When my first daughter was 18 months old, I became pregnant with my second child. Armed with much more information about maternal mental health, and the confidence about taking care of children that only comes with experience, I readied myself for welcoming my second baby girl. I was determined to have a different experience, and assembled a team to care for my physical and mental health.
Mothers who have had one premature baby where, like in my case, prematurity is due to unknown causes, have a 25% chance of having another premature birth. Or, as my awesome OB/GYN pointed out, a 75% chance of having a full-term baby.
Knowing what I had faced before, I made plans for feeding my baby. My extremely wonderful neighbor works in an OB/GYN office and offered me two cases of formula samples, which I gratefully accepted. The place I took childbirth classes for my first child had finished its transmogrification and re-opened, offering a list of resources for obtaining pasteurized breast milk from milk banks if I wasn’t able to supply my own. My NICU had begun to offer donor breast milk for preemies. These alternative sources of breast-milk were unknown to me when I stopped nursing my first daughter. Mothers who were willing to donate their own breast milk “mom to mom,” was also an option we discussed, but didn’t agree upon as a first-choice option for our family.
After a pre-term labor scare at 32 weeks, my second daughter arrived at 37 weeks on the dot. She was placed on my chest, at which point she rooted around, found my nipple, and immediately latched on and began to gulp. Thus began one of the easiest, most uneventful nursing relationships one can hope for with a baby. My baby latched, nursed, and gained. She didn’t even lose weight in between birth and out discharge from the hospital! After my previous journey, I can only describe this feeling as magical, a miracle, and a complete gift.
My own breastfeeding goals were modest. Every day I said to myself, “I am going to nurse today, and maybe tomorrow.” This time around I again had dysmorphic milk ejection reflex, but as I did not also have post-partum depression and anxiety, I was able to breathe through the passing feelings of panic. Around 3 months the feelings passed entirely. I also had painful let-down, where I felt shooting pains at the beginning of each feeding in each breast. Again, around 3 months, this too passed.
My biggest hurdle came from my need to pump. Until the time came to pump for my new baby, I didn’t realize I had pump-related trauma associations from the NICU. I was unable to turn the pump on, to hear the motor. I began slowly, first by hand pumping, then by doing short stints, then longer with my electric pump. I took a pumping workshop at the childbirth education center. I worked through it in therapy. I still hate it, but I’m able to pump successfully.
Along with my pregnancy support team, I was also able to return to work part-time as opposed to full-time. This is a luxury I did not have after my first child. In charge of my own schedule, I was able to nurse, go to work, come back to my baby, nurse, and return to work. I brought my baby everywhere with me, including work meetings and trainings.
My baby will be one in two and half weeks (what?!?) and we are still nursing. She rejected a bottle at 3 months and with the support of my family, and the flexibility of my workplace, I’ve never had to push the issue. When she wants to nurse, she smacks my chest with her hand, as if knocking on a door. Her big sister is also an advocate for her, yelling, “Mamma! She needs the boob!” Her sister and I are currently teaching her the sign for “milk.” Since she still nearly always rejects breast milk from any container other than the breast, when I’m away and I pump, I give the breast milk I pump to my oldest mixed in with her cows milk. I figure it’s never too late for some of Mamma’s milk.
Tomorrow: some wrap-up reflections.