Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yes, You Can Breastfeed After a C-Section!

PART 1: My Story

My beautiful baby girl entered this world after 36-hours of labor and an emergency c-section. There were complications from the surgery that led to my being sedated towards the end of the procedure. I vaguely remember the relief I felt hearing my daughter’s first cry before she was quickly taken to a nearby table where a team of respiratory therapists worked to get her breathing. Then the lights went out. (Note: this is not standard protocol for a c-section! Most c-sections are done with either a spinal block or epidural, during both of which you remain awake the entire time). My husband's instincts drove him to follow our daughter wherever she went that morning so that she would not be alone. He watched her get her first bath and have different tests done while I was still heavily sedated. I really wanted to breastfeed. So it was also important that he stay with her to ensure that she was not given any unnecessary supplements.

I awoke in a daze several hours later in a recovery room before being wheeled into the nursery to meet my daughter for the first time. My first impression was not quite love at first sight. I remember thinking: “That’s my baby? But she’s blonde!” I assumed she would have inherited my own dark hair and eyes. I felt disconnected, as many women do after delivering via c-section, and I felt disappointed that I had missed out on bonding with my daughter the moment after she was born. She wasn’t put on my chest to nuzzle and nurse and I was not the first person to hold her. Not to mention the fact that she didn’t look anything like me!

After I had settled into a postpartum room, my daughter was brought to me from the nursery. She was ravenous and a little fussy by the time she got to me. I had planned to breastfeed from the start, but I hadn’t planned on having a c-section and having to wait several hours after her birth to feed her for the first time. Luckily, I had filled out pre-registration papers at the hospital stating that I was planning to breastfeed and that I didn’t want her given any supplements or pacifiers unless medically necessary. I was so excited to breastfeed, hoping that, even though everything else about my labor and delivery had not gone according to plan, I would get a second chance to bond with my daughter by providing her with the milk that my body had made especially for her.

As my daughter attempted to latch onto my breast for the first time, she seemed almost in a panic to find the nipple. She was bobbing her head (rooting) and making little whimpering sounds. Her whole little body was tense. When my hungry child finally latched onto my breast, she sucked for a minute or two and then fell asleep. I became worried immediately. She needed to eat, and I felt it was solely my responsibility to nourish this helpless human being! No pressure at all. I now know that my expectation for this "perfect" first feeding was unrealistic. Newborns don't follow any rules! My daughter and I had to learn to breastfeed together, and that took a lot of practice.

I had taken a breastfeeding class prenatally where I learned several techniques to help wake a sleepy baby to feed. I undressed her, flicked her feet, rubbed her cheek, talked to her, etc. Luckily I was able to arouse her enough to ensure that she fed frequently. From our research with moms and babies, we've found that the BEST way to wake a sleepy baby is to use a variety of positions, touch, and words. Later, as the effects of the medications from the c-section wore off in her little body, as well as in mine, she became more effective with sucking and fed for longer periods of time.

While it was great that my daughter was more awake and alert to feed, my own pain level peaked as the medications from the delivery wore off. I remember feeling a searing, sharp pain in my abdomen (from the incision) every time I tried to sit up in bed to breastfeed my daughter. I was lucky to have great nurses who kept my pain under control with medication so that I could be comfortable enough to nurse. Still, I needed help getting her out of her bassinet and positioning her for every feeding for the first few days.

There is no doubt that breastfeeding after a c-section is challenging, but with a little help, you can have a positive breastfeeding experience!

Next time: Part 2: Tips for Successfully Breastfeeding After a C-Section


  1. This is a fantastic story! It's so great that you all share such personal stories.

  2. That is a great story. I think that in birthing classes, they should really stress having a feeding plan from the get-go. I had a non-planned c-section. I did not have any additional complications, but my son did, so he was in the nursery shortly after I left the recovery room. Though I had always planned to breastfeed, it wasn't until about 10 hrs after the birth (when my son was more stable and my sedation had worn off) that I realized that I wasn't going to be able to nurse my baby. It took another couple of hours, and some major fumbling on my part, to begin pumping. The pump and I became very close over the next 2 wks, and was able to start nursing my son at 13 days old. We made it to 9 months old before we moved to formula full time. I always say that breastfeeding was the hardest thing I have ever done, but the most worth it.