If you are having a baby, you know how many choices there are to make and how much you have to learn. For instance, considering whether you will breastfeed or not is an important decision. Although breastfeeding is natural, many moms may still have a lot of questions. Learning why breastfeeding is important, tips for success and how to deal with difficulties can make this special experience go smoothly.

Why Breast Milk?

Breast milk is ideal for your baby. When you first deliver your baby, the milk you produce is referred to as colostrum. This early milk contains the antibodies and nutrition your baby needs. After the first few days, your breast milk changes and becomes thinner. It contains the perfect balance of sugar, protein, fats and water your baby needs.

Because the proteins in formula are made from cow’s milk, they can be difficult for some babies to digest. Breast milk is often gentler on a baby’s young digestive system and will be easier than formula for your little one to digest.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there is evidence that breast milk can also help decrease the chances your baby will develop certain illnesses and diseases. For example, breastfed babies have a decreased chance of developing ear infections and upper respiratory infections.

Being breastfed may also decrease a baby’s chance of developing asthma and type two diabetes. Breastfeeding also has some benefits for the mother. Research has shown mothers who breastfeed have a lower chance of developing ovarian and breast cancer.

In additional to health benefits for both you and your baby, there are some practical advantages to breastfeeding. Formula can be very expensive, and sometimes less convenient. With breast milk, there is no cost or worrying about where to heat the formula.

Breastfeeding Basics

When you are breastfeeding, one of your main concerns may be wondering if your baby is getting enough milk. If you pump breast milk and feed your baby with a bottle, you will be able to determine the exact amount of milk your baby ate. In other instances, when your baby is nursing from the breast, it can be difficult to tell how much milk your baby is getting. Below are some general feeding guidelines.

Frequency: Although it is advisable to listen to your baby’s doctor, most newborn babies will need to nurse between about eight and 12 times a day for the first 4 weeks. After the first month, your baby will likely need to nurse between seven and nine times a day.

How Much: How long your baby will nurse varies. When your baby is a newborn, you both may just be getting the hang of nursing so it may take a little longer. Newborns may nurse about 15 to 20 minutes on each side. As you both get familiar with the process and your baby gets older, he will become more efficient, and nursing time may decrease to about 10 minutes on each breast.

Even though, you may not be able to measure the amount of milk your baby gets, there are a few ways you can determine if he or she is getting enough milk. According to the Mayo Clinic, your baby should have at least six wet diapers a day and about three bowel movements. Steady weight gain is also one of best ways to determine your baby is getting enough breast milk.

How Long: When you should stop breastfeeding your baby is a personal decision. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life. After that, you can gradually introduce foods while still breastfeeding throughout the first year. After the first year, the decision to wean is up to you.

Tools to Help
There are a lot of products on the market to help make breastfeeding easier. While you may not need all of them, a few may come in handy. Consider some of the items below.

Pillow: Although a regular pillow may work, using a pillow made especially for nursing may be more comfortable.  Nursing Shields: Leaky breasts can be embarrassing, especially at work. Breast shields are little pads, which you wear inside your bra to absorb leaking breast milk.

Pump: At some point you may need to have someone else feed your baby or return to work, which can make nursing a little more difficult. A breast pump can also help you deal with sleep deprivation, by pumping and letting someone else do a middle of the night feeding.

Nursing Cover: If you are going to breastfeed in public and feel a little shy, a nursing cover may be a good option. The cover wraps around your nursing baby so you can breastfeed with a little more privacy.

Troubleshooting Tips
Breastfeeding does not always come easy. If you do have trouble, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s common for both first time moms and experienced moms to have a few issues come up when trying to breastfeed.

Trouble latching on is one of the most common problems. Keep in mind, your baby should not just take the tip of the nibble in his or her mouth. Latching on should involve your baby taking as much of the areola into his mouth as he can.

An additional problem some women are concerned about is a low milk supply. If your baby is gaining weight and is having wet diapers and bowel movements as they should, your supply may not be low. If you do suspect you are not producing enough milk, talk with your doctor, who can refer you to a lactation specialist. The specialist can give you tips, such as pumping in between nursing and other ways to stimulate your milk supply.

Sore nipples may also be a problem for some moms. Proper latching on may help reduce this problem. Also, if you are using a breast pump, be sure you are using it correctly, or it can lead to sore nipples. Talk with your doctor about lotions, which are intended for nursing moms and may help reduce discomfort.

Breastfeeding is one way to give your baby a healthy start. If you do run into some obstacles along the way, try not to stress. Breastfeeding problems are common, and it does not mean you are a bad mom. Be sure to ask your doctor or your baby’s pediatrician if you have any concerns or questions. Lactation specialists are also an excellent resource for information. Your local hospital or your obstetrician and your baby’s doctor should be able to refer you to a specialist if needed. Above all, remember to relax and enjoy this special time with your baby.