Breastfeeding After Cesarean
Breastfeeding your baby is one of life’s most precious relationships. While we place a lot of emphasis on the birth (especially since birth can impact the breastfeeding relationship), no doubt, breastfeeding is an act that will take far longer and have lasting health impact for both the mother and her baby.
Breastfeeding is particularly important for babies and women who experience cesarean birth. Breastfeeding provides closeness, bonding, infant nourishment, and a hormonal cocktail that benefits both mom and baby.
Here are some tips and information about breastfeeding after cesarean. In fact, this information is beneficial to any mom and any baby, no matter how they birth! Breastfeeding is incredible!
Advocate for Skin to Skin Contact
Skin to skin contact is known to help facilitate breastfeeding. We love the idea that being on mama’s chest is the “natural habitat” for the newborn human infant. Truly, this is their happy place and where they want to be. This is true immediately after the birth and for months afterwards.
Skin to skin advice is supported by other experts. Skin to skin helps regulate temperature, blood sugar, and of course, gives easy access to your breasts for a baby that needs to nurse frequently.
Keep Baby Close
One thing that can be a big obstacle to nursing any baby is early separation from their mother, the source of breastmilk. This separation is a problem no matter the mode of delivery, but long separation from baby, often of about four hours, is very common after a cesarean birth.
Advocating for gentle care for you and your baby and a prompt return of your baby, or even better, no separation if possible, is one of the first and most important steps for nursing after cesarean delivery. In fact, helping the mother initiate breastfeeding with 30 minutes after the birth is one of 10 steps to baby friendly care– for ANY birthing woman. There are no exceptions for babies born via cesarean section.
Cameo describes how she was able to have her baby breastfeed soon after birth, despite some common struggles specific to cesarean section birth.
“After my cesarean, I got labor shakes really bad. I wasn’t comfortable even holding my baby for fear of dropping her but I wanted to breastfeed her. After about 45 minutes of my mom holding her, I asked for my baby back and a nurse helped me get my daughter in the football hold despite all my shaking. Literally the second she started nursing, all the shakes went away. It was amazing.” Cameo Sherman, Birth Doula, Bowie, MD
It is not unusual for a mother to need some help from others in that initial latch, particularly if their hands are not free to hold their baby. Staff, family, or a trained doula can help in this role so that the mom who births via cesarean section can still nurse her baby soon after birth.
Preparation for Breastfeeding is Key
Preparation for breastfeeding is imperative. While it is a natural process, and your baby is born knowing how to suck, it takes work and training for both mom and baby to master the rest of the skills needed for breastfeeding. If you know you are having a cesarean, it can help to know some of the potential barriers that may arise, how your hospital handles cesarean birth and immediate postpartum care, and who can help you postpartum. A more mother-friendly or “gentle” cesarean is a great option, if possible.
Melissa’s quote, below, is powerful because it shows how easy it is to be blindsided by the realities of cesarean birth and how lack of support (even when you don’t know to ask for it) makes such a big difference.
“I don’t think my breastfeeding struggles were directly related to having a cesarean, but more a lack of support and not knowing to ask for help. I was able to nurse as soon as I was out of surgery, but I was so out of it, drugged up, and shaky, it definitely wasn’t a special moment for me, and was more awkward and forced than it should have been.”
Melissa Kosloski, Childbirth Educator, St. Cloud, MN
Women DO breastfeed after cesarean. It is possible. Caryn, who had three cesarean sections before her two VBAC births, tells an incredible story about how the breastfeeding relationship changed with each of these cesarean births and what she did to help make it more positive.
“With my third baby, even though he was a planned cesarean, I was bound and determined to get this thing right! He was taken away from me just as the others, but I spent a little more time holding him in the recovery room before he was taken away. I kept calling them until they finally brought him to me. Since it was planned and not late at night, I was a little more awake during our first nursing session. This time it seemed so much different! I did not once give him a bottle while I was in the hospital. In fact, in the 15 months that I went on to breastfeed my third child, he only took a bottle once!”
Caryn Westdyk, Childbirth Educator in Carrollton, TX
Planning and preparation really does make a difference in breastfeeding!
Enlist Partner Support
Support is key for any successful breastfeeding relationship and can come from any direction. The support of your partner is particularly imperative. If mom’s partner is offering bottles to the baby, this can be so detrimental to the breastfeeding mother. The words of family, nurses, care providers, and friends are all powerful whether negative or positive. Seek out and embrace those people who show support. This is even more important after cesarean.
Cameo’s experience beautifully illustrates this point.
“After my cesarean, I needed a lot of help from others. I had my mom and sister take turns staying with me at the hospital so they could get my baby out of the bassinet and give her to me and put her back in when needed. Once home, that became my husband’s job. I also discovered side-lying to be a wonderful way to nurse at night so I could get rest without her laying on my incision.” Cameo Sherman, Birth Doula, Bowie, MD
Cameo got help before she even left the hospital and continued to have this support even after she returned home. Oh, how things would be different if every woman had this kind of help breastfeeding after cesarean!
Co-Sleeping Can Be Helpful
Sleeping near your baby is something that many women find helpful for breastfeeding. Having to wake frequently throughout the night, march down a hallway, and nurse your baby, wakes everybody up and often results in a baby that is upset by the time you get to them.
This is even more true in the early days of recovery after a cesarean section. Though a common way to give birth, it is a serious abdominal surgery that requires healing and rest. If being closer to your baby helps your breastfeeding relationship, consider it! Melissa says:
“I co-slept initially out of necessity. My husband deployed when our oldest was a week old. Getting up multiple times a night to get baby out of the pack n’ play was really tough while trying to recover from surgery. Having him laying next to me made night nursing feasible! Bed share, get a co-sleeper, or sidecar a crib to make your life easier!”
This post has some great tips for co-sleeping safely.
Find Your Own Success!
When you talk to hundreds of women who have breastfed their babies, you find that the definition of “successful breastfeeding” is not universal. Everyone has different experiences. For one woman successful breastfeeding may mean exclusive breastfeeding until six months and a nursing relationship that extends to two years.
We have seen women struggling with insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) who work incredibly hard to keep their babies at the breast but simply must supplement with something besides their own breastmilk in order for their baby to grow healthy and strong.
This quote from Ebon’nae Piggee after her unplanned, emergency cesarean is so beautiful and shows how successful she was and how hard she worked to breastfeed her baby.
“I had always heard the phrase “breast is best”, so I KNEW I wanted to breastfeed my baby. Yet, after an induction gone wrong; I ended up being rushed into the OR for an emergency Cesarean. With it being my first pregnancy, I didn’t research nor consider having a Cesarean. I had no defenses nor preparation for the pain, hormonal delays, and emotional disarray my body or my baby would be up against after the surgery. I woke up after surgery wanting to nurse my child, but having NO clue and NO support (besides an unsure nurse) through the process.
I did the best I knew how with the little info I’d read online to latch my baby on my breast, but after a day or so he seemed to reject the breast completely. Unfortunately, he’d been receiving bottles of formula in the hospital nursery. I was not prepared for the pain of a Cesarean. I couldn’t stand and It hurt to laugh. I blew up like a marshmallow man, from all the fluid retention. Every time I’d put my baby to my breast he would scream and cry and so would I. I felt so guilty that I didn’t have a seamless breastfeeding experience, but still I went on to pump for about six months.”
Ebon’Nae Piggee, Childbirth Educator, Desoto, TX
Ebon’Nae is an example of nursing success against the odds. She was still able to give her baby the gift of breastmilk. Successful breastfeeding looks different to every woman. Set your own goals. Get the help you need. And know that your best is more than enough- it is amazing.
Breastfeeding After Cesarean is Empowering
Women experience cesarean birth for a variety of different reasons. For some it is planned and wanted. For others it is a traumatic experience that took them by surprise.
No matter your birth, breastfeeding can be incredibly empowering. It shows us the miraculous things that our bodies can do– not only can we grow a human within ourselves, we can grown them outside of us too! There is something awe inspiring about watching a baby double and triple in size while being fed only milk from mother.
Lauren, who experienced a planned home birth turned to cesarean describes this perfectly.
“I felt like everything was out of my control, ending up with a cesarean. Breastfeeding felt powerful and calm. In that moment there was still something I could do for my cesarean baby, right here, right now. Breastfeeding was something I could plan to do regardless of how the birth went. Breastfeeding returned me to my mother power in the face of sterilized and medical birth.”
Lauren McClain, Childbirth Educator, Bowie, MD
Breastfeeding after cesarean is possible and often a healing experience.
Build your support network, seek for help, decide what makes the relationship successful for you, and re-discover the empowerment that is possible after birth.
You can have an amazing breastfeeding experience after cesarean!
Photo credit: remysharp / Foter / CC BY-SA, Photo credit: Marie in NC / Foter / CC BY, Photo credit: Kelly Sue / Foter / CC BY-SA