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BREASTFEEDING AFTER C-SECTION
Most moms don’t expect to have a cesarean. However, many women have a good chance of needing these tips for breastfeeding after c section. The cesarean rate in the US is 32% (Source). That means that almost one in three moms will birth her baby surgically.
My first baby was born by c section. I can tell you first-hand that recovering from cesarean and breastfeeding presents unique challenges.
I have also had the privilege of helping thousands of moms address the concerns that come with nursing after a c section. Keep reading for the information and tips you need to rock breastfeeding after cesarean.
BREASTFEEDING TIPS AFTER C-SECTION
Some moms know they are going to give birth by cesarean section. However, most c sections are unexpected.
These tips will help both the mom who is having a planned cesarean and the mom who is caught by surprise be successful breastfeeding after c section.
Read on so you won’t be caught off guard by an unexpected turn in your birth plans.
PREPARING FOR BREASTFEEDING AFTER C SECTION
The mom who is having a planned c section and breastfeeding has time to prepare while she is still pregnant.
If you know you are having a cesaean head of time, make a checklist of all the things you need to be ready.
A mom who is recovering from birth, and simultaneously recovering from surgery, and taking care of her newborn will need some extra help.
HOW DOES A CESAREAN EFFECT BREASTFEEDING?
Warning: When you read about how having a cesarean can affect breastfeeding, you may feel discouraged. However, forewarned is forearmed.
- Fewer women who have had a scheduled repeat c section breastfeed (Source).
- Moms who have a cesarean do not breastfeed as long (Source).
- These mamas experience more breastfeeding difficulties (Source).
- The first breastfeeding is delayed (Source).
- C-section mom’s milk takes longer to come in (Source).
- Cesarean born babies lose more weight (Source).
Knowing what common breastfeeding difficulties are will help moms prepare. That will help them meet their breastfeeding goals.
The good news is that help is available if you have challenges with breastfeeding. If it does take a bit of time to get breastfeeding going, patience and persistence will be your best friends.
Take a Tour of the Hospital
- Can you room-in with your baby right away?
- Can you have a support person stay overnight with you?
- Are there lactation consultants available to help you?
- What days and times are they available?
- Do moms who deliver by cesarean get any extra breastfeeding support?
Skin-to-Skin Contact After Cesarean Delivery
Skin-to-skin contact has tremendous benefits for both mothers and their babies (Source). It is something that should be experienced by all new moms and babies.
Having a cesarean may mean a delay in this important practice. Even if you are not able to do skin-to-skin right away, be sure to do it as soon as possible.
Continue to cuddle with your baby skin-to-skin throughout the early days.
Skin-to-skin is becoming a standard practice at an increasing number of hospitals.
- Find out if you can have skin-to-skin contact with your baby in the operating room.
- If skin-to-skin in the OR is not routine, ask that an exception be made for you.
- Call other hospitals to find out if they do it.
- They may be able to provide you with references to support your request.
TIPS FOR BREASTFEEDING POST C SECTION – IN THE HOSPITAL
Breastfeeding after surgery will look a little different than after a vaginal birth.
- You will be recovering from surgery.
- You will be recovering from anesthesia.
- You will be learning how to take care of your baby.
- You will be learning how to breastfeed.
- You will be doing all of these things at the same time!
Having a c section often means a delayed start to breastfeeding.
To help encourage your baby to breastfeed you can:
- Place your baby skin-to-skin as soon as you can have contact with your baby.
- Watch for feeding cues, so you will know when your baby is ready to breastfeed.
- Ask the nurse to help you get positioned to ensure that your baby is not pressing against your incision. (More on positioning in a minute!)
- Your nurse can also help you with latching.
- Room in with your baby. This will make it easier to respond quickly to her feeding cues, which makes latchhing easier.
One benefit of having a cesarean is a longer stay in the hospital. Take advantage of the help available from the lactation consultants and nurses. They are there to help you get a good start with breastfeeding.
BREASTFEEDING AFTER ANESTHESIA
Having a surgical birth will require some kind of anesthesia. Rest assured that it is safe to breastfeed after any type of anesthesia (Source).
BREASTFEEDING AFTER EPIDURAL
- Epidural and spinal anesthesia are the most common types of anesthesia for a cesarean birth.
- These kinds of anesthesia cause numbness in the lower half of your body.
- You will be awake and conscious with an epidural or spinal.
- You will need extra help moving around and getting into a comfortable position to breastfeed.
- The medication is given one time with a spinal.
- Spinal anesthesia wears off after about two hours.
- With epidural anesthesia, they leave a small tube in your back throughout the surgery and can give more medication if needed. The numbness from an epidural usually wears off after about two hours from the last dose.
- The narcotic fentanyl may be added to the medication that is used for a spinal or epidural. This may result in your baby being sleepy in the first day or two after birth.
BREASTFEEDING AFTER GENERAL ANESTHESIA
- General anesthesia makes you unconscious.
- You will have a period of feeling sleepy and feeling like you are “out of it” as you come out of general anesthesia.
- You may not remember things that happen when you first start to wake up from general anesthesia.
- As a safety precaution, have someone standing next to you when you breastfeed the first time if you are still feeling groggy.
BEST BREASTFEEDING POSITIONS AFTER CESAREAN
A concern many moms have if they have a cesarean is finding the best breastfeeding positions after c section.
You will want to use c section breastfeeding positions that minimize pressure from your baby on your incision.
- The football hold is a popular breastfeeding position after c section. The baby is nowhere near your incision.
- The side-lying position is another popular choice.
- Some cesarean moms say this position pulls on their incision, so see how it feels for you.
- Your baby may kick his feet and could kick against your incision. If this is a problem, you can swaddle the lower half of his body.
- If you want to try the cross-cradle hold, lean back far enough, so there is no pressure on your tender incision.
BEST NURSING PILLOW AFTER A C SECTION
Using a nursing pillow can help protect your tummy when breastfeeding.
I really love the Boppy Best Latch Breastfeeding Pillow.
What makes it perfect for a mom who has had a cesarean is the firm side for newborns. The firmness helps prevent the baby from rolling into what I call the Bobby black hole. With the regular Boppy, there is often a space between the nursing pillow and your tummy. Babies often slide down into this space.
Another great feature of the Boppy Best Latch Pillow is the adjustable belt that will prevent the pillow from sliding away. I love that the belt is detachable so that if you find you don’t need it later on, you can remove it.
The Boppy Best Latch gets excellent reviews from moms on Amazon.
C SECTION AND BREASTFEEDING – AT HOME
- Finding a comfortable place at home to breastfeed after c section will involve trial and error.
- If you planned to nurse in a rocker or glider, it is possible that initially, it may be uncomfortable to get in and out of.
- Experiment and choose a spot that allows you to feel comfortable and relaxed. A pillow behind your back can make a wood rocking chair more post-cesarean friendly.
- A nursing stool will help you avoid the dreaded breastfeeding hunch that causes back discomfort for so many mamas.
- Avoid having to get up frequently by using a breastfeeding basket. These portable nursing stations are a great way to keep the things you might need during a nursing session close at hand.
- Take advantage of offers to help. Let your friends and family cook your meals, run errands, and even do chores around your house.
- Take advantage of grocery delivery services.
- Don’t lift heavy things. The recommendation is that you don’t lift anything heavier than your baby.
You should feel better with each day that passes.
MILK PRODUCTION AFTER C SECTION
Your breasts started making colostrum sometime around the beginning of the second trimester of your pregnancy. Colostrum is your baby’s first food.
Your body will make the amount of food your baby needs. In the beginning, your baby has a tiny tummy, so you only make small amounts of colostrum.
When Does Breast Milk Come in After C-Section?
A new mom’s milk typically starts to come in between 48-72 hours after the birth. When a woman has had a cesarean the milk often takes 3-5 days to come in.
If you are breastfeeding frequently your baby should be okay. Watch her closely to make sure she is staying well hydrated.
- Normal temperature
- Mouth is moist
- Having enough wet diapers. She should have at least as many wet diapers as days old she is.
Make sure she is seen by her health care provider within 2-3 days after going home from the hospital. They will do a weight check to make sure she is not losing too much weight.
HOW TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY AFTER C -SECTION
The best practice to encourage a good milk supply is to breastfeed early and frequently.
You may have a lot of people who want to visit you after your baby is born. You need to prioritize your time in the early days after giving birth.
- Breastfeeding your baby
- Feeding yourself so you can make milk and recover from the surgery and birth.
POSSIBLE PROBLEMS BREASTFEEDING AFTER C SECTION
Baby Weight Loss
Babies who are born by cesarean section tend to lose more weight than babies who are born vaginally. (Source).
There could be a couple of reasons for this.
If a mom has a long labor, she is more likely to receive a lot of IV fluids. This is associated with increased weight loss in the first couple of days (Source).
Having a c section birth can delay when a mom’s milk comes in. This is another reason that breastfeeding babies who were born by cesarean section lose more weight compared to babies who were born vaginally.
To maximize how much of your colostrum your baby gets you can do hand expression after breastfeeding. Spoon-feed the expressed drops of colostrum to the baby. You can also catch the drops with your finger and let your baby suck on your finger.
Risk of Thrush Due to Mom Getting Antibiotics
To reduce the risk of infection, moms often receive antibiotics prophylactically when they have a cesarean section (Source).
Antibiotics increased the risk of developing a yeast infection on your nipples. This is also called nipple thrush.
GETTING HELP WITH BREASTFEEDING AFTER A C SECTION
Moms who give birth by cesarean experience more breastfeeding challenges. Knowing this enables you to have breastfeeding help lined up ahead of time.
Get the names of at least two or three lactation consultants who you can call if you have questions or have difficulties.
Moms who have had cesareans often take longer to get back to the swing of things. It is a prescription for a good case of cabin fever.
Find out where there are breastfeeding groups near you. Hanging out with other moms who are dealing with the same joys and fears can help you feel less alone and overwhelmed.
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF AFTER C SECTION
Remember that you are recovering from both birth and surgery. You are also making milk for your baby.
You need to take good care of yourself in the weeks after birth to support your body’s healing and milk making.
- Drink lots of water
- Eat foods that help your body heal and help you make milk.
- Rest when your baby sleeps during the day. Even if you can’t nap, lay down and close your eyes for half an hour.
EMOTIONS AND BREASTFEEDING AFTER CESAREAN SECTION
Having a baby is an emotional experience. Having a cesarean often takes it up a few notches.
If you are a mom who had a detailed birth plan and ended up with a surgical birth, you may be experiencing feelings of disappointment.
It can be frustrating that it takes longer to get back to things like exercising and housework. Although, between you and me, I’d work that delayed return to housework for as long as you can.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BREASTFEEDING AFTER A C SECTION
There is no doubt that a breastfeeding mom post-cesarean has extra challenges. With good support and being informed you have a very good chance of having a great breastfeeding experience.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.