C-sections can cause problems with breastfeeding – however, most of them have solutions! Here are 7 common breastfeeding problems after a c-section along with what you can do to solve them!
Whether you are planning on natural birth or a cesarean section, it’s important to think about breastfeeding long before your due date.
Preparing to breastfeed in advance could give you higher chances to ensure successful lactation even if things didn’t go as you planned them during labor. Nobody is guaranteed they won’t have an emergency c-section, after all.
Research shows that women who have c-sections are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and more likely to supplement with formula pretty quickly after birth. I’m all about moms being able to make the best decisions for their families – and if they want to breastfeed, I think it’s important to allow a mother to be setup for success, regardless of how she gave birth.
If you want to be totally prepared to breastfeed – and especially be able to conquer any breastfeeding problems that might come up – make sure you take “The Complete Online Breastfeeding Class“. This class was developed to help moms be able to make informed decisions regarding their baby. You can take it from your couch and in your pajamas – even in the middle of the night – and you have access to the information FOREVER.
But now – let’s talk about some of the problems that can surface in regards to breastfeeding and c-sections. I think it’s important to not just share the problems but also the solutions, so those are included as well!
Problem #1: Problems Due to Anesthesia
There are several types of anesthesia you may receive for a c-section, however, most of them may make you and the baby feel sleepy and weak.
If you get general anesthesia, the breastfeeding process is usually delayed until it wears off, while in case of an epidural you may breastfeed shortly after the surgery.
The good news is – most of the time, you aren’t going to be put under general anesthesia. Your baby may still feel tired from the anethesia that was given.
If you are dealing with a sleepy baby, that can be really overwhelming, especially if they won’t eat. If you are able to get your baby to latch, you can try and hand express directly into their mouth.
Giving your baby breast milk in some form or another can help them to rouse a little bit more, which can lead to more effective nursing. Here is some additional information on sleepy babies.
If your baby isn’t accepting the breast at all, you can try and hand express and spoon feed or syringe feed. Again, this can help give them a little more energy.
If your baby is having trouble latching because they are tried, syringe feeding can be a great way to help them learn to suckle, and cup feeding can help with their tongue movement.
And if they aren’t interested? Do lots of skin to skin! This can help regulate their temperature and blood sugar, and when they are that close to the breast, they may start to try and latch when they are ready! Skin to skin can be a mother’s best friend when it comes to breastfeeding – especially after a c-section!
If YOU are the one who is sleepy – that’s okay! If you are completely exhausted, then it’s very likely that you will get frustrated and feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to ask someone to hold the baby for a little bit so you can rest – reach out to your postpartum nurses if you are struggling.
Even if you can just get a good hour in, it can help you feel more ready to overcome the initial challenges that may come with breastfeeding.
Problem #3: Pain
All mothers who give birth will experience some kind of pain – regardless of the method of delivery. However, surgical births do tend to have more and different pains associated with them.
This can be from the incision site, from gas pains, just to name a few. They can make breastfeeding uncomfortable and interfere with the letdown reflex.
The pain from a mother’s incision site can also make it difficult to nurse her baby in certain positions.
When it comes to pain, the most important thing is to manage the pain. It’s important to have some kind of pain management strategy in place after you give birth, and thankfully, if you give birth in a hospital or birth center, they should be able to help you manage your pain well.
A lot of mothers worry that they can’t take certain pain medications while breastfeeding. While there are some that you definitely shouldn’t take, there are quite a few that you can take that are compatible with breastfeeding. While the hospital should be able to navigate this pretty well, you can always reach out to Infant Risk for their advice.
Gas pains are also common after c-sections, and some moms find it hard to breastfeed through these. Requesting a gas pill can help a lot and should be compatible with breastfeeding.
In regards to discomfort with certain positions, if something is painful – don’t just suffer through. There are several different breastfeeding positions to consider.
Problem #4: Stress
Sometimes things don’t go as you have planned.
Statistics show that over 30% of babies in the US are born via emergency c-section.
This may be devastating for moms who were planning on natural birth. The guilt and hard feelings may negatively affect milk supply.
The majority of moms feel lost and discouraged after the emergency c-section because they know nothing about breastfeeding after the surgery.
On top of that, the pain after the cesarean birth could seriously shatter their ability to manage their emotions and cope with physical discomforts which may result in delayed milk production.
Working with an IBCLC immediately following a c-section can be really helpful for combating this. If you are feeling overwhelmed, angry, or upset over how your birth went, it can be really helpful to talk to someone as well – a hospital social worker is a great resource as well.
I find that dealing with stress after you give birth is much more manageable when you have a good support network. Seek out a breastfeeding support group (either online or in person) as well.
And of course, preparing to breastfeed before you give birth can help you manage some of the ups and downs of breastfeeding as well, even when things are going wrong. My online breastfeeding class is a great solution for moms, because they can access it 24/7 – right when you need it most (which is often the middle of the night!)
Problem #5: The Delayed Production of Breast Milk
Milk production is signaled to start when the placenta is delivered…and really, your body doesn’t know if it was delivered vaginally or via c-section.
However, it is not uncommon to have delayed milk production after a c-section, and it’s actually more likely due to the lack of postpartum care and support for breastfeeding than anything.
Mothers who have c-sections are less likely to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour, start pumping if baby isn’t able to nurse, or to practice skin to skin right away – all of which can play a part in how fast your milk supply comes in.
However, there are plenty of mothers who have had c-sections, and they had no delay in milk production. Again – education and support can make a big difference.
Here are a few tips for helping your milk come in faster:
- skin-to-skin with the baby as soon as possible
- frequent nursing
- start using a breast pump every 2-3 hours if you’re separated from the baby
- try breathing techniques to manage stress
- drink more fluids
Problem #6: Excessive Infant Weight Loss
Babies born through c-section are at a higher risk of having a bigger percentage of weight loss after they are born.
This is actually often due to the extra fluids that are pumped into mama and baby prior to giving birth – and the baby’s birth weight is inflated.
I personally wish that they’d take the official birth weight at 24 hours postpartum to give a more accurate view of baby’s weight – especially in cases where fluids were used – but I don’t make the rules 🙂
It is not uncommon for a baby born after a c-section to lose up to 10% of their birth weight. Many hospitals will say anything past 7% is an automatic cause for supplementation. While supplementation may be necessary, if this comes up, I would strongly recommend looking at the birth, discussing fluids, and seeing if baby is doing well otherwise (nursing well, having good output, etc.)
Obviously, we don’t want any dehydrated babies, but having an open and honest discussion about the WHY is essential.
One thing that can be help to combat infant weight loss after birth is hand expression and feeding that colostrum as a “dessert” to your baby. I talk a lot about hand expression in this post – How to Hand Express Breast Milk – and the Amazing Reasons Why All Moms Should Know How to!
One of the benefits of hand expressing soon after birth is that they have found babies who are routinely given hand expressed milk after they nurse have less weight loss. If you hand express within the first hour, it can actually increase your milk supply later on – so I would definitely recommend this.
Beyond this, as I already mentioned – discussing with your doctor whether or not the weight loss is justified due to extra fluids and coming up with a plan from there can make a difference.
Problem #7: Early Supplementation
When a baby is born through c-section, they are much more likely to be given formula right away than mothers who have a vaginal birth.
Sometimes it’s necessary, other times not so much. However, early supplementation (especially when it’s not properly, can make it very difficult for a mother to initiate and sustain breastfeeding and her milk supply.
If supplementing is brought up, make sure to ask why. Ask to talk with an IBCLC to come up with a plan that will allow your baby to thrive while preserving breastfeeding and your supply.
Sometimes formula is given just because your baby and you are separted for a short time – and in most cases, that’s not really necessary.
If it is determined that donor milk or formula supplementation is necessary, then you should be informed of the different methods of supplementing, be set up on a hand expression or pumping plan, and be given a plan to get baby back to the breast.
And remember – a supplement doesn’t have to be formula. The first choice is your own milk – it’s very possible that you can hand express or pump milk to give your baby (I have heard of moms who had their baby’s father hand express for them on the OR table and give the baby that milk because they were too exhausted to do so themselves. Pretty cool!)
In an ideal world, this would all happen in the hospital setting…but unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. I talk about supplementing in-depth in The Complete Online Breastfeeding Class, so make sure you signup so you can make an informed decision if supplementing is on the table.
Problem #8: No Golden Hour
The Golden Hour is the “prime time” after giving birth for optimal baby/parent bonding, initiation of breastfeeding, and introduction to the world for your baby.
It’s something that is recommended more and more – so it can feel devastating to think you may not get to experience this if a C-section occurs.
First off – I want to tell you that if you don’t get to experience this, you will be okay. While there are lots of great benefits, there are MANY mothers who have gone on to successfully bond with their babies and breastfeed without it (myself included – with my first baby, I had him vaginally – and they took him away for quite some time after he was born for no real reason but to measure and examine him. And he was my best breastfeeder!)
It’s okay to be sad about it, but there are lots of other things you can do to ensure breastfeeding success.
While most c-sections don’t allow for immediate skin to skin or latching while mother is still in the OR, it’s actually becoming more common place to allow for this to happen.
Gentle C-sections – or family-based c-sections – are becoming more common place. It’s something that I recommend researching and discussing with your care provider. Here is a great article on preparing for a Gentle C-Section.
My friend who is a L&D nurse has found a lot of moms don’t feel comfortable doing skin to skin while still on the table, which is understandable. But with a little support and help, it can be possible. If you aren’t able to do skin to skin, your husband or partner or other loved one can!
Breastfeeding Pillow for C-Sections
There are a lot of different breastfeeding pillows out there, but if you are looking for one that would be especially great for c-sections, check out this one from Mama Llama Baby. It is so comfortable and customizable for all new moms, but if you had a c-section, it can make it easier to find a position that feels comfortable for you. BFMAMA10
I hope that this post has helped you to feel more empowered when it comes to breastfeeding after your c-section.
More Breastfeeding Posts You May Enjoy:
- Breastfeeding and Gestational Diabetes: Everything You Need to Know
- The Ultimate Guide to Dairy-Free Breastfeeding (From a Dairy-Free Mom)
- Pacifiers and Breastfed Babies: What All New Parents Need to Know
Katie Clark is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.