Many mothers ask, "Can I breastfeed after a caesarean birth?" The answer is YES! There is no reason why you should not be able to breastfeed successfully.
There are elective caesarean births, after which babies are usually quite alert, and there are emergency caesareans that may be more stressful for both mother and baby. There are also different types of anaesthetics used depending on the circumstances. Most mothers have an epidural anaesthetic or spinal block, so they are awake and alert throughout. Sometimes a general anaesthetic is needed but the mother usually wakes up quickly from this.
Fortunately, in the last few years, partners have been encouraged to be present in the operating theatre, to share the birth of their babies. Your partner can be an important source of moral and physical support and be involved with your baby from birth.
After the birth
Remind your doctor, the paediatrician and the midwives, that you wish to breastfeed your baby as soon as possible.
Try to have the handling of your baby by others kept to a minimum. In some hospitals the baby is placed in skin-to-skin contact with the mother while she is still on the operating table. As soon as the paediatrician is happy with the baby's condition, he is placed under the sterile drapes on his mother's chest while the doctor is stitching her up. If this is not possible, your baby may be able to be skin-to-skin with you in the recovery room. Breastfeeding can be a part of this loving and bonding time. Whatever anaesthesia you experience, it does not need to interfere with breastfeeding your baby.
Breastfeeding your baby
Although there may sometimes be short-term effects (eg a slight delay in your milk coming in), the way your baby comes into the world generally doesn’t impact on breastfeeding success.
Positioning of your baby on the breast is very important to help establish breastfeeding and prevent nipple soreness. Whatever hold you use, make sure your baby's body is close to you, chest to chest, chin to breast and nose away from the breast. For information about positioning and attachment, see the Australian Breastfeeding Association booklet Breastfeeding: an introduction, or refer to the Attachment to the breast article on this website. Positions you may find useful after a caesarean birth are sitting with a pillow on your lap to support your baby and protect your wound; lying down on your side; or with your baby in the underarm (or 'twin') position, with his feet towards your back.
No matter how your baby is delivered, night feeds are important for him to receive your colostrum and to begin learning to breastfeed. Night feeds help to prevent breast engorgement and to establish your milk supply.
When breastfeeding must wait
While it's ideal for a mother and baby to be in skin-to-skin contact straight after birth and for a baby to breastfeed within an hour of birth, not every caesarean mother can start breastfeeding immediately. You may have needed or asked for a general anaesthetic or your baby may need to be put in a humidicrib for a while to stabilise his condition. While early breastfeeding is helpful for baby and mother, there is one important thing you can do while waiting and that is to express your colostrum. Colostrum is like 'super' breastmilk and contains more concentrated protein and immunity factors than mature breastmilk. It acts as a natural laxative for the meconium, your baby's first bowel movement.
Time to go home
At the end of your hospital stay, your milk supply will still be adjusting to your baby's needs. Rest is important for any new mother, but even more so for the mother who has had a caesarean birth. Breastfeeding gives you a wonderful excuse to sit or lie down!
Some mothers find that they have a slower return to their normal energy level than if they had had a vaginal birth. As a caesarean birth is considered to be major abdominal surgery, take care not to lift or move anything that is heavier than your baby for at least 6 weeks, or until your postnatal check up, whilst your body has time to recover.
Do not let anyone persuade you that you cannot breastfeed after a caesarean. If you need some extra encouragement, do contact an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor, who will be very glad to help you with any queries about breastfeeding and, if you wish, you may be able to put in touch with another mother who has breastfed after a caesarean birth. More detailed information including a list of hints from other mothers can be found in the ABA booklet Breastfeeding: caesareans and epidurals.
Breastfeeding: caesarean births and epidurals booklet
Breastfeeding: Caesarean Births and Epidurals covers events that often happen during labour and birth and how they can affect breastfeeding.