Just like giving birth, our bodies are made to do this. We can get so hung up on the timing of the feedings, the wet diaper counting, weighing the baby, etc.. Moms and babies would be much happier if we learn to trust those motherly instincts.
Having said that, there are some basics to look for and some techniques or ideas that we can learn that might make the experience more satisfying. Just as most parents take childbirth preparation classes to help them understand what to expect, breastfeeding classes are also a good way to help you learn about positioning, latch-on, making sure the baby is getting what the baby needs, etc.. You can NEVER know too much about breastfeeding. I've been either breastfeeding myself or teaching mothers to breastfeed for 12 years and I'm still learning!
One of the things I like best about being a doula is helping the mother with her first breastfeeding experience. What I have learned is that if you leave the mother and baby together, the baby will show everyone when he or she is ready! That's the best time to seize the moment, not when it's most convenient for the hospital staff. Often times a good first breastfeeding opportunity puts you well on the way to success.
In the first few days, you need to remember that your breasts have never had this much stimulation before so you can expect a few weeks of getting used to this, just as you would break in a new pair of shoes. Expecting to be breastfeeding 100% of the time with no discomfort from the first feed is unrealistic. Typically after 2-3 weeks, most moms feel that they are more comfortable. Letting your nipples air dry after feedings (when possible), using ointments such as Pur-lan for red or sore nipples or expressing breastmilk and applying that to sore nipples can help. Also, try to put everything else aside and concentrate on those first 2-3 weeks as your opportunity to rest, get to know your baby's habits and get breastfeeding off to a good start. Let your friends and relatives visit once you are more comfortable with this new activity. Not to mention that having to act as hostess is tiring too. Remember that if you are not taking care of yourself, your breastmilk may be affected and it will be harder to be a good mom to your baby.
Try to have a list on the refrigerator or near your bedside of your support network - lactation consultant, pediatrician, midwife, doula or childbirth educator can all be great sources of information when you have breastfeeding questions. Also keep handy the number of some good friends who you know had successful breastfeeding experiences and wouldn't mind a call at 2am! Invest in a breast pump which suits your needs. If you are not going back to work, a manual pump may be all you need. However you may want to spend the money on an electric or double pump if you plan to return to work and continue breastfeeding. If you are having concerns well after several days at home, a visit from a lactation consultant is money well spent.
Another thing moms ask is how long should I breastfeed and again I say, trust your instincts. Your baby is only a baby once and many moms do miss the closeness they have to their babies after they stop nursing them. The other thing is that you are still providing great antibodies well into the first year even after your baby is eating table foods. Many times the baby or toddler will show you when he/she is ready to wean.