Breastfeeding After A C-Section

Learning to breastfeed can be challenging for any mom, whether it’s your first child or your fifth. Every child is different and your body continues to change with each pregnancy. If your birth experience includes a planned or unplanned c-section, don’t panic. You can still breastfeed your child if you choose to and use that opportunity to bond and grow with your baby.

Once you’ve arrived at the hospital, communicate to your nurses that you’d like to have skin-to-skin bonding time with your baby at delivery, if possible. 

Most hospitals now offer and even recommend skin-to-skin contact with baby right after birth. Moderate your expectations, however; you will not be able to nurse your baby in the operating room in those immediate moments after delivery. That’s okay – you will need a few minutes to begin recovery, and it can take an hour or so for your body to realize that baby is earthside and begin churning out that liquid gold colostrum. La Leche League recommends that c-section mamas have their partner ready to take care of baby in the hospital to support you, “If you are too shaky or ill to start skin-to-skin in the operating room, your partner may be able to hold your baby skin-to-skin until you feel better or in the recovery area. If a general anesthetic is used, you can start skin-to-skin when you are awake and responding normally. If your baby is premature or ill, she may be taken to an intensive care area (NICU) for advanced care. Your partner should be able to stay with your baby. Once you have recovered enough, you can reconnect with your baby.”

Plan to bring a nursing pillow, such as a Boppy pillow, to the hospital.

Your incision after surgery will become increasingly painful once your spinal/epidural begin to wear off. In order to limit things touching on and around your incision, it’s helpful to have a dense pillow that can lift baby off of your abdominal region. Pillows like this are also very helpful because your physical strength after surgery will be very limited. It’ll be very nice to have the pillow to the “heavy lifting” of supporting your baby’s head so that your arm and shoulder don’t have to.

After surgery and once you have begun to rest and recover, ask the nurse if you can have the hospital’s lactation consultant come and observe you while you breastfeed. This way, you can have an expert watch and provide support and intervention while you work on that latch. You will be able to ask questions as they arise and make adjustments to avoid chapping and dry sucking from your baby. 

Ask your partner for explicit help.

Hospital beds aren’t exactly the most comfortable and forgiving in terms of room, and keeping your tiny bundle safe is top priority. Figure out what positions are comfortable for you while nursing in a hospital bed with a major incision, and have your partner ready to hold baby while you make little adjustments. You might also need your partner to help you adjust since surgery will take your strength and abdominal control. The same goes for when you arrive at home. Take time to figure out what positions are comfortable. What chair/s do you like to nurse in? Which specific pillows are most comfortable behind your back? Under your arm? 

Medications won’t interfere directly with nursing, but they will make you tired and drowsy. Listen to your body. If you are taking pain medications that make you sleepy, ask your partner to stand by while you nurse so that you don’t risk dropping baby if you fall asleep. KellyMom gives great advice on how to adjust your body (with help) after surgery for nursing:

  1. Begin with the bed in a flat position and side rails up.
  2. Use extra pillows behind the mother’s back for extra support.
  3. Carefully roll to one side while grasping the side rail and relaxing the abdominal muscles. Move slowly to avoid strain.
  4. To protect the incision from the baby’s kicking, cover the abdomen with a small pillow or towel.
  5. Place a pillow between the legs to minimize the strain on the stomach muscles.
  6. Lean back into the pillows behind the back.

Ask your partner for help with your nursing space at home.

Consider that you and baby are both recovering from physical trauma. Though you didn’t deliver vaginally, your lady parts will behave as though you did. Keep in mind that although your body will be able to breastfeed, it is unlikely that you will be able to walk very far, and your doctor will insist that you refrain from holding or carrying anything other than your baby for quite a while. Recovery takes time. Line a bath towel over your nursing chair to keep it clean and easily washable if you experience leaking blood. Find your favorite blanket or bathrobe and ask your partner to have it clean and ready for you before each nursing session. A bathrobe is nice to have because it serves as a blanket and sweatshirt without interfering with breastfeeding! Ask your partner to have iced water, any pain medications you need, and your book or kindle ready to read. A dim, warm light will provide a comforting glow that will help both you and baby stay awake.

Give yourself lots of time and grace.

Remember that your recovery is imperative to the health of your baby. Ask for help when you need it, and before if possible. Don’t worry about appearing “dramatic” or “overreacting” about your pain and adjusting to motherhood after a c-section. Both you and your baby have undergone major invasive physical trauma to bring you both onto the other side. Allow yourself to sleep as much as you can, and take your recovery slowly. Those first few months after a c-section birth are overwhelming in every way, and they will be behind you before you know it!


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