How Labor and Delivery Can Affect Breastfeeding

Different experiences can affect early breastfeeding success

Labor and delivery aka your birth story is something you will talk about for years to come.  One thing that isn’t often discussed is how different labor and delivery experiences can affect early breastfeeding success. While medicated labors, including those with an epidural or IV fluids, are not a problem for all women and babies, you can improve your odds for a successful start at breastfeeding if you can limit or avoid these interventions during labor. Babies born to moms who receive pain relief during labor, such as with an epidural, can be sleepier than those born to moms who get little or no pain relief and a sleepier baby means less active breastfeeding during the first couple of days.  Also, because IV fluids during labor can cause or increase breast engorgement, it is best if they are used in a limited capacity or not at all.

Breastfeed as Soon as Possible After Birth

Try to breastfeed your baby as soon as possible after delivery, whether a vaginal delivery or by c-section. Generally speaking, babies who are breastfed within the first hour after birth are usually more successful at breastfeeding than those who are not.  You can also talk to your doctor to find out if some of the post-birth medical procedures can be slightly delayed so you and your baby can get to know each other through skin-to-skin contact during that first breastfeeding experience.  It’s important for baby to latch on and nurse uninterrupted and often or “on demand” especially in the early days to establish  breastmilk supply and ensure baby gets colostrum, your antibody-rich first milk.

It is also a good idea to have your baby in your hospital room with you, sometimes called “rooming in.”  There may be reasons why your baby is taken to the nursery but you can request that your baby remains with you and is brought to you to nurse without any supplementation.  By rooming in together, you can learn your baby’s feeding cues and you can nurse on demand, which, again, will be helpful in establishing your milk supply. It’s a little harder to do this if you have to wait for baby to be brought to you.  While the benefits of breastfeeding are better understood than ever, it is still possible you will encounter people, including some hospital staff, who are less supportive of your decision to breastfeed.  Just remember that you are your baby’s best advocate and it is important that your wishes are respected.

Another option is asking your doctor to include in your medical chart that your baby is exclusively breastfed so the nurses know your wishes upfront.  You can even specify that you prefer your baby not have any supplementation without your knowledge or to be given a pacifier as these can interfere with the early establishment of nursing.

If you need help, try not to get discouraged or stressed out.  Ask to see the Lactation Consultant or breastfeeding counselor.  If there is no breastfeeding educator or specialist at your hospital, there are local resources who can help.  It can be hard when you’re tired and adapting to so many changes, but try to remember that you’re not alone and you don’t have to figure all of this out on your own. You and your baby are both newbies here – chances are you’ll both need a little help and every nursing session is practice to get the hang of it!

Snuggle, Cuddle, and Nurse—Learn Together!

You and baby have been through an incredible experience and it is important that you snuggle, cuddle, and nurse as often as you can. You and baby can continue the bonding that started when she was in utero.  Breastfeeding is natural but does not always come naturally so learning together is the best way to ensure that your journey gets off on the right start!