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Breastfeeding and anaesthesia

Australian Breastfeeding Association breastfeeding counsellors are frequently asked about this issue, whether it is the mother or her baby having surgery. In all cases, it is important to discuss with the surgeon and anaesthetist when it is safe to begin breastfeeding again after surgery.

The baby

The Australian website, allaboutanaesthesia has the following information:

"Children, and especially infants, do not tolerate long periods of fasting or restriction of fluids, which might quickly lead to dehydration. It is usual to try to minimise the fasting time for children for food or milk to six hours before the operation. Cows’ milk or formula is not emptied quickly from the stomach and is considered to be similar to solid food. Breastmilk, on the other hand, is emptied from the stomach more readily and a shorter fasting time is more appropriate. The length of time is often determined by the usual feeding pattern of the infant. Children may drink clear fluids up to two hours before the time of the operation. Parents should consult with the anaesthetist for advice in individual cases."

A parent information pamphlet about breastfeeding and anaesthesia from the Australian Society of Anaethetics can be found here.

Many breastfeeding mothers faced with this issue find that they need to be out of sight of their babies for that shorter fasting time. It is a great help if their partner or a family member can entertain the child until the time of the operation.

Depending on the length of time before the baby is able to breastfeed again, the mother may need to express for her comfort and to maintain her milk supply.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol #25: Recommendations for Preprocedural Fasting for the Breastfed Infant may also provide helpful information.

The mother 

Ask beforehand if you will be given medications after your surgery. Check that these will be compatible with breastfeeding.

The mother will in most cases be able to breastfeed up until the time of surgery. If you need to fast for surgery, the anaesthetist will be able to arrange for you to receive fluids by a drip to help keep you hydrated and protect your milk supply.

Once you are conscious, breastfeeding is usually safe - discuss this with your surgeon and anaesthetist.

However, you may feel woozy and even nauseous. You will need someone (your partner, family member or a friend) to be with you to care for your baby.

The information on this website does not replace the advice of your health care provider.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association, Reviewed February 2021

Last reviewed: 
Feb 2021