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Breastfeeding After Cesarean Section

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Updated May 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

C-section, Cesarean Section
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In general, breastfeeding should begin as soon as possible after the birth of your baby. When you have a cesarean section (C-section) there are a few common obstacles that can make breastfeeding more difficult. But if you are prepared and committed, you can overcome these challenges and successfully breastfeed after your C-section.

Pain: Pain from the incision site and after pains from your uterus contracting can make it very uncomfortable to breastfeed. The side-lying and football hold positions may be more comfortable for you while your incision is healing. If you want to try nursing while you are sitting up, use pillows over your incision site to protect it. Breastfeeding will get easier as your body heals.

Delivery Medications: Depending on the type of anesthesia you receive for your surgery, you and the baby may be sleepy for a while after the procedure. If you have general anesthesia, you will be able to breastfeed once it begins to wear off and you are feeling up to it. With an epidural or spinal anesthesia, you may be able to breastfeed while you are still in the operating room or shortly after in the recovery room.

Pain Medications: It is very important that you take your pain medication after you have a cesarean section. If you are in pain it will be more difficult for your body to heal, you will be more uncomfortable during breastfeeding and your milk will take longer to come in. Tell your doctor that you plan to breastfeed and ask for medications that are safe to take during breastfeeding. Even though you will take a pain medication that is safe for the baby, some of it may pass through the breast milk. This can make the baby sleepy. The sleepiness caused by the pain medication is not harmful to your baby, but it may be a challenge to breastfeed a sleepy baby.

Milk Production: After a cesarean section your milk may take longer to come in. Put the baby to the breast as often as possible to stimulate your milk production .

Separation: If you and your baby are separated after delivery, you will not have the chance to begin breastfeeding right away. Ask to use a breast pump if you will be separated for more than 12 hours so you can begin to stimulate your breasts to produce milk. Pump every two to three hours until you are able to put the baby to your breast.

Emotions: If the surgery was very difficult or if it was an emergency that you were not prepared for, your physical and emotional state may interfere with your desire to breastfeed. A traumatic birth or unexpected C-section may cause sadness and a sense of failure. If the birth did not occur the way you imagined, you may also be feeling a sense of loss. These are common emotions, and you are not alone. Talk about your feelings and accept support. Breastfeeding your baby may help you get past the difficulty and sadness.

Things That You Can Do:

  • Start breastfeeding as soon as possible after the surgery.

  • Breastfeed often, every two to three hours.

  • Keep the baby with you as much as possible. Have your partner, a friend or relative stay with you so you can keep the baby in your room. You will not be able to get up to take care of the baby on your own.

  • Use a breast pump if you have to be separated from the baby. Pump every two to three hours to stimulate milk production.

  • Take your pain medication. You will be more comfortable to breastfeed.

  • Take advantage of the extra time in the hospital. You will be spending a little more time in the hospital compared to someone who had a vaginal delivery. You will need this time to rest and begin healing. A longer hospital stay will allow you more time with the hospital staff and lactation consultant . Use this time to ask questions and learn all you can so that you will feel more comfortable when you get home.

A cesarean section presents a few more challenges to breastfeeding, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by the pain and the physical and emotional exhaustion. Take your time, accept help, manage your pain, get enough rest and stick with it. Breastfeeding will get easier as you heal. The more prepared you are for the experience, the more likely you will be successful at breastfeeding.

Sources:

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession. Mosby. Philadelphia. 1999.

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