C-Section Breastfeeding

It's best to NOT schedule a C-section, but to let labor begin. Even if you only get to experience a short few moments of labor, it can have an impact on your hormones.

mother in hospital, c-section hospital
Pregnant mother lying in hospital bed with heart monitors. 

Cesarean section rates are high! The effects of medication, IV fluids, and pain can make breastfeeding a challenge. Many mothers breastfeed after a C-section, but if you can avoid one, it will be worthwhile.

If possible, it's best NOT to schedule a C-section but to let labor begin. Even if you only experience a short few moments of labor, it can impact your body's hormonal setup. Your body prepares to breastfeed your baby when labor begins, and your baby is given time to get ready to leave the womb.

If a C-section does occur, you can ask that your baby is put skin-to-skin against you while you are stitched up. Your baby can be held against you above the drape. Smell and touch your baby as much as possible during these first few moments together.

Baby breastfeeding

How Can a C-Section Impact Breastfeeding?

  • Mothers might think that they have failed at giving birth and then feel that they will fail at breastfeeding too. Breastfeeding can help to keep those postpartum blues away.
  • Mothers who have had an epidural might be unable to hold and breastfeed their babies immediately after surgery.
  • Babies born via C-section are sometimes a bit drowsy due to the anesthetics. Your baby might need some extra stimulation to stay awake. This should only last for a couple of hours.
  • Medications given to a mother after a C-section might cause lethargy in the baby.
  • Mothers that undergo a C-section are often given antibiotics, which can cause thrush (yeast infection). Make yourself familiar with the signs of thrush, so you will know how to handle it quickly.
  • Finding a comfortable position for breastfeeding after C-section.
  • There are ways of placing a baby to avoid them lying on your stomach or cut. The best C-section breastfeeding position is the lying down position, or the football hold, which will keep your baby on your side and away from your tummy.

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To Ensure Breastfeeding Success

  • Choose a hospital that is supportive of C-section breastfeeding. Make nurses and doctors aware of your decision to breastfeed and tell them that you do not want your child to be given any formula.
  • Make sure that the hospital provides that you can room-in with your baby for "on-demand breastfeeding" and breastfeeding through the night.
  • Ask for a private room, as this will make you feel more comfortable while breastfeeding.
  • If you cannot be near your baby for the first few hours, it is best to ask if you can use the hospital's breast pump, this will get your milk supply to "come in," prevent engorgement, and the colostrum can be given to your baby.
  • Make sure you have sufficient help with chores at home after the surgery.
  • Get yourself a cesarean-section breastfeeding pillow. This will prevent your baby from lying on your cut.

Things to Remember

  • Breastfeeding after a C-section should be done at least every two hours to keep your supply up and to prevent breast engorgement, which can lead to mastitis.
  • Decide to stick to it and be determined to make it work. After a C-section, breastfeeding can be challenging during the first few weeks, but it gets easier and easier - it’s worth it in the end.
  • Try not to give your baby a pacifier or a bottle for at least six weeks after birth. You can feed with a syringe if your baby needs breast milk and can't get it directly from the breast.
  • Your baby’s tummy is tiny during the first couple of days, and they only need a small amount of colostrum for sustenance.
  • Relax and enjoy this time. Stress can cause a delay in mature milk arrival.

What if Your Milk “Coming in" Is Delayed After Surgery?

  • The first breastfeeding cesarean experience is usually the hardest. The second time around, your milk will often "come in" much faster.
  • If a mother has had to give formula to her baby because of her milk "coming in" late, she will need to continue to pump and breastfeed after a cesarean until her supply is fully established. Also, ensure that the baby is offered the breast before providing the expressed meals.
  • Remember that a baby needs to be breastfed every two hours for your milk supply to increase, including nighttime.
  • Your baby should preferably be breastfed within the first hour after birth.
  • Get a better understanding of how breast milk is produced.
  • Learn more about delayed milk onset.

An Inspirational Story

Breastfeeding My Daughter for the First Time
by Margaret Money
(Lincolnshire, England)

It shocked me when I became pregnant with my first child in 2007. I found out I was already 11 weeks and had no symptoms, so it took some getting used to it. I was unsure how we were going to cope financially and mentally. I was young, and although we had been together for five years, we didn't live together, so we had many things to sort out. One thing I was sure of, however, was that I would breastfeed. I knew the benefits, and I felt strongly about it.

My son arrived in August after a 52-hour labor and an emergency c-section. I was in no fit state to breastfeed, as I had complications and had lost 4 liters of blood. I ended up spending a day in the ICU having blood transfusions. In the meantime, the midwife fed my son formula. When I met my son, I tried feeding him a few hours after birth, but I was only allowed limited time with him in ICU. After only a few minutes of trying to feed him, he was taken away.

We were reunited that evening, but I had further complications. They took me for another transfusion. Expressing my milk was never mentioned. I wish I had asked, but I was too sleepy to even think about it. In the following days, when we were together again, I tried to breastfeed my baby, but he did nothing but scream. He had been quite happy with the formula and wanted nothing to do with my breast. I was devastated but carried on trying him anyway. Once we got home, I had to mix formula while attempting to breastfeed. He wasn't very interested in the breast. When the midwife came, she told me I was confusing him and would constipate him by mixing feeds. Suffering from PND, I decided to give in and stopped offering the breast. A decision that I have regretted since.

Once my son turned two, we decided we were ready to try for another baby and immediately became pregnant. I focused on doing everything to ensure this would be a natural birth. (VBAC) I did every bit of research I could. I felt that my PND came about because of my birth experience, and I wanted to ensure it didn't happen again.

When my daughter arrived in May, the labor was very similar. The doctor told me I had to have another c-section, as my waters had been broken for too long. There was a risk of uterine rupture, and it would need to be performed under a general anesthetic. Again, my husband and I would not witness our child being born. I was devastated and wondered how I would come to terms with it again after having such a terrible time with the PND last time.

The only thing I managed to get across to my husband before I was whisked away was not to worry. I told him I loved him but also asked him not to let them feed the baby until I returned unless it was essential. I planned to express, if possible.

When I woke up in the theatre, the doctor informed me that similar complications had occurred. I was to meet my baby in a couple of hours. The first thing I asked was if I could breastfeed. Although the doctor said it wouldn't typically be allowed, he let me go to my baby daughter to breastfeed. My husband was with her, and he first said, ''I told them not to feed her and that we had to wait''. My daughter had waited almost 3 hours, and so when passed to me, she latched on immediately. It was the best feeling I have ever experienced. I felt my mental wounds heal in the few moments it took for her first feed.

I no longer felt sadness about either of the births. I then realized that my grief had been caused by the fact that I couldn't breastfeed my son. The delivery was something I couldn't control, and I knew that I had done everything I could to prevent a c-section this time. I immediately felt at peace.

Eight weeks in, and my daughter is still exclusively breastfed. I plan to breastfeed her on demand for as long as possible. She is gaining weight and is a very happy little girl! And I am a content mummy!!!