Many mamas worry that having a cesarean birth may affect their breastfeeding success. Rest assured, there are ways to be successful with breastfeeding, no matter how you deliver. As a labor, delivery, and postpartum nurse and a lactation consultant, I have lots of practice and experience assisting patients with breastfeeding after delivery, including helping a baby latch after a cesarean birth. While you may walk into your labor and birth not knowing what delivery method you will experience, there are some things you can do beforehand to be prepared. Here are some tips for breastfeeding after a C-section!
Breastfeeding After a C-Section
1. Educate yourself first.
If you hope to breastfeed after birth, educate yourself during your pregnancy. Educating yourself about labor, birth, and breastfeeding will help you understand what to expect, how to navigate the postpartum period, and ensure you know about breastfeeding basics. Knowing this basic information will allow a bit more ease during this postpartum period. It also helps prevent the “information overload” that comes in the hours and days that follow the birth of your baby.
2. Look into a “gentle cesarean.”
If you have a cesarean birth, don’t be afraid to talk to your provider about doing a “gentle cesarean.” This is when modifications are made to the cesarean procedure. Simple adjustments in the operating room, such as dimming the lights, playing gentle music, moving the cardiac leads so that baby can go skin-to-skin soon after delivery, and keeping baby and partner in the operating room with you until you return to your postpartum room are all great ways to help initiate breastfeeding success. These simple actions can help with breastfeeding after a C-section and the days and weeks after birth.
3. Tell your providers your intentions.
It is also important for your providers to know that you plan on breastfeeding after your C-section. This will allow them to choose medications that are breastfeeding-safe. (Most often, all the medicines given in the hospital are typically safe for breastfeeding mamas.) Stay up to date with your postpartum pain management plan as well. The last thing you want is to be so uncomfortable and in so much pain that breastfeeding cannot happen.
4. Meet with an IBCLC.
Confirm whether or not your birthing place has a board-certified lactation consultant on staff before delivery. Having them meet you in your room in the hours and days that follow the delivery can be super helpful. They can help show you certain breastfeeding positions and techniques that can help ensure the latch is comfortable and effective. If not, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your nurses and care providers. They are great resources and can provide support and guidance during your postpartum hospital stay.
5. Try to latch baby within the first hour after birth.
Research has shown that getting a latch within the first hour after birth is crucial for breastmilk and breastfeeding initiation.1 This first hour after birth tends to be quite hectic. Often, you may miss breastfeeding cues that your baby is showing. Ask that your baby is kept skin-to-skin until after that first successful breastfeeding to ensure you don’t miss any early feeding cues. And if you don’t know what early feeding cues are, educate yourself about them now!
Most hospitals follow this protocol and won’t do any assessments, medication administration, or disrupt this time. However, please don’t be afraid to speak up and ask that your baby be kept skin-to-skin until after that first feed. Again, ask for help if you have difficulty getting your baby latched!
6. Experiment with different positions.
After receiving an epidural or spinal medication, you will likely be numb from the waist down. For some mamas, this numbness can cause difficulty finding a position to latch in. This is why sampling different positions and asking your providers and partner to help get you into different positions is important!
Additionally, anesthesia can have some side effects — they can make you feel nauseous, experience vomiting, dizziness, itching, and other complaints, so you may not feel like your best self. Using tools such as a nursing pillow, regular pillows, blankets, and swaddles can help you prop yourself and your baby in positions that may feel more comfortable and effective. Most hospital beds also can get into a variety of different positions. Ask your care providers after delivery to experiment with those positions as well.
7. Keep your baby with you at all times.
Keeping your baby at the bedside with you as much as possible after delivery is also super helpful for breastfeeding success. You will learn your baby’s hunger cues, feed them more frequently (about 8-12 times in 24 hours), and leave the hospital feeling so much more confident. Having a well-rested support person with you to help you care for the baby and do things such as lift the baby in and out of the bassinet is also crucial. You will likely be in pain in those first few days and weeks, and certain movements will be uncomfortable.
8. Hand expressing and pumping are good alternatives.
If medical reasons keep you and your baby separated, ask to see a lactation consultant. But know that hand expressing and pumping can be very effective ways to help initiate and maintain your breastmilk supply. Breastmilk and its benefits can be an amazing treatment for sick and preterm babies. Knowing how to use the breast pump, when to pump, and how to store breastmilk safely are just three of the many important things that come with pumping in the postpartum period, especially if you have a sick or preterm infant.
Breastfeeding after a C-section can be significantly helped by using these tips and tricks. Of course, use your resources, such as your medical providers after delivery and your neighborhood board-certified lactation consultant. I always recommend having an appointment with an IBCLC lined up within the first week after delivery. They will help you troubleshoot any breastfeeding complications, issues, or discomfort that you may be experiencing. Don’t forget that it may take some time for you and your baby to get into a rhythm with breastfeeding. Be patient, and know that as time goes on, it will get easier!