Having a Caesarean section, especially when it’s unplanned, can be a challenging experience that leads to a lot of uncertainty. Of the many questions that you may have as a new C-section mum is whether or not you’ll be able to breastfeed. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there suggesting that C-section mothers can’t breastfeed, and that is absolutely not true. You may face certain challenges and maybe some rough patches, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to breastfeed after a C-section if it’s something you want to do.
In this article, we offer a guide to C-section and breastfeeding, explaining what you can expect and giving tips for how you and your baby can have the optimal breastfeeding experience. Of course, it’s important to note that if you don’t want to or don’t have success in breastfeeding, that does not in any way diminish you as a mum, no matter how breastfeeding goes after your C-section.
Can You Breastfeed Right After a C-Section?
Most new mums want to know how soon after a C-section they’ll be able to breastfeed their baby. This is because it is often said that it’s important to start breastfeeding very early, usually in the hour after birth, in order to set yourself up for breastfeeding success. But a C-section is major surgery and you may be doubting whether or not you’ll be in a state to breastfeed so quickly.
The good news is that in most cases, you’ll be able to breastfeed rather immediately, sometimes even when you’re still in the operating room. If early breastfeeding is important to you, you’ll want to include this in your C-section birth plan and let your doctors and nurses know that you wish to breastfeed right after your delivery.
Learn more: Everything You Need to Know About C-sections
When Breastfeeding Should Wait Until Later
Regardless of our intentions, there are some situations that do come up that may prevent you from being able to breastfeed immediately. For example, if you have your C-section under general (as opposed to local) anaesthesia or if your baby needs to be placed in a humidicrib to stabilise his or her condition right after birth, you won’t be able to breastfeed right away.
However, if this type of scenario prevents you from being able to breastfeed in the first hour, there’s no reason to panic. You should have no problem protecting your milk supply and beginning breastfeeding a little bit later on.
One thing that may help is pumping or manually expressing your colostrum, or your thick, nutrient-rich early breast milk which is full of concentrated protein and immunity factors, as it can help your baby have their first bowel movement, prevent engorgement, and get your milk supply started until you and your baby can be reunited. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s best to pump soon after birth and every couple of hours thereafter.
You May Encounter Some Issues Breastfeeding After C-Section
The reality of breastfeeding after Caesarean is that you may encounter some roadblocks and problems that you wouldn’t necessarily have had after a vaginal delivery. These are not incredibly serious, but they are worth reviewing and preparing for.
Recovering from the major abdominal procedure that is a C-section is inevitably tough on the body, and you’re likely to experience some pain and discomfort, including C-section incision pain. Beyond that, you’ll be having uterine contractions after your delivery as your uterus returns to its normal size, which may not feel too pleasant. This may make it tougher to breastfeed comfortably.
In order to ease your pain, especially if it is serious and distracting enough to interfere with breastfeeding, you can take pain medication. It usually will not pass through to your breast milk in high enough quantity to affect the baby. However, just to be on the safe side, it’s always a good idea to consult with your medical professional.
One of the most prominent challenges of breastfeeding after C-section is the potential for delayed milk production. Studies show that C-sections may delay the start of mature milk (as opposed to colostrum) production by a number of days.
It’s impossible to predict exactly how long it will take your mature breast milk to come in after your C-section, but you can be confident that for many women it will come in eventually. If you want to help speed the process along, some things that may help include breastfeeding or pumping regularly, breastfeeding on demand, and having lots of skin-to-skin contact with your baby (which we’ll cover in more depth later on in this article).
The Impact of Anaesthetics
You may wonder how much anaesthetics used during surgery can affect breastfeeding. The truth is that the drugs you are given to numb you during a C-section can pass through to your baby. As a result, your baby might feel drowsy immediately after birth, delaying their ability to breastfeed.
Again, this is something that isn’t possible to predict ahead of the fact because all babies respond differently to anaesthesia, and its potential effects on your baby depend on the type of anaesthesia and the duration of its administration. For example, a local anaesthetic that allows you to stay awake during your C-section is likely to have less of an effect on your baby than general anaesthesia that puts you to sleep.
How to Prepare for Breastfeeding After a C-Section
As we alluded to above, if breastfeeding after Caesarean section, especially soon after (like within the first hour) is important to you, you’ll want to plan ahead in order to maximize the chances of being able to do so. Of course, this is easiest if you have a planned C-section as this will leave you time for preparing for a Caesarean. However, all of the following tips can help you even if you aren’t expecting to have a C-section.
The first thing you can do is to choose a hospital that follows current, evidence-based policies on breastfeeding. Baby-Friendly Hospitals (BFHI) are known to be especially supportive of breastfeeding. Choosing the right hospital can help you avoid all sorts of issues like having to spend an excessive amount of time away from your baby, especially early on.
It’s a great idea to inform the nurses and hospital staff about your breastfeeding choice ahead of time. This way, they can be prepared to help you (or a family member in the case that you have surgical complications and are unable) to have skin-to-skin immediately after birth, ideally until after the first feeding. Hospital staff should make an effort to return the baby to you as soon as possible after birth (or after any necessary medical interventions), support you in breastfeeding, and perform health checks while the baby is still resting in your arms.
It can also be helpful to find a hospital that allows for rooming-in, or the baby staying in your room around the clock. With rooming-in, your baby may even sleep right next to your bedside in a “sidecar” device, which allows for easy and convenient breastfeeding.
If you have the option, bringing a lactation consultant into your hospital room is a fantastic idea. Especially during the first feeding, it can be incredibly helpful to receive support and guidance from an expert lactation consultant, who can help you with positioning and troubleshooting common breastfeeding issues. Another advantage of having a lactation consultant present is that they can advocate for your prioritization of early breastfeeding to the medical staff at the hospital if necessary.
Speaking of breastfeeding positions, it can be very helpful to learn about different breastfeeding positions ahead of time so that you can find which one works best for you when the time comes. Specifically, some breastfeeding positions will be more comfortable than others after a C-section. Ideally, you want to choose a position that keeps your baby’s weight off of your incision scar, which may make traditional breastfeeding positions like the cradle or cross-cradle hold less of an option, at least in the first few weeks while your incision is still healing.
The two breastfeeding positions that are most recommended after C-section are the side-lying position and football hold. In both, your baby won’t come into contact with your incision scar.
As the name may imply, this position involves laying on your side. Place your baby belly to belly with you, a few inches below the breast that is contacting the bed. Position your baby’s nose to your nipple to latch. Using pillows or a helper can help you find the most comfortable version of this position.
Underarm, Clutch, or Football Hold
You can do this breastfeeding position sitting up in a chair or recliner. Wrap your baby around the side of your body, snug and close under your arm, with their belly facing your body. Like with the other positions, encourage them to latch onto your breast. Again, pillows can be a big help here to prop your baby up against your body.
Learn more: Best tips for nursing your baby
There are several different breastfeeding accessories that you can use to have an easier time and help you keep your milk supply consistent. For example, our smart electric breast pump mimics your baby's natural sucking pattern to help encourage your body to continue making breast milk consistently if you find yourself in a situation where you aren’t nursing regularly, like if you are separated from your baby or your milk is slow to come in. Lightweight, quiet, portable, and wireless, it’s incredibly easy to use regardless of where you are.
In addition to the things listed above, here are a few more tips that you may find helpful to improve your breastfeeding experience after your C-section.
Skin to Skin Contact
One of the best things that you can do to successfully breastfeed is skin to skin contact, especially immediately after your C-section delivery. Research has shown again and again that skin to skin contact has myriad benefits for both mother and baby, including:
- - Calming and relaxing both mum and baby
- - Regulating the baby’s heart rate and breathing
- - Helping the baby to better adapt to life outside the womb
- - Stimulating digestion and interest in feeding
- - Regulating temperature
- - Enabling colonisation of the baby’s skin with the mother’s healthy bacteria
- - Providing protection against infection
There is also some evidence that skin to skin contact after C-section can ease pain after surgery, as well as improve the mother’s satisfaction with her birth experience.
Most relevant to this article, skin to skin contact can stimulate the release of hormones to support breastfeeding. Studies have shown that skin to skin contact releases hormones that help improve mums’ breastmilk production. Further, babies who experience skin to skin care are 32 per cent more likely to breastfeed successfully during their first feed, as well as being more likely to breastfeed exclusively and for longer periods. And for breastfeeding mums, skin to skin contact can lessen breast pain and engorgement, which is often a significant hassle that comes along with breastfeeding.
All of these benefits are why it is so important to be proactive and even stubborn about your right to be with your baby, practice skin to skin, and have your first breastfeeding session within an hour after birth.
Learn more: Baby bonding: Benefits of skin-to-skin contact.
Asking for Help
Although it may seem like it sometimes, new mums should never feel like they’re going at it alone, especially if they’re dealing with additional stressors such as recovery from a C-section, emotionally processing an unexpected C-section, and/or breastfeeding. For that reason, it is highly recommended to seek help from others while you recover from your surgery. After all, most of the time, surgery recovery is a full-time task in and of itself, without having to take care of and breastfeed a newborn baby on top of it.
So don’t hesitate to ask your family, partner, medical team, and maternity experts for a hand when you need it. From answering your breastfeeding questions to offering medical care and advice, taking care of your newborn while you rest and covering household tasks and chores such as cooking and cleaning so you can focus more on your baby and breastfeeding, the experience of breastfeeding after a C-section will be so much smoother and more painless if you mobilise your support system to help you get through it.
Do you have more questions? Ask Lola&Lykke Experts about C-section recovery, free of charge.
The Bottom Line
Breastfeeding after a C-section can be a challenge, but it is definitely something you can do if you want to. And, after all, nearly all of the experience of new motherhood is challenging in its own way, so this is definitely something you can handle.
Be gentle and kind with yourself as you find your way around this, taking care of your healing body and not only your new baby. Ask for help if and when you need it, and - most importantly - give yourself a pat on the back. Being a mum is hard! So is breastfeeding and recovering from a C-section. Doing all three together basically makes you a super hero. Way to go!