space for my favorite water bottle. On the middle tier I keep my pump, nursing pads, nipple shields, nipple creams, and anything pump related. I found that this middle tier worked best because when pumping because if you’re sitting to pump, the machine is perfectly aligned with your body. On the bottom is a random assortment of baby toys, sanitizing wipes, and bibs/burp cloths.
If you’re interested in specifics, everything we use in the nursing/baby cart is linked here in my Amazon Storefront. You can also find my Newborn Essentials, Baby Gear, and even my favorite nursing friendly PJs/Loungewear here too.
In terms of pumping, at the start of month 2, I made an effort to pump once a day to get a head start on a freezer stash for when I returned to work. Most suggest to pump in the morning right after your first nursing session but that wasn’t feasible for me with a newborn and preschooler so I pumped anywhere from 15-20 (sometimes less if I was antsy) minutes as soon as both kids were in bed for the night. I may not have gotten as much as I would had I pumped in the morning but over time the ounces added up and I had more than enough milk stashed heading into my first day back at work.
When my maternity leave was coming to an end, I started planning for my return to work. I wanted to know the best way to transport milk, how often you should pump, how many ounces to leave with your caretaker, etc. and somehow I found Karrie Locher’s instagram page. She is a postpartum / infant care nurse and her page is full of breastfeeding/pumping info which has been such a resource for me while navigating going back to work and pumping. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with breastfeeding and/or pumping thing, be sure to check out her page – she just welcomed her 4th baby and is right in thick of it and sharing everything a long the way. I really wish I had found her 4 years ago!
LET’S TALK RETURNING TO WORK + PUMPING
In another post!
…this post is already very wordy and lengthy so I’m going to pick up on the topic of pumping in another post. I’ll go over how often I pump at work, the equipment I’m using at work that has been a game changer, how I transport milk back and forth, and how many ounces I’m leaving with my Mom at home. If you have any questions you want me to cover in the upcoming post, leave them below in the comments.