Nursing Know-How: Breastfeeding 101

By: Pamela Brill

Co-sleeping or a crib. Disposable diapers or cloth. Bottle or breast. Once you become a new mom, you are suddenly confronted with a tremendous number of decisions on how to raise your baby, some of which will have more of an impact on your lifestyle than others. For those women who decide to nurse their newborns, it's a choice that's not only personal but one that involves commitment and determination.

If you're pregnant and trying to determine if breastfeeding is right for you, read on to learn more about the advantages, the challenges and how to get started—and stay focused.

Is Breast Really Best?

A topic that has merited tons of media attention, whether or not to breastfeed has become a hot topic in the new motherhood domain. Regardless of where women stand on this controversial issue, the benefits associated with breastfeeding have been touted by experts across the country. "Solid medical studies show that by breastfeeding, there is a reduced risk of ear infections for the baby, as well as a [reduction] in juvenile diabetes and childhood obesity," says Heather Kelly, a New York-based lactation consultant and co-author of Ready, Set Baby! (

Moms also reap breastfeeding's benefits, namely a reduced risk in breast and ovarian cancers. "Breastfeeding also helps the mother's uterus get back to pre-pregnancy shape much more quickly and effectively than not breastfeeding," she adds.

Potential Pitfalls

Despite the overwhelming number of medical bonuses, breastfeeding is not without its challenges. Gina Johnson, a Florida-based registered nurse and lactation consultant for Palm Beach Baby (, cites sore nipples, a mismanagement of feedings and a lack of support as some of the more common breastfeeding struggles. However, she notes, each of these issues can be addressed and managed with some assistance.

"Breastfeeding should not hurt," she emphasizes, noting that some mothers complain of tenderness due to hormonal changes that usually subside within one to two weeks. Discomfort while nursing is often due to an incorrect latch. "If a mom is unable to 'fix it' on her own, she needs to get help right away from a board-certified lactation consultant," says Johnson.

Mismanaged feedings are another culprit of poor success with breastfeeding. "It seems that in our society, we have an epidemic of insufficient milk supply," notes Johnson, adding that using a pacifier with a newborn younger than one month and supplementing breastfeeding with formula is commonly associated with less breast stimulation and lower milk supply. "Parents often do not realize that a newborn's sleep cycle is 90 minutes long and that a newborn's stomach empties every 90 minutes," she says. "So when their baby wakes to feed every 1 to 3 hours, they assume they are not making enough milk and must need to supplement with [nursing] formula or give their baby a pacifier to sleep longer."

Instead, Johnson advises, new moms can view breast milk production as supply and demand. "The more the baby demands and removes [milk] from the mother's breast, the more milk the breast will make," she notes.

In Search of Support

So ultimately, how do you know if breastfeeding is the right choice for you and your baby? It depends on whether or not you are willing to give nursing a chance in the first place. "I think a mother does not know until she actually tries breastfeeding," says Johnson. "I have seen many mothers who originally thought they would formula-feed their children change their minds after the baby was born and went on to breastfeed successfully."

If you feel you have given breastfeeding a fair chance, and still are not having much luck, consider the alternatives. "I would recommend that a new mother exclusively pump her breast milk and bottle-feed her baby, using formula in addition to her own milk, if she is not able to yield a full milk supply via pumping," offers Kelly.

Breastfeeding support groups are another viable solution for moms seeking other likeminded women. One of the more well-known resources is the La Leche League International (, which has local chapters throughout the world. Experts also advise checking with your local hospital, which may host weekly or monthly lactation support groups.

Even after meeting with a lactation consultant, you still decide breastfeeding is not for you, don’t beat yourself up over it. “If a mother has tried and given up, I would praise her for her efforts,” says Johnson. And for those women who opted not to breastfeed from the start, that choice is just as acceptable. Whatever works best for a new mom’s lifestyle is key to her and her baby’s well-being.”