Breastfeeding can be one of the most enjoyable experiences for a new mother. It can also be one of the most challenging.

When I breastfed my four babies, I could not have explained how I did it. The mechanics were as mysterious to me as the fact that my milk made my babies grow and thrive. Only after many years of working through breastfeeding problems with women in the Yakima Valley have I learned that positive and sustainable breastfeeding involves much more than an informed commitment.

Parents must prepare, persist and be proactive. Baby and mother both lose when artificial nipples and formulas are too quickly introduced — babies lose their best nutrition for physical and mental development and emotional growth, and mothers can experience more postpartum distress when they feel they’ve failed at one of their first parenting choices.

“I wish I had known this before my baby.”

Prepare. Choose a breastfeeding-friendly physician’s office, for both OB and pediatric care. They should provide educational information for breastfeeding success, rather than just formula samples. Critical topics include: hunger and satiety cues, latch-on and positioning, sore nipples and engorgement, normal feeding and growth patterns. They also should identify and discuss lactation risk factors, such as flat or inverted nipples or prior breast surgery.

Ask how experienced your doctor is with breastfeeding problems and make sure the physician has the latest information on breastfeeding specialists, support groups and pump programs. Even better: The physician has an employee trained in lactation on staff.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?”

Persist. The most common breastfeeding problems occur because the baby has not latched on to the mother well. Just because the baby has his mouth on the breast doesn’t mean he is transferring adequate milk. Suckling is very different from drinking. Very few breasts are “perfect.” Your baby only knows your breast, and your work together will be a unique and rewarding experience.

“I can understand why so many women give up.”

Be proactive. Talk to others who have breastfed easily and those who have struggled. Gather names and numbers for encouragement when you are discouraged, and seek out classes that might help: Memorial Hospital Community Education, local WIC offices and La Leche League support groups.

Don’t be surprised when you are unable to think critically and problem-solve the way you usually do; fatigue, inexperience and hormonal shifts can frustrate you and those closest to you trying to help. Most parents are nervous with new responsibility, but many perceived “problems” within the first few weeks of breastfeeding are normal. Knowing where to turn for help before problems develop can make all the difference!