The time has arrived for the labor and delivery of your baby and you’ve got everything as planned and prepared as possible to breastfeed once they’re born. It’s been explained to you over past prenatal appointments that your birth may require a cesarean section, or surgery to remove the baby, instead of a vaginal delivery should an emergency situation or complication arise. Or, maybe you’ve already got a planned c-section scheduled with your doctor because the need for one has already been determined. Either way, the fact of the matter is that having a c-section can potentially interfere with your plan to breastfeed because it either wasn’t part of your birth plan, or because the recovery that both you and your baby need can create obstacles to breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is possible if you have a c-section
Breastfeeding is recommended as the best and healthiest nutritional option for feeding a newborn, and although a major abdominal surgery may create some obstacles to the learning process for you and your baby, there is often wonderful breastfeeding support options available to you provided by the hospital, health networks, or groups in your community. It is still entirely possible to successfully breastfeed your baby if you have a c-section, whether it is planned or not!
What issues can a c-section cause for breastfeeding?
Several factors can contribute to challenging the learning process of breastfeeding after a c-section, such as pain, grogginess, or infant prematurity. Here are some of the most common obstacles to expect with breastfeeding after a c-section.
The type of anesthesia you receive
A c-section can occur in one of two ways: with a regional anesthetic or under general anesthesia. Most often, regional anesthesia, which numbs the patient from just under the ribs and down to the feet, enables them to be awake and aware during their surgery. General anesthesia for a c-section is usually only used in emergency situations where time is of the essence to save the parent or baby, or both, and the parent is put fully to sleep during the baby’s delivery.
Regional anesthesia doesn’t usually cause grogginess in the baby after delivery because the anesthetic is delivered in the epidural space rather than the blood stream, so it doesn’t cross the placenta to affect the baby like general anesthesia can.
Skin-to-skin contact after delivery
Another common barrier c-sections can create with breastfeeding is delaying skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. Because the delivery is done on an operating table and anesthesia can interfere with your ability to move, your baby may not be able to be immediately placed skin-to-skin on your chest after delivery. Evidence-based research supports immediate skin-to-skin placement of a newly delivered infant to the parent’s chest to allow optimal support to the baby to find the breast while staying warm, secure, and explore for the nipple. Many hospitals support and provide evidence-based care, but safety and policies also factor into the decision of how soon you and your baby can be united for skin-to-skin time while still on the operating table. If immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth is delayed, be sure your support partner and your healthcare team will get your baby to you for skin-to-skin time as soon as you and/or your baby are medically stable.
When your baby goes to the NICU
Sometimes, babies are born medically unstable and need constant care, oversight, and monitoring, therefore requiring a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Not always, but oftentimes, when a baby must stay in the NICU, they aren’t able to latch at the breast for some time. It is important to initiate hand expression of milk within the first 1-3 hours after birth and continue expressing breast milk on that schedule, either by hand or by using an electric pump. Babies in the NICU are especially in need of receiving the first milk from their parent’s breast, called colostrum, as it is nutrient-dense and packed with immune-building antibodies, probiotics for establishing their first gut flora, and calories, sugars, and proteins required for their first days of life.
Be sure to browse the variety of products Momcozy has to offer to help you initiate breast feeding, hand expression, and pumping. Our pumps are wearable, hands-free, and hospital grade, and we offer several other feeding products including lactation massagers, nursing and pumping bras, breast milk storage bags, and disposable bra inserts.
When you have a medical complication
In some cases, the delivering parent faces a medical complication or emergency, such as a hemorrhage or eclampsia, that causes them to be separated from their baby after birth until they themselves are medically stable. Should this happen, it is important that your support partner and healthcare team know your desire to breastfeed so they can ensure you have a pump to use during the time you’re separated from your baby. Support partners and healthcare team members can also assist you with pumping if you are unable to do it yourself.
With a c-section, your body will need to recover from a surgical incision in the abdomen as well as the uterus contracting over the following days as it returns to its normal size. The incisional pain is often accompanied by some gas pain that you may feel around your shoulder blades over next couple of days. Pain can make breastfeeding difficult when it comes to finding a comfortable position for holding your baby to your breasts. Be sure to take the pain medications available to you at this time to help your body stay comfortable and relaxed so it can not only heal but produce an adequate milk supply. Most pain medications do not pass into breast milk at levels high enough to affect your baby. The best and most recommended positions for breastfeeding after a c-section are the side lying position and the football hold, as these positions keep the weight and movement of the baby off the abdomen. Here’s how to do them:
Side lying position
Lie in bed on your side and place your baby belly to belly with you, with their head just below your nipple so they must raise their head slightly to touch their nose to your nipple, which will stimulate the rooting reflex and cause them to open their mouth. Latch your baby once their mouth is open and their head is angled slightly back. It helps to have a pillow or two positioned behind your lower back and hips and between your knees for optimal comfort. Check out Momcozy’s J Shaped maternity pillow that can be especially helpful for the side lying position, giving you support for your head, neck, shoulders, back, hips, and knees as you feed your baby.
This position is done by sitting reclined and having your baby wrapped around the side of you under your arm with their head next to your breast, their belly facing your body. Again, having a pillow or two can help keep your baby propped up underneath your arm as you support their shoulders, neck, and head while they nurse. Momcozy has a uniquely designed adjustable and multifunctional nursing pillow that can be especially helpful for this nursing position.
Points to remember
Bringing a new life into the world is the kind of life changing event for which anyone hopes they can have a perfect plan. But sometimes, life throws a curveball and, whether you end up with a planned c-section delivery or not, the operation can potentially create unexpected challenges for parents who plan to breastfeed. The best things you can do to set yourself up to successfully breastfeed are:
- Start breastfeeding and initiate skin-to-skin time as soon as you and your baby are able.
- Have a reliable and helpful support partner and healthcare team to assist you in caring for yourself and your baby and advocate for your desire to breastfeed.
- Breastfeed, hand express, or pump frequently to ensure your baby gets colostrum and to stimulate milk production and establish an adequate milk supply.
- Keep your baby with you as often as you can (if medically stable) so you get to know your baby’s hunger and feeding cues.
- Keep up with your pain medication to stay comfortable and keep your body relaxed so it can heal and produce milk.
- Reach out for lactation support provided by your hospital, health networks, and community support groups.
Remember, breastfeeding may be a bit more challenging to start and learn with your baby after a c-section, but it is definitely possible! Support, time, patience, and excellent products from Momcozy are here to help you achieve your breastfeeding goals. You got this!