Breastfeeding Support after a Challenging First Experience

Breastfeeding Support after a Challenging First Experience

Categories: Leader Today, Uncategorized

Kelly Durbin, Austin, Texas, USA

It is exciting when a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn attends a La Leche League meeting. Discussing breastfeeding in the early days is a wonderful way to help someone get off to a good start with breastfeeding or even prepare before the birth. Other people at the meeting are usually eager to share their tips and ideas for nursing a newborn. But what happens when this is not the first baby and the mother reveals that breastfeeding did not go well for her the first time? Research shows that a previous experience with breastfeeding that was perceived as negative or unpleasant can impact future breastfeeding opportunities.[1] When a parent expresses concern because of complications during a previous breastfeeding experience, effective listening and empathy are great tools.

Be aware that a parent may still have painful and unresolved feelings about the past. Specifically, she may express fear about the same circumstances coming into play with her new baby; sadness about not reaching her breastfeeding goals with her older child; feelings of helplessness; not knowing who to rely on for help and support; guilt over the past experience or guilt about not providing breast milk or breastfeeding equally to both or all of her children; anger over not getting the right support or enough support; anger over not getting her own needs met; or shame for not reaching her breastfeeding goals or for feeling that she “gave up.”

To be supportive in a situation like this, it is important to use empathy and effective listening techniques.

  • Maintain good eye contact and provide short, well-timed feedback.
  • Ask open-ended questions and follow her lead. “I can see that this was frustrating for you. What type of support did you have?”
  • Allow the mother time to talk about the previous experience as much (or as little) as she wishes.
  • Acknowledge her feelings and provide validation: “It must have been so disheartening to go through that.”
  • Offer to speak to her privately if she would prefer.

Be careful about offering explanations for the past. It is very hard to know exactly what happened and it might be best to let the past be, without blame or judgment.

There is no way to erase the past or to try to fully understand the circumstances in hindsight. Be careful about offering explanations for the past. It is very hard to know exactly what happened and it might be best to let the past be, without blame or judgment. Focus on the current situation and how you can support her breastfeeding goals for her new baby. Provide encouragement for her skills and her renewed interest in breastfeeding, despite past challenges. Remind her that just as each child is different, each feeding experience is different as well. The past will not necessarily be repeated—especially with more awareness and support. Ultimately, thank her for coming to the meeting and for sharing her story.

Kelly Durbin has been a Leader for about ten years in the United States with experience leading meetings in five different states across the country. She, her husband and their two daughters now live in Austin, Texas. Aside from providing volunteer breastfeeding support, Kelly also works as the Curriculum Development Coordinator for Childbirth International and is certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

[1] Huang, Y., Ouyang, Y., & Redding, S. R. (2018). Previous breastfeeding experience and its influence on breastfeeding outcomes in subsequent births: A systematic review. Women and Birth. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2018.09.003