Breastfeeding is a personal choice for every new mom to make. And despite how "natural" breastfeeding is "supposed" to be, it is actually just like many other learned things in life; it calls for a bit of practice, patience, and perseverance.

Once you get the hang of it, nursing your newborn can be not just a bonding experience, but a great way to boost your baby’s immune system while meeting all of his/her nutritional needs.

Here are some breastfeeding basics to help you get started:

KNOW WHAT TO EAT (AND WHAT TO SKIP)

Even though you’re going to burn approximately 500 calories a day to produce a full milk supply, you probably don't want to take this as a free pass to binge on ice cream and cookies.

It's important to have a nutritious diet high in green leafy vegetables, calcium and whole grains. And drink lots of water; you definitely want to keep hydrated! Be sure to keep taking your prenatal vitamins; you’ll need to keep up your intake of folic acid and iron, just like when you were pregnant.

Keep in mind that some foods you eat can affect your newborn. If your baby is having tummy troubles after a feeding (trust us, you’ll know), experiment with eliminating some foods from your diet to see if you can decipher the problem.

Common culprits are:

  • Cow's milk
  • Spicy food
  • Acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus)
  • Chocolate (in large quantities)
  • Onions, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, garlic
  • Caffeine

But remember, most moms can eat everything in moderation. Even if it seems like your newborn is bothered by a certain type of food, it’ll usually disappear within a few weeks or months.

DRINK IN MODERATION

You've waited nine months to break open that bottle of cabernet, and now you can... on occasion and in moderation. Try to sip your glass of wine or beer after you’ve nursed, or at least an hour (per drink) before you breastfeed again, so the alcohol has time to metabolize and burn off. (Alcohol peaks at one hour and then dissipates.)

You might have heard the term "pump and dump," but you don't have to waste your milk since alcohol isn’t stored in breast milk. But you should still wait a while after consumption before nursing your baby.

BOOST YOUR MILK FLOW

Babies will need to feed often for a few reasons:

  1. To satiate their hunger
  2. For comfort
  3. To bring in the milk supply (as opposed to using formula, which stays in a baby’s stomach longer)

To make sure you’re producing enough milk, here are some tricks to help get it flowing:

Teas and Herbs. Supplement your diet with teas, such as Organic Mother's Milk Tea, and herbs, such as Motherlove More Milk Plus. One of their main ingredients, fenugreek, is a spice that increases milk supply. (Warning: It’ll make you smell like maple syrup.) You could also just add ground fennel seeds to any tea that you make at home.

Dark Beer. Granted, this is an old wives’ tale, but some people believe that beer relaxes the mom, thus helping her milk “let down.” Although there is no conclusive evidence that this is true, a cold pint of Guinness might be just what the doctor ordered after all those alcohol-free months.

Water. It is extremely important to stay hydrated, so have extra bottles of water nearby while you’re breastfeeding. However, don’t feel like you need to overdo it since drinking too much water could dilute your prolactin level and lower your milk supply. Be sure to drink to quench your thirst.

What works best with driving in your milk is frequent nursing, especially in the first days after birth. And since breast milk is more easily digested than formula, you might find yourself breastfeeding your baby more often than formula-fed babies (who might be on a three-hour feeding schedule). But most women won’t need tricks - it’s really just a supply and demand thing. You can be confident that your baby is feeding well if you respond to his/her cues.

DON'T GIVE UP

Breastfeeding doesn't have to mean sore nipples. Getting your newborn to latch on correctly can take a bit of skill and practice. But once you get the hang of the "deep latch technique," your baby will be drinking his or her milk like a champion.

HAVE A FEW TRICKS UP YOUR SLEEVE

As natural as breastfeeding can be, it can also sometimes be challenging. Here’s a run-down on possible problems that could arise:

Engorgement

Right after birth, your breasts may seem “normal” while they are producing colostrum for your baby. (This is also known as “starter milk,” which is great for your baby’s immune system.) Then, boom! Between 2 to 6 days after birth, your milk comes in and your breasts may seem bigger, tender, firm… or engorged.

Usually this is manageable and will last a day or two. If it becomes too uncomfortable, just know that your breasts will adjust.

It may sound like folklore, but putting cold cabbage on your breasts when they become engorged actually works (even more than ice packs). Here’s a few tips for how to use this remedy:

  1. After each feeding, contour cold green cabbage leaves to your breast.
  2. Leave on for about 20 minutes.

Leaves should be washed, dried a bit, and refrigerated. A bag of peas could work in a pinch as well!

Sore or Cracked Nipples

At first, your nipples may feel sore and tender. Once you learn how to properly latch your baby onto your breast, the soreness should abate. (Always remember that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.) Until then:

  1. Use lanolin made especially for the nipple after feeds.
  2. Invest in breast shells to keep your nipples from rubbing against your bra. (If you have cracked nipples, hydrogel dressings should be worn at all times to promote moist wound healing.)
  3. Feed your baby often with a deep latch to minimize forceful sucking. If the soreness continues, it's possible that your baby could be "tongue-tied" (ankyloglossia). This causes a restricted movement that makes it difficult for them to properly latch on to the nipple. Discuss this with your pediatrician or schedule a one-on-one visit with a lactation consultant.

Low Milk Supply

Many new moms worry about whether or not their baby is getting enough milk. This is one of the biggest reasons why many new moms stop breastfeeding.

So, what's the answer to increasing your milk production?

Stimulation!

One way to make sure your milk supply is ample is to nurse and pump often. Lactation consultants recommend pumping 15-20 minutes after you nurse, especially in the morning when your milk supply is at its highest. Some suggest a technique called “third breast pumping.” This is when you pump the first breast your baby just nursed from at the same time he or she is nursing on the second breast. You may not get any milk, but your body is receiving a signal that your baby still wants to eat, tricking it into thinking that it needs to make more milk.

Milk needs to be removed from the breast in order to increase. Make sure your newborn is properly latched on, and follow her cues for feeding when she seems hungry. It might help to let her do a "marathon" feed in the late afternoon since this is when they usually want to linger at the breast for a longer period of time.

It's recommended that a baby should nurse 8-12 times in a 24-hour period.

Thrush

Thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the baby's mouth. It usually affects infants who are younger than 6 months. You’ll see a white coating - or white patches - on their tongue and on the inside of their cheeks. It can also be passed to you, causing itchy, cracked, and painful nipples - accompanied by a burning sensation.

Be sure to see your doctor for treatment options. Both you and your baby will need to be treated at the same time or else the thrush could continue to be passed back and forth. You will need an antifungal cream to put on your nipples, and medicine to treat the inside of your baby’s mouth (which is usually applied with a cotton swab).

In addition to treatments suggested by your doctor, you might want to take additional acidophilus, reduce dairy products and sugar from your diet, and remember to sterilize all bottles, pacifiers and toys that your baby puts in her mouth.

Plugged Ducts

When milk flow is not draining properly, a plugged duct may occur. You’ll know when this happens; your breast may feel tender, painful or hot, there may be redness around the area, and you may actually feel the hard duct or lump.

A plugged duct occurs when milk flow is obstructed, usually sometime within the first 2 to 6 weeks. It can be due to various reasons such as missed - or infrequent - feedings, latching problems, an overabundance of milk, wearing a tight bra (which restricts milk flow), or pressure on the breast while nursing from holding the breast too tightly with your fingers.

Although it might be painful, it’s important to try and drain it as soon as possible.

Some remedies include:

  • Nursing more than usual (at least every two to three hours).
  • Nursing on the breast with the plugged duct first. (Or, if you're not moving to the other breast, be sure to pump the other one.
  • Applying heat before feedings, either in the shower or with a warm washcloth, for about 20 minutes.
  • Gently massaging the breast.
  • Applying pressure behind the plug while nursing and massage from the plugged duct toward the nipple.
  • Drinking lots of water.
  • Getting plenty of rest!
  • Changing position: As awkward as it may sound, it might help to get on all fours and nurse while leaning over baby since gravity could help "dislodge" the plug.
  • Relieving any discomfort with a pain reliever such as ibuprofen.

If left untreated, a plugged duct could turn to mastitis, which is an inflammation of the breast. If your breast feels hot, swollen and painful, and you start to experience flu-like symptoms such as chills, a fever and a headache, call a doctor. You may need to take a pain reliever or an antibiotic to help with the inflammation.

Although you might be tempted, try not to stop nursing if you have a plugged duct or mastitis. You might need to pump the breast with the infection instead of breastfeeding since it can sometimes become difficult for the baby to nurse on the infected breast.

Despite these potential obstacles, breastfeeding can be a rewarding experience for both you and your baby.