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Ages & Stages

Breastfeeding After Cesarean (C-Section) Delivery

Many parents deliver their baby through cesarean section (c-section) surgery, rather than vaginal birth. Here's what you need to know as you get started breastfeeding your baby after the surgery.

Getting started: dealing with a few unexpected challenges

If the c-section was unplanned, you may have endured a long and difficult delivery. Your doctor may be more worried about your rest and recovery and less likely to encourage you to breastfeed right after delivery. You may also feel disappointed by this unexpected turn of events, which may inhibit the let-down and flow of your breast milk.

The good news is that having a C-section has little effect on your ability to nurse your baby. Your breast milk will come in almost as readily as it would have if you had delivered vaginally. It is especially important to begin breastfeeding as soon as you are able and to continue breastfeeding your baby on a frequent basis to ensure a good milk supply. Even if you need a few hours to recover from your surgery, you will be able to breastfeed as soon as you feel up to it.

Use of pain medicines during & after c-section

Most drugs administered to parents who give birth by cesarean delivery do not seriously affect the infant. You will probably receive a regional anesthetic, such as an epidural, rather than the general anesthesia that once made birth parents unconscious during the delivery. Since less regional anesthesia gets into your bloodstream than with general anesthesia, it causes less sedation in the newborn.

Will an epidural make it harder to breastfeed?

Still, some newborns tend to be a little sleepy following an epidural and may suckle with less enthusiasm at first. However, there are no known long-term negative effects on full-term babies' development or ability to breastfeed after regional anesthetics. Even if you are given general anesthesia, you should be able to breastfeed as soon as you're awake enough. When you are counseled about a cesarean delivery, it is a good idea to remind the obstetrician and anesthesiologist that you intend to breastfeed.

Will pain medications after surgery harm my baby?

To help make you comfortable after a cesarean delivery, your doctor may give you pain medications, initially through your IV and later in pill form.

In most cases, little of this medication passes through your breast milk to your baby. Some pain medications may temporarily make your newborn a little sleepy, but the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh this potential drowsiness. Pain interferes with the release of oxytocin, a hormone which helps your milk to flow readily for your baby, so adequate control of your pain is important.

If you have any concerns about the pain medication you are being offered, speak with your doctor or lactation specialist.

Breastfeeding comfortably after a c-section

Your abdominal incision may make finding a comfortable breastfeeding position a little more difficult at first. You might try adjusting some of the basic breastfeeding positions by:

  • sitting up in bed,

  • using one or two extra pillows to support your baby on your lap and protect your incision,

  • by lying down on your side with your baby facing you,

  • or by using a football hold with enough pillows to raise your baby's head to the level of the breast.

Make sure to get into a comfortable position before beginning to breastfeed, and don't be shy about asking for help. If you feel drowsy from pain medications or lack of sleep, make sure that someone is with you when you are feeding the baby.

As your incision heals and you are able to move about more readily, nursing will become much easier—but expect to need some extra rest and assistance until you are fully back on your feet again. Ask for or gratefully accept the help of family and friends with household chores, so you can concentrate on recovery from surgery and breastfeeding your baby.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding (Copyright © 2023​)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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