Our bodies are designed to birth and breastfeed our babies. This is what I learned as I prepped for the birth of my first. The natural cascade of hormones ebbs and flows at just the right moment to allow for the magical experience of giving life. But what happens when that flow of hormones hits a sudden wall with an unexpected or planned c-section birth? What happens to the natural transition into breastfeeding?
I found out quite quickly that the interruption my ebbing and flowing continued into my post birth journey. I did not realize, at the time, that it would have such a dramatic effect on my physical and emotional recovery. I did not have the knowledge of how to pick up from where the birth left off. And I certainly did not give myself the compassion and patience that is essential while recovering from major surgery, all while taking care of my new baby.
Breastfeeding was my next step in my new mom journey and the previous days events certainly had a marked effect on it. But it did not have to. If I were better prepped for breastfeeding, regardless of my birth story, in the same way that I prep expecting parents now, I would have not been so overwhelmed by the experience.
Years later, as a lactation consultant and naturopathic doctor, working with both expecting and new parents, I know that c-section births and breastfeeding are not mutually exclusive. Both can exist within the same experience.
Below is some of the information and tips that I would suggest for expecting parents to review:
C-section births are associated with delayed lactogenesis II, meaning a delayed transition of colostrum to breast milk and often a delayed initiation of breastfeeding. Under these circumstances, a parent’s commitment to breastfeeding plays a major role its duration. And let us not forget, a caesarean birth is major surgery, and therefore the recovery, the pain and mobility must also play a role in the postpartum and breastfeeding experience.
Before the birth:
Get educated on how breastfeeding works and the steps that you can take to support your experience. Because of the potential challenges in breastfeeding after a c-section birth, it is so important for new parents to get educated before the birth and understand breastfeeding specifics so that they can pick up where the birth left off, no matter what kind of birth they have. This education is ideally done in the third trimester. Regardless of the kind of birth you have, this information is invaluable for first-time parents. Check out The Complete Breastfeeding Blueprint to get that head start!
Have your supports ready to help! Regardless of the type of birth you have, you will need help. Keeping your supports up to speed with your breastfeeding intentions, will also help them understand where your priorities will lie once the baby arrives. They will understand the importance of the first 2 weeks postpartum as breastfeeding is being initiated and be able to support accordingly.
Rest, eat and drink healthily and enjoy the days leading up to the birth. Going into the experience feeling calm and rested may set the tone for your birth experience and certainly help with recovery.
If you are having a planned c-section, speak to your Naturopathic Doctor to find out how your recovery can be best supported.
After a c-section birth:
Place the baby skin-to-skin with you in the operation room and in recovery whenever possible. Otherwise, the baby can be skin-to-skin with the other parent or closest support. Skin-to-skin offers both physical and emotional benefit to both the baby and the birthing parent.
The hospital staff will be monitoring your level of comfort and awareness until you feel confident in holding your baby on your own. You may need some time to sit up comfortably to hold your baby. Take your time. Do not rush your progress. You will be able to hold your baby comfortably, in several breastfeeding positions in a couple of days.
Allow baby full access to your breasts. The suckling, bonding and oxytocin released by having baby latched will help to initiate your breastfeeding experience and feel calmer.
Practice the steps to support milk transition and your breast milk supply by frequently stimulating and emptying your breasts via breastfeeding, hand expressing or pumping. A baby born via a surgical birth may be lethargic, especially if the birth followed a long labour, so expressing your milk might be necessary in the early days. If this is the case, skin-to-skin is especially important.
Be gentle and kind with yourself. You just went through major surgery. Your body can pick up where the birth left off by resting, nourishing, hydrating and of course having your little one close by.
For more information on how you can prep and educate yourself or for assistance with your postpartum and breastfeeding journey, book a complimentary 15 minute call with Melanie Jacobson ND IBCLC, or book in for an in-person visit on Tuesdays at Dupont Naturopathic Family Centre.