Epidurals and Breastfeeding

While some see it as a necessity for a more comfortable birthing experience, others worry about its potential impact on breastfeeding. This article aims to provide a well-rounded perspective to support mothers in making informed decisions.

mother in hospital, pregnant mother in hospital, epidural picture
Expecting Mother Lying in Hospital

While some see it as a necessity for a more comfortable birthing experience, others worry about its potential impact on breastfeeding.

This article aims to provide a well-rounded perspective to support mothers in making informed decisions. As we dive into this complex topic, remember that each mother's journey is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the intricacies of childbirth and breastfeeding.

epidural image, insertion of needle
An Epidural

Understanding Epidurals

Epidurals are a type of regional anesthesia administered through a small catheter placed into the epidural space in the lower spine. They provide significant pain relief during labor by blocking nerve signals from the lower body.

How Epidurals Affect the Body

Epidurals can influence the body both immediately and in the long term. Initially, they can cause a decrease in blood pressure, numbness in the lower body, and potential difficulty in pushing due to decreased sensation. Longer-term effects can include back soreness at the injection site, headaches, and, in rare cases, nerve damage.

The Role of Epidurals in Labor and Delivery

Epidurals play a critical role in alleviating labor pain, enabling mothers to rest during prolonged labor, and facilitating vaginal deliveries in difficult circumstances. They are also necessary for most cesarean sections.

crying baby, newborn baby crying
Baby crying on Mother's Chest

The Impact of Epidurals on Breastfeeding

There is ongoing research investigating how epidurals might affect early breastfeeding experiences. One theory suggests that epidurals might cause delayed onset of breastfeeding behaviors, making the initial latch more challenging.

The Influence of Epidurals on Infant Behavior and Latch

Some studies suggest that babies born to mothers who received epidurals may exhibit altered suckling patterns and drowsiness, possibly affecting their initial latch. However, these effects are often short-term and resolve within the first few days postpartum.

Understanding the Role of Oxytocin in Breastfeeding

Oxytocin, often known as the 'love hormone,' plays a significant role in childbirth and breastfeeding. It's responsible for uterine contractions during labor and the let-down reflex in breastfeeding. Some research suggests that epidurals might interfere with the body's natural oxytocin production, potentially affecting breastfeeding.

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Making an Informed Decision

Healthcare professionals generally agree that the choice to use an epidural should be left to the individual mother. While acknowledging potential challenges, most also agree that with the right support, most mothers who receive epidurals can breastfeed successfully.

Expectant mothers should engage in open conversations with their healthcare providers about their pain management options, including the potential impact of epidurals on breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Support for Mothers Who Choose Epidurals

Support for breastfeeding should begin early, regardless of whether a mother opts for an epidural. This includes education on breastfeeding techniques, understanding infant hunger cues, and addressing common breastfeeding challenges. Lactation consultants can be especially helpful in providing personalized advice and support. Alternatively, opt for a Milkology breastfeeding course and equip yourself with the comprehensive knowledge necessary for a successful breastfeeding experience.

breastfeeding baby in hospital
Baby Breastfeeding in Hospital

Commonly Asked Questions

Does an Epidural Affect Milk Supply?

Research to date does not conclusively show that an epidural directly affects milk supply. However, if an epidural leads to a challenging early breastfeeding experience, it may indirectly influence milk supply since regular and effective milk removal in the early days postpartum is crucial to establish a strong milk supply.

Will an Epidural Make My Baby Sleepy, Affecting Breastfeeding?

Some studies suggest that babies born to mothers who received epidurals may be slightly more drowsy initially. This could affect their ability to latch effectively in the first feedings. However, these effects are typically short-lived, and you can successfully establish breastfeeding with the right support.

Can I Still Have Skin-To-Skin Contact if I’ve Had an Epidural?

Absolutely! Epidurals typically do not interfere with the ability to have immediate skin-to-skin contact following birth, which can be beneficial for early breastfeeding initiation.

skin to skin contact, newborn and skin to skin
Skin-to-skin Contact with Baby

Can the Drugs in an Epidural Pass Into Breast Milk?

The amount of epidural medication that enters the bloodstream is minimal, and even less is passed into breast milk. The levels are usually so low that they are unlikely to have any effect on your baby.

If I Have an Epidural, Will I Need to Supplement With Formula?

Not necessarily. Many mothers who have epidurals breastfeed successfully without the need for supplementation. The key is to ensure regular and effective milk removal, either by breastfeeding or pumping.

Early skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, and getting support from a lactation consultant or experienced healthcare provider can improve breastfeeding outcomes. Additionally, being knowledgeable about normal newborn behavior and effective latching techniques can also be beneficial.


The relationship between epidurals and breastfeeding is multifaceted, characterized by individual experiences, differing research outcomes, and the complex nature of childbirth. While some mothers who choose epidurals may face initial breastfeeding challenges, many go on to establish successful breastfeeding relationships with their infants. The key lies in understanding the potential impacts, seeking proper support, and making informed decisions tailored to each unique birthing experience.

Whether you choose to have an epidural or not, remember that education, preparation, and the right support can go a long way in ensuring a positive breastfeeding experience.