The Way You Give Birth can Impact Breastfeeding

 Photo courtesy of  Valentina Yachichurova , used under Creative Commons  license .    

Photo courtesy of Valentina Yachichurova, used under Creative Commons license


Getting breastfeeding off to a good start begins before birth. While there is absolutely no right or wrong way to have a baby, what many expectant parents don’t know is that some interventions during birth can affect breastfeeding.  Here are a few common interventions you may experience during your birth and what you should know about their potential impact on breastfeeding. Having a solid education of labor, birth and breastfeeding can help get your experience off to the best start possible.

IV fluids are commonly given during labor, particularly if you receive an epidural, are induced or have a cesarean birth. Unfortunately, if you are given copious amounts during labor, this can cause you to have excess fluid in your body, sometimes leading to painful or troublesome engorgement. This engorgement can make your breasts hard or cause your nipples to flatten, making it impossible for your baby to latch. Keep in mind that your baby can also gain "water weight", which he will loose in the days after birth because that extra fluid was never part of his true weight. This in turn may cause worry over your baby's weight loss and, sometimes, lead to formula supplementation.

Induction is popular among expectant mothers, with 1 out of every 4 births being induced, but it can affect your birth in a couple of ways. Most mothers who are induced receive large amounts of IV fluids and having an induction can increase your risk of having a cesarean birth, particularly if you are a first time mother.   Pitocin is the synthetic form of oxytocin, the hormone that causes uterine contractions, and is commonly used to induce labor. Unfortunately, research shows that women who receive Pitocin to induce or augment labor produce significantly less oxytocin in the days following birth. This has consequences for breastfeeding because without oxytocin, your production will slow and your milk won’t let down.

Finally, a cesarean birth can have a significant impact on your breastfeeding. It generally takes longer for your milk to come in when you give birth by cesarean, which means that sometimes you have to supplement with donor milk or formula. Often, mom and baby are separated or do not get immediate skin to skin, which can have a damaging effect on long term breastfeeding and milk production. Depending on the medications you and your baby are given, some mothers find that they are very sleepy or lethargic in the first day or two after birth, which can make it challenging to initiate breastfeeding. 

Young mum and baby.

Many common birth interventions may affect your early breastfeeding experience, making it harder in the short and long term. The good news is there are ways to avoid these interventions and ways to minimize their effects on breastfeeding! Getting breastfeeding off to a good start begins before birth. Taking a birth class will familiarize you with common interventions, how to reduce their use unless medically necessary, and how to minimize their effects on breastfeeding. Knowing the potential effects of common birth interventions and how to minimize their effects will help you make the most informed decisions for your birth experience.

Happy breastfeeding!