Whether you are recovering from a c-section and worried about getting breastfeeding off to a good start or planning ahead for breastfeeding after a scheduled c-section, breastfeeding your little one is very much do-able. That said, breastfeeding after a c-section comes with its own special challenges.
Childbirth is hard work. They don’t call it labor for nothing. And once the baby arrives, your little bundle of joy requires round the clock care and feeding. If you are new to motherhood, there is a very steep learning curve as you step into your new role and new life. Now factor in recovering from major abdominal surgery at the same time. It’s fair to say you will need a little extra TLC and support during the early days and weeks.
When all goes well, the new mother and baby can still enjoy that special time together immediately after birth often referred to as the golden hour. In the best of circumstances, hospitals today strive to facilitate this important bonding experience immediately after cesarean delivery, right on the surgical table. After months of waiting, you finally get to meet your little one and hold her close to you, skin-to-skin.
But there may be special concerns for your well-being or for your baby’s well-being which must take priority. If the first bonding experience is delayed, do not despair! The special bond between you and your baby will only grow over time and cannot be broken by a separation of a few minutes, hours, or even longer.
When you do get to hold your baby close for the first time, unwrap your little one and move your own clothing out of the way so that you and your baby can be skin-to-skin.
Babies are hard-wired to expect this type of contact. They respond with calm, intelligent curiosity and purposefully seek the breast. Whenever this first contact occurs, it is a magical moment for the new mother.
Some mothers are concerned that medications they take after their c-section may be harmful to their baby. Speak with your OB-GYN about your concerns. Let her know you plan to breastfeed. In all likelihood, the medications you will be prescribed after childbirth to manage your pain will be safe for your baby and compatible with breastfeeding.
Colostrum / Pumping
If you and your baby must remain separated, it will be important for you to start extracting colostrum after the birth, within the first hour or two after delivery when possible. Hand expressing colostrum generally yields more volume than using a breast pump in the early hours. Here are the summary steps to collect colostrum:
- Gather clean and sterilized syringe and a larger sterilized container beforehand.
- Use your hand to cup your breast with your thumb and fingers around the nipple.
- Gently squeeze and release with your thumb and index finger to create a rhythm.
- Collect the colostrum with the syringe and transfer it to the larger container if needed.
- Move your fingers around to try a different section of your breast and repeat when the drops slow down.
- Repeat the process for the other breast.
Here is a great video that demonstrates how to hand express.
Positioning Your Baby at the Breast
Let your nurses (and your partner) help you position your baby at the breast and get you comfortable. Use pillows and blankets to protect the incision area. Consider using the cross-cradle or football hold—with baby tucked next to you under your arm with her shoulders and neck supported by your hand. Use pillows to prop your arm while you hold her so that you don’t have to do all the work of supporting her. Or try a side-lying position, with a pillow or rolled blanket supporting your incision area, one at your back, and one tucked between your knees or thighs. Use a rolled washcloth to prop your breast to meet your baby’s mouth as needed. Kellymom.com has detailed instructions for the side-lying position in the hospital after c-section. Link here (scroll down). Also check out our Laid Back Breastfeeding blog post for more ideas on breastfeeding positions.
Set Realistic Expectations
Once discharged from the hospital and at home with your baby, you will need to enlist the help of your partner, family, and friends. In the early days and weeks of your recovery, you will need help picking up your baby and assistance with most household tasks. It’s important to go easy on yourself and allow your body time to heal. Doing too much too soon can slow your recovery. Let your support team nurture you, so that you can nurture the baby.
In time, you will heal from your c-section and the breastfeeding challenges you face will be the same ones faced by any new mother, no matter how your baby arrived. If you have any feelings of sadness or loss because your childbirth experience did not go as you had hoped or wished for, breastfeeding can restore your confidence in yourself and in the strength and power of your body.
Wishing you success and happiness along your breastfeeding journey!