I've written and then erased this post four times now. It is so easy for me to get preachy and judgmental and I'm not sure that is the most constructive use of my time. Instead, I'll try to write about the things I did not know about breastfeeding before having a baby. First, I would like to point you to an excellent resource - www.kellymom.com. This site has virtually everything you may want to know about breastfeeding, breast care, baby digestive systems, weaning (aka introducing solids) etc.
One of the things you'll hear about (or should hear about) in prenatal classes and baby books is the all important LATCH. The latch is the way the baby attaches to the nipple and since we don't have a lot of opportunity in our life to watch breastfeeding in action it may be useful to watch some youtube videos on the subject. Basically, you need to aim the nipple at the nose, not, as odd as it sounds, at the mouth. And if the latch is 'off' you will experience pain. At least, that's what I learned in all the classes. When Offspring came along I asked every nurse and doctor that stopped by to check on us if my latch was ok and everyone had the very unhelpful response of "It seems alright". When I developed bruises on my nipples I decided that my latch must have been off after all, but I now suspect the truth of the matter is that nipples need time to adjust to the rough handling they will be receiving for the next year or two, and soreness and sometimes even cracking (I have a scar to prove it), will be part of that. After a few weeks (or in my case a few months because of the bad crack) it's old news until teeth come along, those sharp little things and then you are in for a few more weeks of adjustment.
The other thing to know is that milk production is a system of supply and demand. When baby is first born the breasts produce colostrum, which is super good for baby but is low in volume. They will tell you it's all the baby needs till the milk comes in (which happens somewhere around day 3) but frankly Offspring was rather displeased and it is also the reason why babies may lose up to 10% of their birth weight before starting to gain weight. What's important to remember, is that the more the baby sucks to try and get milk out, the faster and more abundant the milk will be. So one important lesson is that supplementation with any kind of formula is not necessary and can in fact be detrimental to the whole process.
Breastmilk is amazing in so many ways. It changes composition throughout the day (more fat at night), with the weather (more watery in hot weather), contains EVERYTHING the baby needs for ultimate growth in just the right proportions no matter what the mother eats (though it doesn't hurt to eat healthy), is the right temperature, is free. You get my drift. The poop of breastfed babies does not stink, unlike that of formula fed babies. Strangely, breastfed babies also poop less but do not really get constipated as breast milk has a slightly laxative effect (as Husband discovered for himself).
One of the things I kept hearing about was that antibodies from mom would pass through the breast milk to the baby and protect him or her from infections, provide immunity against diseases mom had encountered and appears to ward off other illness and problems like ear infections, stomach infections and obesity. I couldn't quite figure out how ingesting antibodies would help baby acquire immunity until I read (on kellymom.com!) about how the baby's gut is 'leaky' till about 6 months of age. The cells in the gut are spaced far apart, leaving large gaps and allow entire molecules such as antibodies to pass directly into the blood stream. This is good for immunity but bad for allergies etc and is one of the reasons babies should NOT be introduced to solids till at least 6 months of age (not 4, as is so often the case in the US) because that's when the digestive system begins to mature. More on that later. Sceptical as I was, it seems to have worked for us at least. I got a terrible flu/cold when Offspring was about 3 months old and though I was a snotty slobbery mess she did not catch a thing!
The other thing I kept hearing about but did not understand fully until recently is the process behind hindmilk and foremilk. Foremilk is the first milk that comes out as the baby starts sucking, it is more watery and thurst quenching. Hindmilk comes next and is more fatty and filling. When the baby is done eating, the hindmilk that had moved to the front of the breast is left to sit till the next feeding and over that time the fats are reabsorbed by the body leaving behind - you guessed it - foremilk. Anthropologically speaking it seems that the best way to feed a baby is 'on demand', or more accurately 'on cue', allowing the baby to regulate his food/drink intake. It seems that biologically this is also true. When doctors started recommending scheduled feedings in the last century for fear of 'spoiling' kids by letting them dictate when they were to be fed the following scenario would play out - baby was fed for a specified time, lets say 10 minutes and then made to wait a specified time, let's say 2 hours till the next feed. Over that time whatever milk was in the breast turned to watery foremilk, so when hungry baby finally got a chance at the boob again he was unsatisfied, hungry and upset and he still only got 10 minutes and drank mostly foremilk! Meanwhile, the mother's body was producing less and less milk since it didn't seem like the baby was needing as much (supply/demand) and presto chango you have a situation of 'not enough milk' and a demand for supplementation (formula, early solids, etc). In reality, there is no such thing as 'not enough milk' (except I suppose in some super rare medical cases). And yes, the baby may need to be on the boob for hours at first, but that's the nature of the game people!