The Truth About Breastfeeding After a C-Section

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Image via Meghin Hyson

C-section is one of the most common surgeries in the world. In the United States, one in three mothers will experience a c-section. I am one in three.

My first son was born by c-section after a very long and exhausting labor. My postpartum recovery was horrible and emotionally draining.

Additionally, my baby and I struggled with breastfeeding during those early weeks. I have many friends who had a c-section and breastfed. Not all of them had difficulties breastfeeding after their surgery, but other moms struggled right after birth and for weeks after that.

Check out these stories from real moms to see the range of experiences possible.

“I had a really positive experience with breastfeeding after my c-section with my second child. After I left the operating room, they took me to recovery where Addy met me about 20 minutes later. She immediately latched on, and my milk came in two days later. We went on to nurse for two years.”

–Caitlyn Smith

“The biggest challenge I had with breastfeeding after a c-section was drifting off to sleep while nursing because of the IV morphine and Gravol. When I'd fall asleep, my hold on baby would lessen, and he/she would end up with a very shallow latch, which caused a lot of nipple trauma/damage. I got no advice for that one because I needed those meds.”

–Laura Nelson, mom of 2

“I didn't have any problems producing milk; however, when my twins were born, one of them went to the nursery for observation, and she needed something to help regulate her blood sugars. They told me they were giving her formula.

“I begged them to let me go down and try to nurse her, but they wouldn't let me since I'd just had a c-section, despite the fact that I'd moved myself off the operating table. I have no proof, of course, but I feel like the fact that the first thing she had was a bottle is the reason she NEVER latched (without a shield). That was devastating for me.”

–Rhyannon Curry

“I was pretty gorked out and sick after my c-section for about three solid weeks. I couldn't move my body as I was used to. I was also afraid my incision would open back up, so I was moving super gingerly (turned out it opened back up anyways).

“My daughter had issues latching that honestly I was too out of it to work on as hard as I guess I should have. She was finger fed (mostly) for the first month by my husband and his HUGE fingers.

“Afterwards, I have always used a shield, which some people still criticize me for using. It pisses me off to no end. When I was finally OK to work on latching, it took both myself and my husband (and a visit or two with a lactation consultant) to help her eat. Several times, I just laid there as my husband held her to me to eat. Breastfeeding truly has been a family affair.”

— CarrieAnn Pope

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Image via Flickr/ Harald Groven

“I had no issues breastfeeding after a c-section at all. I had all three kids via c-section and breastfed all three. The hardest time breastfeeding any of my kids was when Olivia was in the hospital with pertussis, on life support.

“I was unable to breastfeed her due to her being on life support, so I had to pump every two hours day and night to ensure she got nothing but breastmilk. I was 17 years old myself — hardest time in my life, but she was worth it.”

–Aimee Phinney

“I had a great experience. As soon as we got into recovery, which was very soon after the c-section, they put him skin to skin and tried to get him to nurse. The nurses were worried because he wasn't latching, but the lactation consultant got him on just fine.

“It was tough to get up and down by myself, and then being hooked up to the IV after posed some challenges. I loved my nursing pillow and my pressure band for my c-section. My husband and the lactation consultant was a great support system, too!”

–Olivia Douglas

“I had an emergency c-section and didn't see my son until he was 3 days old due to complications for me and baby. While we were apart, I pumped, which was very difficult due to many complications.

“It wasn't until he was 2 weeks old that I could hold him and try breastfeeding. We had super, super support from the NICU staff. He only had formula once, and I just weaned at 26 months. I recommend the football hold and a thick boppy to lay across you while nursing so you don't irritate your incision.”

–Ms. Diamond

“Both of my children were born via c-section. I think nursing as soon as possible both times helped us be successful.

“While in the hospital, the football hold worked so well with my daughter, and once I was home with my son, I learned the clutch hold. Also, we did a lot of skin to skin while in the hospital to help my milk come in.”

–Annie Stauffer

“Brayden's birth, via c-section, was very traumatic. I didn't see my son until 2.5 to 3 hours after the birth, and I think that affected our breastfeeding relationship.

“Since I had to go to the recovery room for the hospital and not the recovery room in L&D, I was there forever before I could see Brayden. Once I had him in my arms, I believe the skin to skin helped us have the breastfeeding relationship.

“I had low supply and fought hard to increase it. We tried all the nursing positions, but laying down was the only one I could bear from the pain of the staples. I was able to breastfeed exclusively for six months, then I had to supplement with donor milk until he was 14 months.

“By the 14th month, I dried up. He continues to be on donor milk to this day; our goal is two years as recommended.”

–Tiffany Crayle

Did you breastfeed after cesarean? If so, please share your story with us in the comments.

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The Truth About Breastfeeding After a C-Section

Mindi is a working mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and an infant (born June 2013). She spent her first 8 years of her career in Speech-Language Pathology at a Children's Hospital. She currently works with adults and children in home health. The real fun for her happens when she is at home with her boys, chasing them around and pretending to be a super hero. She blogs about life as a working mom at Simply Stavish. Her weekly feature, Words in the Sand, teaches parents how to grow their child's s ... More

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18 comments

  1. Profile photo of Danette Danette says:

    I had a very healthy 1st pregnancy with my Son. My pregnancy with my second child, Lovely, was very complicated and scary. I had preclampsia due to chronic hypertension, which I had before I got pregnant with the second one. I gave birth via c-section at 37 weeks. Lovely had to be in the NICU for one whole month. I didn’t stay and left for home because (having my daughter unexpectedly 2 months early) put me and my husband in a financial nightmare. I had 3 other babies at home (I adopted my 1st child, got pregnant, and adopted again…and got pregnant again!). It was very hard for me to leave my daughter, but with NICU’s live cameras, I was able to see my daughter all day everyday, whenever I wanted to. We watcher her grow, it was amazing! Especially because she was born at 3 pounds <3 During the month I was home, I pumped every two hours every single day, because I wanted to breastfeed my baby so bad. It was very challenging! I ripped and bled, but didn't give up. Finally, after a month had passed, I went to pick up my daughter. She latched on right away! Every since then, I couldn't put her down. We have a bond that nothing can break. She is now 9 months, and still breastfeeding.

  2. Profile photo of Steph Steph says:

    With my second pregnancy I started developing pre-e and had a C-Section at 35+2 weeks. He was sent straight to the NICU and I didn’t see him for roughly 8 hours after birth. I had a lot of trouble staying awake for periods of time, even when just holding him, so BFing wasn’t really on my mind. We tried latching him twice, but he was so small and sleepy that it didn’t go anywhere. I decided to keep pumping and did so exclusively for about 7 weeks.

    As the last couple weeks went on I noticed fewer bottles in the fridge and soon was just pumping for the next feeding. When he was roughly 8 weeks old I stuck my boob in his face to see what he’d do with it. He latched right on like a pro! It took a few days to transition from bottles to exclusive breastfeeding and he went on strong until 15 months, when I decided to wean him.

    He’ll be 4 in September and I’m still thankful everyday that I gave it a try. It was an amazing experience!

  3. Profile photo of Jennifer Jennifer says:

    I just had my first child, he is only six and a half weeks old now. He was only born when I was 33 weeks and 3 days pregnant, and was coming feet first, so of course only 10 hours after my water breaking and me delivering his little foot the doc finally called emergency c section. I spent 2 hours in recovery before they wheeled my bed into the nicu to see my son. But they made him try to latch on the second I got in the room and when they sent me back to my room they made sure the first thing I did was start pumping to get the milk to let down. When I would be able to visit my son we would do skin to skin and they also made me use a nipple shield so my son could latch on easier. How we taught him to actually start breast feeding though is by having him stick the sheild in his mouth and than we would take a syringe and squirt breast milk in his mouth and after a few times of that he realized what was going on.
    But the next step for us was being able to get him use to a bottle too so he will eat when I’m at work. So what I have been doing is letting him breast feed changing his diaper to wake him back up and than I feed him an once to two onces more by bottle after his diaper change. We started in the nicu to get him off the feeding tube(well my son actually took it out himself with a big smile on his face) but I continued it at home and it’s great cause he has no problems eating from a bottle while I’m working. Well my son has no problem eating in general, he gains over an once a day.

    • Profile photo of Krysta Krysta says:

      I have noticed that in the U.S. they are obtrusively pushy about making your baby latch on right away. However, in many countries it is acceptable not to breastfeed for the first two weeks. Contrary to popular belief, your baby does not actually “forget” how to latch on. I have had two children which I breast fed months after they were born suddenly. It was difficult because my milk would burst out all at once and the baby would choke on the amount and then there would be nothing left. I believe the more you try the easier it will eventually get.
      My question for mothers that breastfeed after their C-section is why are you specifically having trouble? Is it because your having to take pain meds and the drug is passing through your milk making your baby sluggish? What is the real issue? I had my children naturally, but for my third child I am hoping for a C-section due to unresolved kidney and bladder issues. What problems will I encounter while nursing after the matter?

  4. Profile photo of Liz Liz says:

    I breastfed all 3 of my children after having C-sections. After 13 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. My daughter immediately started sucking and was very easy to breastfed. She reluctantly was weaned at 14 months. My two sons are different stories. If one of them had been born first, I might not have stuck with breastfeeding. My older son seemed like he didn’t know what to do when I tried to feed him. My younger son only wanted to nurse on one side. Both sons were self weaned by about 9 months. One lost interest; the other started biting, which was very painful. I’m glad I was able to breastfeed my children. It was best for them, as well as easier and cheaper for me. I’m not sure how mothers afford formula. It was terrible having to pay for it the few months I used it for my sons. I would encourage all mothers to try breastfeeding.

  5. Profile photo of Cody Cody says:

    Wish I could have had this support like some of these ladies did. My Fiance was great but after a 19 hr labor and an hr pushing my son got stuck and was losing oxygen. Due to complications we were separated for 12 hrs. I was the last to meet my son, and I couldn’t even try to bf him for a few days, I tried to pump but the LC at our hospital was a complete B**** and gave me so much grief even though I did everything I could. After 2 weeks of not being able to keep up and pump I switched to formula, I was totally fine with that decision and it made things so much better for me and my family.

  6. Profile photo of Hailey Hailey says:

    I wound up have a cesarean after 2 days of labor. It was such a relief once they told me they were going to perform the surgery. It was quick and painless and I had absolutely no trouble nursing my son. I didn’t get to hold him until about 30-40 minutes after he was born but I put him skin to skin immediately and he latched on right away. It was truly a blessing.

  7. I had an emergency c-section with my daughter, couldn’t see her for 12 long hours, and then breastfed her until past two years old. My son was also born via crash save his life emergency c-section. He was in the Nicu for three months and for most of it had to be fed via gavage tube. I pumped each day and it too about a month to teach him how to latch and feed on me without choking and coordinating breathing. I am now able to breastfeed him normally and have done so for the past three months since he left the hospital.

  8. Profile photo of STARLA STARLA says:

    Does or has anyone else had a uncomfortable feeling about breastfeeding in front of your partner? I am really struggling with that. I should have my daughter any day now but I just can’t see doing it with anyone around especially my daughters father. ANY ADVICE?

    • Profile photo of Hailey Hailey says:

      I felt a little weird about it too with my husband of 10 years 🙂 it’s something to get used to but like the other ladies said, once you go through the birthing process and then you hold that little miracle, you won’t care anymore. You’ll just want to feed your baby and enjoy those moments together. And I’m sure your partner will see you in a whole new lovely light as well. 🙂

    • I assume that unless you dig IVF or IUI you probably had sex with this person?so they’ve already seen you naked and vulnerable. Anyway after about 48 hours of breastfeeding you start to not care who you feed in front of. You just want to satiate your child. I have nursed in front of my parents, brother, union square park in NYC, busy stores, city streets, lobbies, inlaws, restaurants, you name it. Would do it at work in public too–did it at a work party in the wide open public. You just get used to it.

    • Profile photo of Sarai Sarai says:

      Once you experience labor delivery in of her father, the issue of privacy goes out the window.

  9. Profile photo of Trista Trista says:

    Thank you for this article but also thank you for this picture! It’s so beautiful to see a mother feeding and nourishing her child. There is a lot of controversy on showing such pictures but you did it anyway. Bravo!

  10. Profile photo of Keith Keith says:

    Well, my spouse is having trouble breastfeeding 6 months after the surgery. We’ve tried things to help her produce but nothing seems to be working besides maybe dark beer.

    • Profile photo of davie davie says:

      I had the same issue, and I made my own lactation cookies(added extra Brewers yeast and oatmeal) and they work like magic. The dark beer is just a plus.

  11. Profile photo of Bridget Bridget says:

    My daughter did great the first two weeks or so. I had a 50% chance of C Section, so while it did end in an emergency delivery, I was conscious and able to hold her as soon as we returned to our room. The lactation consultant was amazing, and things went well.
    HOWEVER, I tend to react poorly to just about any narcotic on the market (extra loopy, cranky, etc.), and at my 2 week check up the nurse practitioner was ready to put me on Zoloft. I knew I wasn’t going to breastfeed on an antidepressant, period, (and having been on an antidepressant before, I knew it was meds/the baby blues). So we discussed other options to help me keep my sanity, the most important being sleeping. The nurse practitioner told me to have my husband give her a bottle of formula at night (I was still establishing my supply and hadn’t played with my pump, so it wasn’t suggested). I know there are much worse things than formula, but I really wish I had tried pumping sooner. I’m going back to work this week, hoping to pump more and build a supply for her dad/caregivers…

  12. Profile photo of Dorothy Dorothy says:

    my 2nd child i wanted badly to breastfeed. She was a c-sec baby. I was told it would be unsafe due to all the medicine i was on. It was so hard when my milk came fully in and she wanted it! I wanted to feed her. We got past the hurtles on formula. I later found out i could have breastfed after all 2 years later.
    with my final child who was born early my milk NEVER came in. Not even a little. We don’t know why.

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