My second child is starting on solid foods. That got me thinking back on the crazy road we've taken with nursing up until this point, and all the things I wish somebody with actual experience would have told me from the get-go. So, in no particular order, here are some of the things I've learned while breastfeeding both of my kids.
(P.S. This is Jake. I don't think I've actually introduced him to the blog yet.)
1. Newborns will not always wake to nurse despite needing to eat every 2 hours. This is even more true when your kids have jaundice, which both of mine did. I would need to play with their feet, tickle their necks just below the jawline, and the most cruel way to be woken up...get them naked and pat them down with a cold wet wash cloth. I'd sometimes need to repeat this throughout a nursing to get them to keep eating. It's annoying, but it works.
2. Learn the difference between nursing for comfort and nursing for nutrition. All the information you read about breastfeeding before you actually do it tells you that pacifiers are the enemy. No they aren't. They save YOU from becoming a human pacifier. A few minutes of extra comfort nursing are usually appreciated, but there comes a point when you just don't want to be stuck under the baby when they aren't really eating any more. Extract you, insert pacifier in one swift swoop, and you can usually set baby down to sleep without them wising up to the switch.
3. In those first few weeks use lanolin ALWAYS even when your boobs feel fine after you nurse. It works much better to prevent painful cracks and sore spots than it does at treating them after they develop. And baby's latch is horrible for at least those first few weeks, so your nips take a lot of abuse.
4. Breast milk can aggravate reflux, especially when you have an oversupply of milk and/or baby gets too much foremilk. Learn how to spot it so you can salvage your breastfeeding relationship before it's too late. Remember this ordeal with Avery? If we'd known it was reflux earlier and treated it, we most likely wouldn't have needed formula at all.
5. Pumping may or may not be in the cards for you, and your output has no reflection on what baby actual consumes. You may also have different reactions to it with different children. With Avery, pumping drove me crazy and I couldn't handle it. With Jake, we spent about 3 months exclusively pumping with much more success. Also, the type of pump you choose can give you different outputs and you really have to experiment with them in order to get one that works for you. As an example, I have 3 in my current rotation. I have an electric Medela, a manual Medela, and a manual Tommee Tippee. The electric works best for me and is what I use here at home. The Tommee Tippee works well, and that's what I kept bedside. I purchased the manual Medela to keep in the car when I was exclusively pumping for Jake and while it's more comfortable than the TT there isn't enough suction for me so I barely get any milk out of it, and therefore don't ever use it. Really, it was a complete waste of money since it just sits there. So...different pumps, different reactions. Don't be surprised by it.
6. Your pediatrician, and possibly the lactation consultant everyone pushes at you might be the most full of crap when it comes to nursing advice. Do your own research. Kellymom.com is the best resource hands down, though their site can be a bit difficult to navigate if you aren't familiar with it. La Leche League is another good one, as is Dr. Jack Newman. Treat them a bit like using WebMD...you're going to get all sorts of scary information when you're looking into how to fix a nursing problem. Sort through all the junk you know it's not and you can pinpoint what will work in your situation. (i.e. Just because you have a plugged duct, does not mean you have mastitis.) Use the "symptoms" you have, even if that symptom is just baby crying at the breast. That link above...when I went to see that LC I basically got confirmation that Avery's latch was good, a smile and "you're doing great" but I received zero tips or tricks for getting her to keep nursing. No, "why don't you try this for a couple days and see if it helps" type stuff. I was really struggling, which is why we so easily switched to formula and never looked back.
7. Your breastfeeding relationship with your baby is in a constant state of flux and your commitment to it will be tested regularly. With Jake, this has been especially true. We started out exclusively nursing, then morphed into exclusive pumping & bottle feeding, then a mix of the 2, back to exclusive nursing, and now we're adding in solid foods and a bit of formula on top of his nursing because the doctor would like him to have more calories. There were several times along that journey where I was willing to give up nursing all together, but Jake's discomfort with formula was more of a hassle to deal with than just sticking it out. Just remember to be flexible about the situation and that it's okay to change your mind on how to feed your baby.