When it comes to feeding your baby, we've all heard the saying "breast is best."
Breastfeeding provides important nutrients and antibodies to a growing baby but it doesn't always come easy. While the first few weeks can be tough for new mothers, there is support available, starting in the first hours of your baby's life.
Choosing how to feed your baby is a very personal choice. And while breast feeding is best, for some women it isn't easy.
"It's pretty much a given that the first and second week are the hardest. And that's when we see moms drop off and not being successful with breastfeeding," said Katie Heck, a registered nurse.
That's where the University of Virginia Breastfeeding Medicine Program comes in. It works with new mothers and babies, using the Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative, a global effort designed to promote and support breastfeeding starting immediately after birth.
"A lot of it starts with what happens when babies are born in the hospital and the support that they do or don't get, misleading information, so basically training all of the staff so that everybody is on the same page with education and support that's given to moms when they're here," Heck said.
Erin Muller is two weeks away from having her second child. She is a breastfeeding mother and a registered nurse, helping other moms get on the right track.
Breastfeeding wasn't always easy for her. "I cried every day the first three weeks, related to breast feeding, but I was determined and committed and I got beyond that hump," she said.
But her experience has helped her tailor care for new moms. "I changed how I helped women after my own experience because it had its challenges. It was emotional and it was exhausting, but the benefits outweighed any challenges," Muller said.
That type of support can be the most important ingredient to a successful breastfeeding experience.
"That's what all the support is for. That's what the nurses and the lactation consultants and the community support like La Leche League, all those are there to go, ‘we're here to help you.' Don't be too proud to ask for help," said Dr. Lynn McDaniel, a pediatrician.
And although breast is best, feeding that way isn't always in the cards. This can come with a lot of guilt for mothers - guilt that McDaniel says is normal but not necessary.
"No matter how great breast milk is, the most important thing is that you love feeding your baby," McDaniel said.
If you are breastfeeding and need some extra help, or if you just have questions, there are a lot of resources available.
In addition to the UVA Breastfeeding Medicine Program, Martha Jefferson Hospital has a network of lactation consultants, available at (434) 654-8440. La Leche League has a Charlottesville chapter with free monthly meetings a host of experts on call.