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Breastfeeding Basics

Updated on November 13, 2012

Is Breastfeeding Hard?

Have you noticed that magazines and websites often speak of how difficult breastfeeding is? A new mom is regaled with stories of bleeding nipples, milk supply issues, babies refusing to nurse, slow weight gain, pumping nightmares, and a lot more. Similar to how expectant moms are a target for birth horror stories, reading about these breastfeeding problems can scare a mom away from choosing to nurse her baby and that would be a travesty.

So what's the deal? Is breastfeeding hard? What can a mom do to prevent problems from occurring?

Firstly, the idea that breastfeeding is difficult is a concept that is unique to the modern world. One well known anthropologist asked a group of native women if new moms had a hard time nursing their babies, and they could barely understand the question, much less comprehend the idea that breastfeeding was anything but as natural as breathing.

Could it be that much of what makes breastfeeding hard is that we anticipate that it will be?

Add to that the fact that so many women have never seen a woman nurse a baby in real life. Many girls did not observe their mothers nursing their younger siblings as they grew up. Therefore the picture of a nursing mom is a new one in their minds.

What about the poor breastfeeding information that is still preferred by labor and delivery nurses, mothers and mothers in law, and even Pediatricians? One Mom was told by hospital staff shortly after her first child was born, "Don't nurse for longer than 5 minutes or you'll get sore." This mom knew that following this advice could lead to low milk supply and weight gain issues, so she ignored it.

But another mom may not have been so fortunate. Let's not even mention how many moms are told to "top off" the breastfeeding baby with a bottle of formula, setting her up for multiple problems that could be avoided.

So how can a mom get good advice? One way is to visit other breastfeeding mothers. Ask them questions and observe them nursing their babies. Attend breastfeeding support groups such as La Leche League or Holistic Moms. Check any advice you read or hear against what these real experts - nursing moms have to say.

Most people keep trying until the experience is all that they've hoped it would be!

Photo Source: Deposit Photos

Breastfeeding is as natural as breathing...

10 Quick Breastfeeding Success Tips

The following are a collection of tips from breastfeeding experts, moms, health care practitioners, and others who care about breastfeeding moms and babies.

1) An uncomplicated birth makes breastfeeding easier because mom and baby are more alert and awake, getting breastfeeding off to the best start. If at all possible, plan for a natural birth.

2) Insist on no unnatural nipples. Alert hospital staff in writing and verbally that you are going to be breastfeeding and let them know you do not want your infant to receive any kind of artificial nipple.

3) Find a Pediatrician and OB or Midwife who supports breastfeeding. Some give lip service to the "breast is best" mantra, but recommend weaning to formula at the first sign of difficulty. Find a true breastfeeding advocate who will help you overcome challenges if they come up.

4) Listen to the baby. Babies nurse for a wide variety of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with hunger. Nursing frequently ensures you'll bring in a healthy milk supply to meet your baby's needs. It's also soothing to him and eases his transition into the world.

5) Wear your baby. Wearing baby in a sling makes nursing easier because baby is close to you. Wearing him helps to organize his movements and help him focus on nursing. It also makes nursing in public much more comfortable. Dr. William Sears said about this: "Probably one of the most wonderful aspects of a sling or carrier is that it allows breastfeeding on the move. Busy mothers can nurture their babies with the best nutrition, yet still continue their active lifestyles."

6) Talk to your baby's father and your family. Be sure to communicate to your family how strongly you feel about nursing. Sell them on the benefits so they'll support you.

7) Learn to nurse in public. Breastfeeding author Amy Spangler says: "I encourage young women, if they have a comfort level doing so to please breastfeed their babies wherever they are because until we get that critical mass of women doing just that, we are not going to change the attitudes of the general public." Practice latching baby on in front of a mirror so you can learn to do so discreetly.

8) Don't compare your baby with others. Healthy, well fed breastfed babies come in all shapes and sizes. Your baby will grow in a particular pattern mostly due to genetics.

9) Get your latch right. Learning how to latch your baby onto the breast is one of the most, if not THE most important thing you can do to avoid pain and ensure adequate draining of the breast (which leads to an abundant milk supply). Get help if you and your baby are having trouble.

10) Try cosleeping. Sharing sleep with baby makes breastfeeding easier. Babies who sleep with their mothers take in more milk and stimulate mom's breastfeeding hormones. And everyone generally gets more sleep.

Great Breastfeeding Gear

Breastfeeding products to make your life easier.

Do You Need Breastfeeding Products?

Are they Helpful?

To be sure, all a breastfed infant really needs is his mother. It's not necessary for a nursing mom to spend money on gadgets. However, there are a few products that moms have used to make breastfeeding more convenient and that can actually serve to enhance rather than getting in the way of the breastfeeding relationship. A few of these are listed below.

A good nursing bra - A supportive and comfortable nursing bra can help a mom, especially if she is full busted, to avoid problems with plugged ducts. A nursing bra should be stretchy and very soft to accommodate a mother's changing breast size throughout the day. It should also make nursing convenient, with one handed access so ease of use. Generally speaking, soft cup versus underwire cups should be used. The Bravado bra is one very popular style. They feature a no roll band and different levels of support for various cup sizes. Most women find that their breasts increase by one cup size when their milk supply increases a few days after birth but then levels off within a few weeks.

A good breast pump - Many mothers nurse their babies without ever using a pump. But for some moms, owning an effective pump means they will make exclusive breast milk feeding a success and avoid formula. Here are a few tips on finding a good breast pump:

Assess your needs. If you'll only need a pump for occasional use (such as a mom's night out), a manual pump like the Avent Isis is all you need. If you'll be going back to work full time or have a premature baby who you will need to pump for frequently, invest in a good hospital quality, electric double pump like the ones made by Medela. In general, breast pumps made by companies that also market infant formula are to be avoided. They tend to be poor quality and cause pain.

A baby sling - While not a breastfeeding product, a baby sling has proven to be a lifesaver for many nursing moms. Life with a new baby in the house can be stressful. A baby sling can make things much easier. It allows mom to hold her infant, reducing crying (crying babies have a harder time nursing and often suffer with more gas due to swallowing a lot of air) while allowing her to get things done. A baby sling is also helpful for newborns whose limbs flail around and get in the way of a good breastfeeding latch. Many sling styles allow mom to breastfeed easily and discreetly which is very nice when mom is out in public.

A good breastfeeding book - Having an informative book on breastfeeding handy empowers a mom. She can read it before baby arrives to learn good breastfeeding technique and management, and refer to it if challenges arise. Some great ones for a mom's library are: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International and Breastfeeding, Keep it Simple by Amy Spangler.

Breastfeeding Books!

Get the help, advice, and inspiration you need.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: Seventh Revised Edition (La Leche League International Book)
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: Seventh Revised Edition (La Leche League International Book)

All parents want the best for their babies, and there’s no doubt about the fact that human milk is the ideal food for human babies. What’s the secret of successful breastfeeding? For almost fifty years mothers who have been in touch with La Leche League have found the kind of information and support they needed to breastfeed their babies.

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers
Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers

Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not always easy. It is the biological norm, but it is not the cultural norm. By learning the seven basic principles in this book, mothers can dramatically increase their likelihood of success and make breastfeeding the enjoyable experience it should be. The seven laws taught in this book are easy for mothers to understand and are sure to help them avoid some of the pitfalls that they might otherwise face. The seven principles include: 1. Babies Have the Ur...

The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child from Birth Through Weaning
The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child from Birth Through Weaning

From North Americas foremost baby and childcare experts, the newest addition to the bestselling Sears Parenting Librarythe new breastfeeding bible for nursing mothers. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in breastfeeding. Yet first-time mothers often lack the support and the knowledge they need. Many of the available books fail to address the practical challenges that confront many women (especially women who work outside the home) when they choose to breastfeed. For these wo...

So That's What They're For!: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide 3rd edition
So That's What They're For!: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide 3rd edition

From bestselling author Janet Tamaro comes the third edition of So That's What They're For! For years, moms have relied on this staple book-now infused with new sections, including breastfeeding multiples and monitoring nutrition, and featuring completely revised and updated resource materials. Reflecting the latest in breastfeeding research, and packed with humorous anecdotes, this book proves (again) that breastfeeding advice does not have to be boring!

Mama Knows Breast
Mama Knows Breast

Breastfeeding may be natural, but it certainly isn't easy. That's why Andi Silverman wrote Mama Knows Breast, a beginner's guide that's full of friendly, frank, and reassuring advice. Readers will discover essential information on breastfeeding techniques, baby holds, and medical conditions. They'll also learn the straight scoop on gnawing infants, unexpected leaks, ill-fitting clothes, and bewildered spouses. Other topics include: The pros and the cons of breastfeeding When, where, and how to...


Avoid Breastfeeding Challenges

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is certainly true of breastfeeding. Simple habits established early can prevent a whole host of challenges that may lead to early weaning. According to recent statistics, over 70% of American women start breastfeeding their baby at birth but only 16% are still nursing when their baby is a year old. Following these tips will make a big difference.

Build a Support Network

Even though mom and baby are the ones breastfeeding, building a network of supportive people is key. This would include taking steps like: making sure your baby's father strongly supports breastfeeding; educating family members close to you about breastfeeding; finding health care practitioners who are breastfeeding advocates and also knowledgeable; and making friends with other nursing moms who can be a source of information and support.

Nurse Early and Often

"Nurse early and often" is a tip that La Leche League, considered the world's foremost authority on breastfeeding, has long advocated. Why? Breastfeeding soon after birth and frequently thereafter helps establish milk supply and helps mom's uterus contract, reducing postpartum bleeding and other complications. Babies are typically born ready to nurse within about 20 minutes of birth and the experience of many has shown that this is an ideal time to introduce the breast. Not limiting baby's time at the breast, but rather nursing when he indicates the desire means mom will develop a healthy milk supply and avoid issues with plugged ducts or mastitis.

Avoid Artificial Nipples

While pacifiers have some benefits, they are best avoided in the early weeks when baby and mom are getting used to nursing. The same is especially true of supplemental bottles. These can disrupt the balance of supply and demand that makes breastfeeding work and lead to insufficient milk supply as well as confusion in the baby. Despite what some Pediatricians or Doctors say, the experience of many mothers and breastfeeding experts over the years has shown that some babies do indeed have much trouble switching from breast to bottle. Wait until the baby is several weeks old to introduce bottles.

Give It Six Weeks

For some nursing couples (remember that it takes two to make breastfeeding work, and one of you may have more trouble than the other in learning the ropes!), nursing is smooth sailing. For others, it's one challenge after another, but even for these nursing dyads, most of the time breastfeeding gets easy after the 6 week mark. Take it one day at a time, but don't give up too quickly. It's surprising how often things just magically improve once baby matures a bit. Get help from a Lactation Consultant, La Leche League leader or another breastfeeding mom if you need it. Breastfeeding should not hurt!

Why Breastfeed Your Toddler?

Worldwide, the median age of weaning is 4.2 years. While this may seem odd to our Western ears, it shows that other cultures have different ideas about how long babies and toddlers need to nurse. Let's look at a few of the reasons why moms may decide to breastfeed a toddler.

They Enjoy the Nursing Relationship

Sometimes a mom is enjoying the benefits of nursing her infant and the closeness of the relationship, and doesn't want that to stop just because the baby has turned one year old. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding "for one year or until mutually desirable". The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends two years of breastfeeding.

Nutritional Benefits

The nutritional benefits of mother's milk does not expire! Toddlers receive many of the same benefits that infants do from nursing, and the miraculous thing is that mom's milk changes to meet the needs of the growing baby. Toddlers get a lot of good nutrition from mom's milk even when they are eating a wide variety of solid foods. This is especially comforting to a mom whose child refuses solids. This does not happen because baby is still nursing. That is a myth. Picky toddlers are often allergic children whose bodies are telling them to wait.

Immune System Benefits

Experts tell us that a baby's immune system is not fully developed until he is 2 years old. Others say it's 7 years! To be sure, toddlers are exposing themselves to a lot of things once they are walking around exploring their world. Breastmilk still helps protect them from illness. Many moms of nursing toddlers have been thankful for their tot taking in breast milk when they refuse other foods during sicknesses. This is especially important when toddlers have diarrhea or vomiting and dehydration can be life threatening. Since breast milk is too easily and quickly digested, a toddler can stay hydrated and nourished even when he's ill.

What's more, breastfed infants and toddlers are less likely to have adverse vaccine reactions.


What in the world does nursing have to do with discipline? Experienced moms say plenty! Toddlers are encountering new and scary and exciting experiences every day. Being able to come back to mom's lap and the familiarity of her breast, along with the comfort of sucking, can help him manage the changes he's going through better. Toddlers who feel better behave better. Many nursing moms have been thankful for the calming effect of breastfeeding - both for them and their toddler.

Breastfeeding a toddler can be challenging at times. Toddlers have to learn more about boundaries and limits at this age, including getting the message that mom has feelings too! Nursing is a good place to start teaching a toddler the rules of give and take.

Breastfeeding and Family Challenges

After your first few weeks, breastfeeding in the comfort of your own home is enjoyable. But sometimes but nursing around your relatives during the busy holiday season, at family reunions and other events has its challenges. Some moms have complained that their family members give unwanted advice, especially around discipline or weaning. It’s not uncommon for relatives to criticize your parenting choices especially when those differ from their choices.

Another issue when breastfeeding around extended family are difficulties in regards to the act of nursing in public itself – whether to do so discreetly where you are or to retreat to another area. No one wants to hide away as if nursing is shameful, but what if you get only flack from your relatives when it’s time to meet baby’s needs?

Here are a few suggestions on how to make things a little easier.

Some moms choose to pump their milk and bottle feed it during this time. That is an option, however, if you are not accustomed to using a breast pump, the additional stress of learning the pump combined with other busyness and stress common to the holiday season might prove to be too much. It could be discouraging when you do not get as much milk as you think you should (since babies are far better at extracting milk from the breast than any pump) and if your pump is not a high quality pump, you could even cause yourself pain. It is far easier to simply nurse the baby as you would at home, but how do you get around some of these challenges?

Many moms find that a baby sling is an absolute heaven send when breastfeeding around family or at other times when your privacy may be invaded by people or noise. A baby sling covers you up but also creates a little cocoon for baby so he can get down to business and breastfeed effectively. If your baby skips feedings due to being over stimulated, you may end up with a plugged duct or worse, mastitis. You do not want that during this busy season.

Plugged ducts are common during the holidays anyway due to the additional activity and stress associated with it. A plugged duct can turn into mastitis, which is quite painful and can leave you feeling like you have been hit by a truck, so make sure you take the time to settle baby down and nurse on a regular basis.

It is also important that you get plenty of rest. At the very least, take time to put your feet up when it is time for a feeding, and close your eyes and nap if possible. Do not forget to feed yourself well too. Don't binge on junk food commonly served during holiday and other festivities, but keep eating a healthy, whole foods diet to keep your immune system strong.

How do you deal with criticism from relatives who don't respect your parenting philosophies? That can be a tough nut to crack. If the relative in question is a mother herself, it helps to remember that her own experience with breastfeeding colors her perspective. If she had a hard time or was not successful with breastfeeding, her guilt may come out as criticism of you.

If this is a person you see only rarely (such as once a year at Thanksgiving), it might be best to drop the subject and just let the comments slide right by without acknowledgement. But if it is going to be an ongoing problem, try to head off comments at the pass by saying something like:

"I do appreciate your perspective on things, however we have decided to do what we feel is best for our family."

Breastfeeding book author Amy Spangler suggests that instead of answering the question directly, we direct it back to the person. Ask about their breastfeeding experience, and listen empathically. Point out that your choices are not a criticism of their choices.

Tips for Increasing Your Milk Supply When Breastfeeding

When a new mother begins breastfeeding, she often wonders if she'll be able to produce enough breast milk to feed her newborn. If you're not able to produce enough milk to satisfy your baby, there are some things you can do. These tips for increasing the milk supply may prove helpful if you're concerned.

If you are having a milk supply problem there could be a couple of reasons. Are you having problems with latch-on, is your child sleepy when nursing, or do you have painful nipples? These may cause you to not nurse as often, which may cause a milk supply slow down. If you're taking birth control pills or have been sick, those could also be possible reasons for producing less milk.

What can you do? First, you need to determine if you're truly having a milk supply issue. You can tell if you're producing enough milk by the following:

* If your baby is a newborn to less than three months old, it should be gaining an ounce a day. This is a sure-fire way to verify that your child is getting enough milk each day.

* If your baby is less than a month old, it should have at least three dirty diapers each day. The stools should be a yellowy-mustardy color. As the child ages, they will have dirty diapers less often.

* Does the child nurse often? The baby should nurse at least every two to three hours for at least eight feedings, and up to twelve, per day.

* Can you hear the baby swallow when it eats? Do you notice milk in its mouth, or dribbles coming out of its mouth?

* Does the baby have five to eight wet diapers per day? While wet diapers aren't an accurate measure of your milk supply, the number of dirty diapers and their weight are.

How do you produce more milk if you're not happy with your milk production? In this case supply and demand are definitely the name of the game. The more often you nurse, the more milk you will produce. Here are some other tips for increasing the milk supply:

* Call a lactation consultant to discuss your concerns. They will be able to help you decide if you truly have a milk supply problem or not.

* Make sure the baby is latching on properly. If they're not latching on properly, they won't be stimulating the breast to cause let-down.

* If your baby becomes sleepy while nursing, keep them awake to adequately nurse.

* Use breast compression when the sucking and swallowing become less pronounced. Switch sides and allow the baby to nurse on the other side. If you still feel full, use an electric pump to fully drain the breasts.

* At your next doctor's appointment, ask them to test your thyroid level. Low thyroid levels have been known to reduce a mother's supply of breast milk.

A breastfeeding mom may often feel they're not producing enough milk; however, mostly that isn't the case at all. They may be feeling pressure to use formula, or they may just be afraid. These tips for increasing the milk supply may help you strengthen your resolve to breastfeed and continue to feed your child the way nature intended.

Easing Breastfeeding Pain Naturally

Along with the benefits of breastfeeding such as exceptional nutrition for your baby and a close knit bond between mother and child, the mothers can often experience some sort of breast pain. It's important to know what methods are a combination of effective, natural, and won't harm baby or mom.

Cracked or Dry Nipples and/or Areola:

Cracked nipples can occur a number of ways. The most common is if the baby is not latched on correctly. Make sure your baby's mouth is taking in the entire areola. If not, you will soon experience cracking of your nipples. Another way cracked or dry nipples can occur is by naturally just being used more than normal. Your body is still getting used to breastfeeding several times a day and the result can dry out the skin.

The most common way to help correct this is after each feeding, squeezing a small amount of milk onto your areolas and nipples. Allow to dry naturally, soaking in the breastmilk. If you continue to have cry and cracked nipples, especially ones that really hurt, proceed to using lanolin.

If you are vegan, lanolin is not the product for you since it is extracted from wool. However, it is an all natural product. If you purchase the Lansinoh brand of lanolin, you'll find it is the purest form out there, without any additives. Take the lanolin and generously apply to your nipples and areola. You might want to cover your breasts with a light breast pad to keep your clothing from getting sticky. The good part is that lanolin is safe for baby (and for you), just be sure you're not super gooey before feedings. But a thin layer is appropriate to remain on.

Your body will soak in the lanolin and within a day's time you should start to see a major difference.

Hard or Tender Breasts:

If you go too long without feeding, your breasts can become very hard. They are filled with milk and can feel like rocks living inside. It can be quite painful to some, especially to the touch. What you'll want to do is carve out a little "me" time to take care of the soreness. If you have warm heating pads, such as a dyi rice sock or gel pack, warm up and then place on each breast, paying special attention to the sorest parts of your breasts. You can even use a warm compress such as a washcloth soaked in warm water. Other ways are to take a warm bath or lightly massage the hard areas with olive oil. Depending on the severity of the problem, the above method can start to take effect within hours or even days.


If you sense this is normal itchiness due to irritation, there are some natural steps you can take on your own. If you're worried it could be thrust or a bacterial infection, you should talk with your doctor on what she or he believes you should do to help cure it.

However, many moms often experience itchiness of the nipples early on. The skin can become irritated from constant use or from exposure to certain fabrics. First of all, you'll want to start using a bra that is made from organic cotton. You can even look for a specially-made nursing bra that removes the cups for easy feedings. This should make a major impact on the itchiness.

During shower time you'll want to avoid using any sort of soap on the breasts. Just use warm water and be careful to be tender when washing. This will help remove any bacteria and cleanse the area naturally, without irritants.

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    • Senora M profile image

      Senora M 

      6 years ago

      Breastfeeding is natural and should be accepted by all! I breastfeed my baby in public with a cover. Thanks for a great lens!

    • earthybirthymum profile image


      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a great Resource! Nursing mum of many babies here. I rally liked that you added co-sleeping as a way to help promote breastfeeding.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Breast feeding rocks!

      I've done it four now!


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