Breastfeeding After A C-Section

August is National Breastfeeding Month and here at Ready. Set. Food!, we support each and every parent’s decision on how to feed and nourish their families. That’s why we’re proud to join National Breastfeeding Month in helping build a landscape of breastfeeding support.

Although it can be challenging, you can breastfeed after you have a C-section. You'll just have to make some modifications so it's comfortable for you. Here's everything you need to know about breastfeeding after a C-section.

Nearly one in three moms give birth to their baby via cesarean section, or C-section. And many of those moms decide to breastfeed – and go on to breastfeed successfully. So, although it can be challenging, you're certainly able to breastfeed after you have a C-section. You'll just have to make some modifications so it's comfortable for you. Here's everything you need to know about breastfeeding after a C-section. These tips will help you whether your C-section was planned or happens unexpectedly.

Can you breastfeed right away after a C-section?

Although it's most ideal to breastfeed baby as soon as you can after your C-section, you might not be able to. It all depends on how baby is doing and how well you're recovering after your surgery.

You can request to nurse baby as soon as possible after your delivery (whether the C-section is planned or not, it's a good idea to make this preference known in your birth plan). The doctors and nurses will let you breastfeed as soon as it is safe. This may be in the operating room or in the recovery room.

If you were under general anesthesia, it might take a while until you fully awaken, meaning you will need to wait a bit to breastfeed. And if baby needs extra care after the surgery, or your own recovery process is slower, you might also have to delay breastfeeding for a few hours. But if not, the doctors and nurses may let you breastfeed right after surgery.

If you're allowed to breastfeed within the first 12 hours, don't be surprised if your body is extremely sore. A C-section is a major surgery, after all. Ask someone to help prop you up, or help move you onto your side, depending on the breastfeeding position you prefer.

The area of your body that baby will be positioned on should not be covered with clothing or blankets, and baby should be naked. This way, baby can reap the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, which can help breastfeeding start out more smoothly and continue successfully.

If you can't breastfeed your baby within 12 hours after surgery, you should start pumping instead. So, ask for a breast pump. This will get your milk flowing so you can build your supply, and let you give baby the valuable colostrum in a bottle. It will also help stop engorgement.

Pump every 2-3 hours – the same frequency you’ll breastfeed your baby at once they’re able to nurse. Once you're given the ok to breastfeed, start skin-to-skin contact like we described above.

If your milk takes a bit longer to come in than expected, don’t be alarmed. This happens to many moms after a C-section, and often occurs alongside post-surgery swelling. Continue to breastfeed or pump frequently, and to hold baby skin-to-skin as often as you can. These steps will help your milk come in.

For more tips on breastfeeding after a C-section, check out this video from Breastfeeding Confidential:

Comfortable breastfeeding positions after a C-section

For maximum comfort, you'll need to choose a breastfeeding position that doesn't cause baby to put weight on your incision.

The best breastfeeding positions for after a C-section include:

The side-lying position

  • Lie on your side and bend your knees.
  • Place baby on their side with their stomach facing your stomach.
  • The direction you point baby will depend on what's more comfortable while your incision still heals:
    • Standard side-lying: Their feet point at your feet
    • Inverted side-lying: Their feet point at your head
  • Make sure their face looks right at your breast, and their mouth lines up with your nipple.

The football hold

  • Place baby under your arm, so they’re facing you. Their legs will go under your arm and past your back, almost like you’re holding a football.
  • Support baby's head using your hand from the same arm. Let baby’s body rest along that forearm for support.
  • If you and baby need more support, or you need a way to relieve pressure on your incision, place a nursing pillow or other pillow under baby.
  • Make sure that baby’s chin is touching the lower part of your breast.
  • Cup and lightly squeeze your breast with your free hand, to help baby latch.

A modified reclining hold

  • Lie flat on your back. Support your head, neck, and shoulders with pillows if you wish.
  • Place baby across your shoulder on the side you want them to feed on.
  • The front of their body should be touching your shoulder.
  • Their arms should be spread out so one is on each side of your breast.
  • Cup and lightly squeeze your breast with your free hand, to help baby latch.
  • Support baby’s head and body as needed.

You can also try other breastfeeding positions, with a nursing pillow over your incision to minimize discomfort. In addition, you can ask a nurse or lactation consultant to show you other comfortable positions that take your incision into account.

More tips for breastfeeding after a C-section

Here are some additional tips for successful and comfortable breastfeeding, both while you’re still in the hospital and after you’re cleared to leave.

Consult hospital staff.

You’ll be in the hospital longer than most moms who give birth vaginally, so take full advantage of this time. Talk to doctors, nurses, and your hospital lactation consultant about any breastfeeding concerns, and ask them any questions you have. They’re here to help you nurse baby more confidently.

Take your pain relievers.

Taking your prescribed pain medication will make you more comfortable after a C-section. It will also help you nurse baby more successfully. Pain can keep you from releasing enough oxytocin (a key hormone that stimulates breastmilk let-down).

Most pain medications won’t interfere with breastfeeding – they are safe for baby, and not much of the medication will pass through breastmilk. But it’s still important to let your doctors know that you are planning to breastfeed before the C-section happens. That way, the doctors can find nursing-safe medicine options whenever possible, and tell you if the medicine is nursing-safe.

Some safe medicines can make baby a little sleepy, but that’s not a cause for concern – you can still keep breastfeeding.

Breastfeed often.

Even though you're in pain, breastfeeding frequently is key to starting and continuing successful nursing, and to building and maintaining your supply. Nurse baby as often as they need it – usually, this will be every 2-3 hours, even during the night. And as your incision heals, breastfeeding will get easier. You’ve got this, mama!

Hold baby skin-to-skin.

Skin-to-skin contact has amazing benefits for any baby, but it’s especially important if you couldn’t breastfeed baby right after birth due to the C-section.

This “kangaroo care” can help your baby establish a successful breastfeeding latch, even if they don’t get this valuable contact immediately after they’re born. One study showed that moms and babies who struggled with breastfeeding quickly established a more successful latch after being held skin-to-skin for an hour at a time.

Skin-to-skin contact also promotes successful breastfeeding because it encourages your body to release key hormones – oxytocin (which stimulates let-down) and prolactin (which stimulates milk production). So, it’s a key player in building and maintaining your milk supply.

Plus, skin-to-skin care helps you and baby bond, and helps lessen your stress – a bonus when you’re still healing.

Keep baby close to you.

You should have baby in the same room with you, as much as possible, both during and after your time in the hospital. This way, it’s easier to recognize baby’s hunger cues and feed them when they’re ready – key to smooth breastfeeding. Even if you can’t get up to reach baby, your partner or a nurse can help bring baby to you.

For baby’s safety, baby should sleep in the same room as you, but in a separate crib.

Get plenty of rest.

The process of a C-section can be both physically and emotionally draining. And the more rest you’ll get, the easier it will be to heal after a C-section. So, ask for help with household cleaning and meals, especially in the early days of your recovery. Your family and friends will be glad to assist you! Focus on healing, nursing, and bonding with your little one.

Don’t give up!

Breastfeeding through the pain of a C-section can be overwhelming. Be patient with yourself, and know that you’re giving an amazing gift to baby. For an added soothing touch when things seem tough, you can play relaxing music or drink hot tea before you nurse. It may take a little bit longer before you and baby find your rhythm, and that’s ok. If things aren’t going as expected, you can always talk to a lactation consultant for tips.

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