The art of breastfeeding can be a conundrum for many new (and even experienced!) moms — from latch to milk supply to the frequency of feeds. But there’s no doubt when it comes to the endless benefits that breast milk can provide your baby.

Known to many as nature’s perfect baby food, breast milk is brimming with health benefits for both Mom and baby. For little ones, this includes immunity-boosting antibodies and healthy enzymes that scientists have been unable to fully replicate in formula, and for mothers, it can foster the postpartum feel-goods, along with some much-needed mommy/baby bonding time. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, we turned to Loretta Haycook-Haught, RN and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Baptist Medical Center Beaches, to provide additional insight on the many benefits of breast milk, as well as answers to some of the more commonly asked questions.

What are some of the benefits of breast milk vs. formula?

Breastmilk is “species-specific.” This means human milk for human babies. And it means YOUR milk is specifically made for YOUR baby — no formula can come close! When a baby gets formula, he gets the very same milk at every feeding, every day, every month. When your baby gets your milk, he gets a different taste at every feeding dependent on your previous meal. He gets needed antibodies at every feeding dependent on the germs he and you have come in contact with recently. No formula does that.

What can I do if my baby doesn’t latch right away?

The best way to get your baby to latch quickly is to place him in a vertical skin-to-skin position as soon after birth as possible and keep him there. This is comforting, calming and stabilizing for your baby (and you). And by placing him “in the kitchen,” he will look for the breast on his own making him more efficient and effective at latching. Skin to skin is the SINGLE best thing you can do!

How often should I be feeding my baby?

We suggest you “offer” your breast about every two hours. If baby shows interest sooner than two hours, by all means, let him have it. Babies KNOW how to latch; they have to teach their mother and they may need to recover from the birth process, so breastfeeding may start off slow. But KEEP baby in a vertical skin to skin on Mom’s bare chest (not wrapped and sleeping in a crib or in a visitor’s arms). Baby may feed more often than every two hours because he wants or needs the comfort of the only thing he knows, his mother.

How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk? And how long should my baby nurse at each feeding?

“Is my baby getting enough milk” is the number-one concern of every new mother. The answer is we don’t know. But we do know the more the baby stays with his mother, suckles, and works to increase her milk, the better. By day three, we expect to see signs of increasing breast fullness and breast changes. We expect a full milk supply between days three and five.  But along with very frequent, unlimited feedings, we expect to see an increase in diapers and a decrease in weight loss. And by days three to five, we expect to see a more satisfied baby. Baby needs to be back to his birth weight by his two-week checkup. An efficient baby should be expected to remove available milk from the breast in about eight to 15 minutes. Expect to offer both breasts at each feeding (especially in the early days, as you are building your milk supply).

Is it common to underproduce milk or have an uneven supply? Does breast size affect milk production?

Getting off to a good start is you and your baby’s best way to ensure a good milk supply. Feed “early and often,” as it truly is “demand” and “supply.” If your baby demands milk frequently, your body should supply it. But too many new moms get off on a less-than-ideal start. Moms “think” their baby isn’t getting enough milk, so they supplement with formula. Or baby wants to feed “too often,” so they give a pacifier or send baby to the nursery. These measures tell your body that you don’t need to increase your milk supply. More moms stop breastfeeding because of “perceived” low milk supply. Breast size plays NO role in milk production.

What can I do to increase milk supply?

“Early and often” breast stimulation by either baby and/or pump.

What can I do about sore nipples/breasts while nursing?

Some tenderness is normal; your baby is aggressively looking for food. But if your nipples are damaged, have broken skin, feel pinched, etc. then we have to look at why? And there can only be two choices: It’s Mom or it’s baby. We work at improving Mom’s position, and we look at baby’s position and his mouth. If the latch is too painful to latch baby, we go directly to frequent pumping until we can figure out what is going on. Pumping should not be uncomfortable.

When is it okay to start pumping, especially if I am returning to work?

Ideally, if Mom and baby are doing well, we don’t start any pumping until baby is  three to four weeks old. This lets Mom and baby establish a strong breastfeeding relationship before introducing pumping and bottles. BUT if Mom or baby are not doing well, we start pumping as soon as there is a concern; remember, “early and often” breast stimulation! Returning to work? Start saving milk about two weeks before going back. Because remember, Mom will be pumping while she is at work. What she pumps on Monday while at work, someone will feed to baby on Tuesday.

Is it okay to consume deli meat, sushi, coffee and/or alcohol while nursing?

You may eat anything and everything you desire! But moderation is a good rule of thumb. There will be some foods your baby may not like (through your milk). Dairy and soy are the biggest offenders. Babies like flavor, so no need to avoid spicy foods. Alcohol and caffeine in moderation. Be smart.

How long should I plan to breastfeed overall or what is suggested?

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, then gradually adding complementary foods. We are one of the few countries in the world who breastfeed for such a brief period. Breastfeed for as long as it is a positive experience for you and your baby! Know that some breastmilk is better than no breastmilk! But it’s difficult to have exclusive breastfeeding for six months when we can’t make it two to three days without giving formula in our hospitals. We have to get better in our hospitals. We have to help moms better. We have to help moms trust their bodies.

What are some common misconceptions about nursing?

1) That it’s easy. It should be easy, but in today’s world, moms don’t have the support necessary to succeed. 2) Breastfeeding is expected to be painful. No, it should not hurt. Get help early if it does. 3) Mom needs a perfect diet to breastfeed. No. Moms in third-world countries do just fine.

What is the best advice you have for nursing mothers?

Believe in yourself and your baby. If concerns arise, get GOOD help early!

Baptist Medical Center Beaches offers a Breastfeeding Support Group for new mothers — click here for more information. To schedule an appointment with Loretta Haycook-Haught, RN, IBCLC, contact Baptist Medical Center Beaches at (904) 627-2900.