a lot of this is info that you're SUPPOSED to get at the hospital or during prenatal classes, but the nurses we were exposed to were so busy being breastfeeding fascists and making mothers feel awful about not breastfeeding that they left out the bits that would have actually helped :(
1. stress is bad for breastfeeding. it's a lot worse to starve your child and not enjoy your child as much as possible than to not breastfeed - plenty of women don't connect with their babies immediately - and the guilt can be overpowering. prioritize happy and guilt-free mum and fed baby before anything else. this means preparing to supplement with bottle feeding, and remember that if you can't get it right, you're NOT a failure. breastfeeding is HARD.
2. all baby companies claim to produce teats just like mom's. the vast majority are straight-up lying, there's no regulation and if you choose wrong the bottle feeding will interfere with the breastfeeding (and force you to buy more products). we found playtex vent-air was okay, but we had a lot of trouble from other brands before we got there. medela is insultingly bad, they have a lot of great products (like their breast pumps) but their bottles almost undid us.
3. make sure the nurses check for a tongue tie. learning to latch is a tough process and it can be painful, but it's not supposed to be ceaseless agony. we'd never heard of tongue ties before we'd been struggling with screams and tears and bloody nipples for two whole weeks! it's a simple check, and the procedure to cut takes all of two minutes. and trust me, the procedure is a lot more painful for the parents than for the child, our son was more surprised than hurt and the immediate relief he experienced makes me a little emotional writing this.
4. nipple shields are the kind of thing that should be provided in the hospital, just in case. nipples need time to heal, so when they're damaged give them a break with a shield.
5. breast milk volume: the more you feed, the more you produce. there's a heavy psychological component to this as well. when you're struggling to produce, there are a few methods - pumping manually, fenugreek / blessed thistle, and a prescription hormonal supplement called domperidone - but few medical practitioners will tell you that there's a secret, magical tool that's mysteriously effective for a lot of women: guinness. a glass of guinness a day (from a can, glass allows light to weaken beer) can make an unbelievable difference. the reason you won't hear much about this is because you're not supposed to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, but our doctor admitted to us that it's perfectly safe if you don't drink much and you do it immediately after breastfeeding to give as much time for your system to clear before the next feed.
we tried various beers, including a non-alcoholic beer that one nurse swore by, but they did absolutely nothing. as of the end of last year, guinness is no longer using isinglass filters so it's vegan, too!
6. vitamin d: mother's milk is supposed to contain everything your child needs, so it's weird that women are instructed to put vitamin d drops on their nipples, right? dr greger ran a series of videos recently on nutritionfacts.org that explains why, it turns out that none of us are getting nearly enough vitamin d and so there isn't enough to go into the milk supply. the solution is simple, though, and that's to take supplements. most people should be taking between 4000-8000 units per day, it's obviously advisable that breastfeeding or soon-to-be-breastfeeding mums go for the upper side of that range. more than 10000 units a day isn't safe, though, and we do consume vitamin d in food and a little in sunshine so 7000-8000 per day is a safe upper limit.
regarding supplements in general:
it's always important to take your b12, vitamin d, calcium and magnesium and folic acid. not all pregnancy multivitamins have what you need, you need to be super-skeptical about those.
there were studies done on the effects of omega 3 and mercury on developing brains, the results were kinda horrifying. even if you're vegan it's important to know about this, so please share it with non-vegans who are pregnant or planning...
consumed mercury (all fish have mercury nowadays, and in south africa the levels are particularly high due to mining runoff) stays in your system for months and infant brain size is significantly reduced and brain function is measurably reduced. supplementing with omega 3, on the other hand, increases brain size significantly. so if you want you kid to start off with as much advantage in life as possible, avoid seafood from as early as possible until you're done with breastfeeding and supplement your diet with algae and milled flax to keep your omega 3 levels high.
trigger warning: sleep training. if you've done this, it's not your fault, it's probably not the end of the world, and you might be able to undo at least some of the damage by learning about this... if you've done this or are doing this, nobody has the right to judge you. you do what you can with what you have, not everybody has the luxury of a good support system.
having said that...
there's a new field of genetics called epigenetics, and what we've learned is that while there are a lot of genes that are hereditary, there're also a lot of genes which are activated / deactivated by environmental factors. it's the reason vaccines work, by the way, when are bodies are hit with a virus we respond by recoding our genes to fight back.
the first one i learned about is the obesity gene: yes, there is such a thing, and it's activated or deactivated during THE FIRST FIVE DAYS AFTER CONCEPTION. if mommy doesn't have enough nutrition in her body, the pre-foetus registers that it'll be born into a world where nutrition is scarce and will store as much fat as possible to prevent starvation. if you're eating a well-planned plant-based diet it's unlikely that you'll activate it, but if you're a gluten-free or french-fry vegan you might want to investigate your choices if you're trying to conceive.
the second one i learned about is the confidence gene - also called the runt gene. because we're mammals, usually born in litters and competing to breastfeed, when we're too weak to make enough physical contact our bodies reconfigure to reduce our chances of continuing to breed. when a child doesn't get enough physical affection from its parents their body will actually recode to have less confidence.
there's a new trend called sleep training: this is an effective way for parents to get some rest and it's entirely understandable - the reason i know a lot about it is because i spent a lot of time investigating it; before our son was born i thought i was tough enough to handle the sleep deprivation everyone talks about, but really i had no idea :P
the problem with sleep training is that it's basically teaching the child to give up on being held when they need it the most. you can't spoil a small child with too much hugs and affection, when your child screams in the middle of the night, try to be there. it may seem counter-intuitive, but you'll actually make them a lot less needy in the long run.
most important note of all: don't stress. and don't stress about stressing if you can't help it, either. it's important to be responsible, sure, but it's just as important to maintain psychological health so don't worry too much about breaking rules even if you're the one who set them in the first place.