This post is for moms who are planning to have a c-section and want to prepare for breastfeeding in the hospital and once they are home. It will also be helpful for women who recently had a cesarean delivery and want tips on breastfeeding.
Studies show that breastfeeding rates are lower in moms who have had a c-section than those who delivered vaginally. However, with the right education and support, cesarean delivery should not be a barrier to breastfeeding.
Can you breastfeed after a c-section? Absolutely! Here are some valuable tips to successfully breastfeed your baby after cesarean birth.
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Why Are C-Section Moms Less Likely to Breastfeed?
A cesarean section is a major surgery that takes time to recover from. This can have an effect on new moms both physically and emotionally.
After a c-section, a woman might be less likely to breastfeed than a woman who had a vaginal birth due to several factors.
A c-section is surgery and recovery can be painful, especially during the first few days. Pain can also contribute to postpartum fatigue. Pain medication may make you more drowsy after delivering and in the initial postpartum period.
These factors can affect a c-section mom’s ability to perform baby care activities such as breastfeeding.
C-section moms may be concerned with how pain medication will affect their baby if it is passed through breast milk. This can lead to pain not being well controlled.
It is important to have adequate pain relief when trying to recover from a c section. You can talk to your healthcare provider about the safety of taking certain medications while nursing.
If you’re curious, you can also look up any medication in the LactMed database to see how it might affect your breastfed baby.
You may not realize how much you use your core for daily activities until you can’t use it as well.
Having an incision on your abdomen can affect how you do simple movements like sitting, bending, lying down, and getting into and out of bed.
This can make it difficult to move around and pick up your baby.
Although more and more women are having elective c-sections, many times a cesarean delivery is required due to issues with the pregnancy or mom and baby’s health.
If you’ve had a medically complicated pregnancy or delivery, this can make recovering from a c-section even harder which can affect breastfeeding.
Emotional Response to Surgery
After an unexpected c-section, new moms may feel disappointed or like they failed their bodies and babies due to not being able to have a vaginal delivery.
It may take some time to process emotions after an unplanned or emergency c-section. This can potentially cause difficulty with maternal attachment and mother-infant bonding which can make breastfeeding challenging.
There may be medical reasons that a baby cannot breastfeed right away. C-section babies have extra fluid in their lungs because it doesn’t get “squeezed” out of them like it does when baby is pushed through the birth canal.
This can potentially cause breathing difficulties or require frequent suctioning from baby coughing up fluid.
Physical separation from baby
Babies born by c-section have higher rates of NICU admission than those born by vaginal delivery (source).
This separation of mom and her new baby can make it harder to initiate breastfeeding especially if you are unable to frequently visit the baby due to your own medical complications.
Tips for Starting to Breastfeed after a C-Section
There are many reasons it may be challenging to breastfeed after a c-section.
Hopefully, some of the following tips can help you successfully breastfeed after cesarean delivery.
1. Early skin-to-skin contact
Studies show that mother-infant skin-to-skin contact immediately or soon after birth has beneficial effects on breastfeeding (source).
Unless there are medical issues that need to be addressed right away, most moms will be able to hold their babies within the first hour after they are born.
After my c-section, I was able to initiate skin-to-skin contact with my son after we left the operating room and were in the recovery room.
Breastfeeding should be started as soon as possible after delivery. During skin-to-skin contact in the immediate postpartum period, a baby will naturally search out their mother’s nipple and begin to feed.
Let the hospital staff know your breastfeeding goals so they can make sure to facilitate early skin-to-skin as long as it’s medically safe for you and the baby.
2. Breastfeed Frequently (pump or hand express at first if you cannot breastfeed)
Milk production usually occurs two to four days after delivery. Women who have had a c-section may experience delayed onset of lactation (source).
The best way to encourage your milk to come in is to frequently breastfeed your baby (or pump).
When your baby sucks on your nipple, this stimulates your body to release the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin is necessary for milk secretion. Oxytocin makes the milk flow down so the baby can feed.
If you are separated from your baby after your c-section or otherwise unable to breastfeed right away, you can use a breast pump or hand express to start stimulating milk production. If you don’t have your own breast pump with you, the hospital should have them available for postpartum moms.
I used a pump in the hospital after my two older children’s births to help stimulate my milk production. My first was born 4 weeks early and my second was born by c-section so both times I struggled a bit with milk production in the beginning.
If you are separated from your baby, you can pump and send your milk to the NICU or nursery for feeding. In the beginning, you won’t be able to pump much but anything you do get is beneficial for your baby.
I felt silly sending my husband to the NICU with 2mL of colostrum in a syringe but the nurses assured me even that small amount was a great source of nutrition for my daughter.
3. Meet with a Lactation Consultant
All new moms should meet with a lactation consultant soon after giving birth. A lactation consultant can observe you breastfeeding your baby and gently guide you to make it easier and more comfortable.
If you’re an experienced mom but have never had a cesarean delivery before, it’s equally important to meet with a lactation consultant who can coach you on breastfeeding after a c-section.
The lactation consultant I met in the hospital showed me how to manually express colostrum and how to use the breast pump. She also helped me find the best position to feed my baby.
Tips for Continuing to Breastfeed After a C-Section
4. Experiment with different breastfeeding positions
After a c-section, you’ll probably find certain positions to be very uncomfortable due to your abdominal incision.
In order to have an easier time, you’ll need to find a comfortable breastfeeding position that works best for you and your baby.
The side-lying position is exactly what it sounds like. You breastfeed your baby while lying on your side. Some c-section moms find this the most comfortable position in the beginning.
I personally found it very uncomfortable to lie flat during the first few weeks after my c-section. I preferred to use the football hold to breastfeed early in the postpartum period.
The football position is helpful for women who have had a c-section. It’s also great if you have larger breasts and/or a small baby.
Using this position to breastfeed allows you to easily see your baby’s face while feeding and doesn’t put any pressure on the incision site.
To feed on the right side, use pillows to support your baby so his head is level with your right breast. Tuck your baby under your right arm and support his head with your right hand. Use your left hand to support your breast and guide it toward your baby’s mouth.
For more in-depth descriptions and pictures of these breastfeeding positions, check out Breastfeeding Positions for Newborns.
5. Use pillows for support
In the early days after my c-section, I found it difficult to use nursing pillows like the Boppy because it pressed against my C-section incision.
It was much easier to just use extra pillows to prop my baby up to the right height. You can adjust the pillows so they aren’t touching any sensitive areas on your abdomen.
6. Set up a breastfeeding spot in your home
Once you’re home from the hospital, make a comfortable space for breastfeeding. Find a chair or couch that you can dedicate to being your breastfeeding space for a few weeks.
Stock the area with pillows and keep other supplies that you may need nearby. It will be so convenient to have everything in one place.
I turned the loveseat in our living room to my breastfeeding and pumping station. I loved having an electric heat pack for my back while I was sitting there to breastfeed. I kept all my supplies, such as extra burp cloths, in a basket on the coffee table.
7. Utilize a bassinet at night
If you haven’t already planned on having your baby sleep in a bassinet in the beginning, consider using one instead of a crib.
I loved being able to have my baby’s bassinet right next to my bed after my c-section. It was easier to reach my baby in order to pick him up to feed him.
It was also helpful to be able to glance over at him to make sure he was okay without having to get up.
8. Join a breastfeeding support group
One thing that really helped me on my breastfeeding journey with my firstborn was going to a breastfeeding support group run by the hospital where I delivered.
I went every week while I was on maternity leave and it was great to chat with other moms and get one on one support from a lactation consultant.
Plus, we did weighted feeds. I would weigh my baby, breastfeed my baby, then weigh my baby again to make sure was drinking enough milk. This helped me to feel comfortable that my body was providing the right amount of breastmilk for my daughter.
If your hospital doesn’t offer a similar group, there are other ways to get the support for breastfeeding that you need after a c-section.
- You can look for a La Leche support group near you (for US residents) here.
- Join a Facebook breastfeeding group
- Look up local support groups in your area. Enter your zip code at zipmilk.org and click on support groups to find one near you.
Having a c-section is not a barrier to breastfeeding but you may find it more challenging to initiate and continue breastfeeding after a surgical delivery. However, there are ways to make it a little easier. It is very possible to successfully breastfeed after a c-section.