If you’re preparing for a Cesarean delivery, then you know you’ll face a unique recovery. But what about breastfeeding after a C-section? You might be asking one of the following questions: How soon can I breastfeed? When will my milk come in? Will my incision hurt when I breastfeed? Don’t worry another minute, we’ve got you covered! Below we discuss in detail what you need to know about breastfeeding after a C-section.
Breastfeeding After A C-Section: Can I? YES!
Good news! If you’ve had a Cesarean delivery, you will still be able to breastfeed your baby (3; 4). Let’s discuss some hurdles you may face and tips for breastfeeding after a C-section.
Potential Impacts On Breastfeeding After A C-Section
A Cesarean delivery is a major abdominal surgery! You will probably be on pain medications for 7-10 days following your baby’s birth. It can take up to 6 weeks until your incision fully heals. If your pain medications are not keeping your pain under control, then call your doctor immediately (3; 6). If your pain is not manageable, then it can interfere with your oxytocin (the hormone that makes milk) (4). This isn’t a situation where you should “tough it out!” Be patient with yourself as you recover.
If you have a long and difficult labor that results in an unplanned C-section, then you will probably be exhausted! Your doctor may be worried about your rest and recovery (3), which can be hard when your sweet new baby needs to eat every few hours!
Delaying the First Feeding
Research emphasizes the value of the first hour of your baby’s life. Called “the Golden Hour,” it is recommended that you hold your baby skin-to-skin straightaway and for the first hour through the first feeding. Depending on the circumstances of your C-section, you may not be able to hold your baby immediately, so the Golden Hour can be delayed a little bit (6). If you have an epidural or spinal block, you should be able to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as the C-section is over. If you have general anesthesia, you will have to wait until you wake and your doctor decides that you can safely hold your little one.
Although a vaginal delivery can help prepare you and your baby a little more for breastfeeding (e.g. vaginal birth squeezes fluid out of your baby’s lungs, hormones help your baby stake awake (1)), your body prepares to breastfeed for months before birth! Colostrum (baby’s first milk) will be ready to nourish your baby whenever he or she arrives. Your milk-making hormones will kick start when the placenta is delivered (whether vaginally or by C-section). Your full breast milk should come in 3-4 days following delivery (the same as a vaginal birth). As long as you feed your baby soon after birth and frequently, your body will know to produce milk.
Needing Help Moving
Because of your incision, you will need help maneuvering you and your baby to get in the right position to breastfeed after a C-section.
More Prone to Infection
C-sections can cause you to be more prone to infections than vaginal delivieries (5; 6). Infections can cause more discomfort or sore nipples, but you should still be able to breastfeed your baby. If you develop any infection, speak with your doctor about any impacts of medicines and antibiotics on breastfeeding.
Baby Might Be Sleepy
Because of medications and anesthesia, your baby might be a little sleepy. At first, it might take some effort to interest your baby in breastfeeding after a C-section (4).
If you have a C-section, particularly if you’ve had an unexpected C-section, you may feel a range of emotions. You may have had a traumatic labor and birth experience. Or you may be shocked when things didn’t go as you planned. You may be angry at your doctor. Or you may be frustrated either with your baby, your partner, or yourself. And you may be anxious about your baby’s overall health.
Though some baby blues after delivery are normal, you may experience more intense emotions such as disappointment, anger, detachment, frustration, post traumatic stress, or depression (3; 6). These strong emotions can impact your hormones, and as a result, they can impact your ability to breastfeed after a C-section.
You are not alone! Many women experience this emotional letdown. Though some of the tips below can help, it is vital that you talk with someone! Be open with your partner, and talk with a hospital counselor or therapist as soon as possible.
Tips for Breastfeeding After A C-Section
The most important thing you can do for breastfeeding after a C-section is to hold that sweet baby skin-to-skin! If possible, ask for your baby to be put skin-to-skin immediately, whether on your chest or cheek, after she is delivered. If you are unable to be skin-to-skin with your baby, your partner should hold your baby skin-to-skin until you are able (2; 3).
The smell and touch of skin-to-skin contact helps both you and your baby in the following ways:
- Helps trigger your milk-making hormones (6)
- Bonds you and your baby (6)
- Helps calm you and your baby (5; 6)
- Improves maternal satisfaction of the birth experience (3)
- Lowers stress and anxiety (3)
- Helps initiate breastfeeding ASAP
Start breastfeeding after a C-section as soon as you feel able, with the support of a nurse and your partner. A positive first experience breastfeeding can make all the difference (3)!
Breastfeed On Demand
Breast milk works as a supply and demand system. The more your baby eats, then the more your body makes. So, feed that baby when she wants! Newborn babies do not eat on a schedule. Look for hunger cues and feed your baby straightaway. When breastfeeding after a C-section, feed her as often as she wants, as long as she wants.
If possible, keep your baby with you at all times following birth at the hospital. Keeping your baby close to you will undoubtedly help regulate your hormones and emotions (3; 6). Additionally, you will be aware of when she gets hungry.
During the first several days, be sure someone is always there to help you lift, maneuver, and feed your baby. Most hospitals are becoming more family-centered Cesarean birth friendly. You can check your hospital’s policies on 24-hour baby rooming in and partner rooming in months before your due date (1; 3).
Take Your Meds
As mentioned before, pain can inhibit your ability to breastfeed after a C-section. If you wait too long to take your medications, then you might be in lots of pain (4). So it’s best to take those meds on time! In most cases, little of this medication is passed on to your baby through your breast milk and are safe to take while breastfeeding. If you have any concerns, then talk with your doctor.
Ask for Help
Be assertive! Super mama, you will undeniably need help in those first few days and weeks after your C-section. Your body will have limitations. Do not be shy about asking your partner and/or nurse to help you get situated (1). Because recovery and breastfeeding a newborn are a full-time gig, ask someone to help manage your household chores, meals, and/or older children (4).
If you are having any concerns or struggles with breastfeeding after a C-section, then reach out to a lactation consultant ASAP.
Most importantly, try to be open about your feelings and emotions during this precious time. Do not be ashamed to ask for help. Talk with someone. You are amazing, mama!
Positions for Breastfeeding After A C-Section
Finding a comfortable position is a guaranteed hurdle for breastfeeding after a C-section. Your incision will make it hard to sit up or get situated without help. You will want to protect your incision from your baby’s weight, wiggling, and feet.
Make being as comfortable as possible a priority! It’s so important that you are comfortable and don’t strain yourself while trying to breastfeed. The last thing you want is to add a sore neck or sore back onto everything else you’re going through! Use lots of pillows and ask your partner for help.
Breastfeeding After A C-Section: Find A Position
Typically, moms use one of the following positions to breastfeed after a C-section:
- Football Hold
- This position keeps your baby off of your abdomen, as you hold her to the side of your body.
- Lying Down
- This position is helpful to use if it’s too hard for you to sit up.
- Cross-Cradle Hold
- This is the most common breastfeeding hold for newborns, but it may be painful if you have a C-section. If you find that it’s the easiest for you, then be sure to protect your stomach with pillows.
Breastfeeding After A C-Section: It Gets Easier!
As your incision heals and as you gain experience nursing your baby, breastfeeding will get easier! Though C-sections may cause a few extra hurdles, you should be able to breastfeed your baby with no major problems. Is it worth it? The short answer is YES, YES, YES! Breastfeeding has many benefits for baby and mom. You’re amazing, mama!
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- Injoy Health Education. 2016. Understanding Breastfeeding: Your Guide to a Healthy Start (Seventh Edition). Longmont, CO: InJoy Birth & Parenting Education..
- Lauwers, J., Swisher, A. (2021). Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide (Seventh Edition). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
- Meek, J.Y., Yu, W., American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding (Second Edition). New York, NY: Bantam Books Trade Paperback.
- Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide (Fifth Edition). Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
- Rosenthal, M.S. (2000). The Breastfeeding Sourcebook (Third Edition). Lincolnwood, IL: Lowell House.