We asked mothers how their C-section affected their start to breastfeeding
Catriana I remember skipping over the section on breastfeeding after a C-section in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding thinking it wouldn’t apply to me but I’m glad I knew where to look when it did. My son was fairly sleepy in the first few days but we were able to stay together day and night after his initial checks so that I could offer to feed him whenever he showed the slightest sign of hunger.
When my daughter needed to be in special care for a while after her C-section birth, her big brother helped establish my supply and she seemed to know just what to do when we were reunited and we never looked back. Having someone to pass me the baby and do the heavy lifting in the early days of recovery was essential. It’s hard to recover from major surgery while looking after one or more small people but breastfeeding gives you lots of excuses to put your feet up.
Marielle I’ve had two C-sections and exclusively breastfed both babies! Probably the hardest part was getting out of bed for night feeds in the early days, as it was very hard to go from lying down to sitting without help. With my first I slept sitting up on the couch and the baby was in a travel cot. With the second I got a big pillow I could use to sit up against and feed in bed, and I also brought the Moses basket into bed with me. You might need to get creative with sleeping arrangements!
I fed both of mine pretty soon after the surgery. With my first I first fed in recovery and I was so numb I couldn’t feel my breasts. With my second I was still getting stitched up when I noticed she was sucking on her swaddling blanket. The midwife helped me latch her on sideways because the sheet was still up, which was a very awkward position but she managed it anyway.
Fi I’m afraid to say mine wasn’t a very positive experience, but what I’ve taken away from it, and what I’d want to share with any pregnant woman (not just any woman who knows she’s going to have a Caesarean) is that it’s really worth spending some time thinking through labour and delivery scenarios other than the one you hope for. It’s all too easy to focus all your attention (as I did) on the lovely natural, active, drug-free birth you hope you’re going to have, but babies have a way of writing their own stories and I wish I’d been a bit more prepared for other eventualities.
The midwife disappeared moments after my son was born by emergency caesarean and it was left to the sweet but childless anaesthetist to try to help me latch the baby. Cue one failed attempt. As a first-timer, I found latching a newborn on the flat of my back impossible, and I hadn’t spent any time thinking or reading up on how this might work. The sister in charge of the recovery ward shooed away my mum and husband (it was just before dawn) and insisted the baby lie in his cot; which she left just beyond my reach. In shock from the op, I was very timid and British about all this. Now I’d be much more vocal about my baby’s needs and insist that I have him in my arms for those first few hours. As it was, it was probably five hours from birth until we got a proper skin-to-skin cuddle/second attempt at breastfeeding.
We had a very difficult start to breastfeeding, the baby failed to put on weight, and I struggled with supply: though I’m sure they weren’t the whole story, I think these factors didn’t help. That said, I did manage to exclusively breastfeed my son from twelve weeks and we’re still feeding now, at 16 months.
In terms of logistics, I didn’t find the early weeks too tricky, but I had a LOT of help, which I think was crucial. Our bedside cot was invaluable. I used every cushion and pillow in the house for support. Now that I’m a hardened co-sleeper, I’d definitely be trying lying-down earlier as a way of feeding baby without putting pressure on the scar, though perhaps you need to wait until you’re properly mobile, I don’t know. That’s another thing to read up/think about!
Zena I had an emergency C-section after 13 hours of labour and am still breastfeeding at 21 months. I was out of theatre within 40 minutes of Henry being born. He had been skin-to-skin the whole time. My sister (midwife) weighed him when we got back to my room so that once he fed I could keep him skin-to-skin uninterrupted. He latched on with only a little help from me after 45 mins of being born. He then remained feeding for two hours and skin to skin for the next seven hours!
Feeding progressed as expected over the coming days: it was frequent and educational for both of us! The challenge with breastfeeding after a C-section for me were that I was too sore to lie down and feed. I felt more comfy sitting up, so the first few weeks were very tiring. It is also tiring recovering from major surgery without having sleep and a newborn to look after so it’s important to get an extra pair of hands for a couple of weeks to do other chores so you can focus on resting, feeding and napping.
Emilia I had an emergency C-section. With hindsight, there are lots of things I could have done which would have helped to get breastfeeding established. I could have had skin-to-skin on the operating theatre or the recovery room, I could have tried biological nurturing. For various reasons none of that happened, so establishing breastfeeding in the early days was a bit difficult. However, with support, we went on to breastfeed exclusively for six months, and combined with other food, for many months after that.
Helen I knew I was going to have to have a C-section for medical history reasons. So I read Caesarean Birth – a Positive Approach to Preparation and Recovery, went to my local Children’s Centre for one pre-natal visit, and made absolutely sure that my obstetrician and the whole surgical team were on board for a Natural Caesarean. Most of all I made myself BELIEVE that having a Caesarean was absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t have a successful breastfeeding relationship.
I educated myself about what I was told were common pitfalls, and thought of ways of avoiding them. So, I wouldn’t wait too long for a feed whilst in recovery, thereby letting my baby’s blood sugar drop until she was too tired to feed and would need formula; I wouldn’t let her be taken away for weighing and Vitamin K so that her temperature dropped and they insisted that she be kept away from me etc. I would demand adequate pain relief so that I could put her to the breast as often as necessary, so that my milk would come in strong and fast. Having thought it all through, and been pretty firm with the staff at the hospital about how we were going to do this procedure, it all went swimmingly.
She latched on within 20 minutes of being born, whilst I was still in theatre being stitched up. She lay on me from the moment they lifted her out, vernix and all, and she started to bop her head up and down like a chicken searching for nipple within minutes. I made it plain that the first hour was mine and mine alone and all box ticking and medical procedure stuff could wait. We spent the next two days more or less constantly attached, and by day three my milk came in. We’ve been breastfeeding ever since (she turns 2 in January).
Edited by Emma Gardner, send your thoughts to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in Breastfeeding Matters issue 211 (Jan/ Feb 2016)