How a C-Section Affects Breastfeeding and 7 Tips for Success

a newborn baby on their parent's chest
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Many people deliver their babies by Cesarean section (C-section). Whether it's planned or unexpected, the surgical delivery of a child may make breastfeeding a bit more challenging at first, due to recovery from the operation. However, breastfeeding after a C-section is recommended and beneficial for both parent and child, if the parent would like to do so. Learn more about how to successfully breastfeed after a C-section and ways to overcome any issues that may arise.

Breastfeeding After a C-Section

Breastfeeding after a C-section is not only possible but medical experts recommend it as the healthiest option for feeding most newborns. However, learning to breastfeed after having major surgery presents issues that can make the process more difficult—but support is out there to help you navigate this skill. It's also helpful to understand the breastfeeding challenges you may face after a C-section so you can prepare for them. Some common experiences include the following.

Delayed Start to Breastfeeding

Depending on the type of anesthesia you have, you and your baby may be sleepy for awhile after the procedure. If you have general anesthesia (which is rare), you will be able to breastfeed once it begins to wear off and you are feeling up to it.

With an epidural or spinal anesthesia, you may be able to breastfeed while you are still in the operating room. More commonly, you will do so shortly after the surgery, in the recovery room.

Incision Pain

Pain from the incision site and afterpains from your uterus contracting back down in size can make it very uncomfortable to breastfeed. The side-lying and football hold positions are good choices while your incision is healing.

If you want to try nursing while you're sitting up, you can place a pillow over your incision site to protect it. It may be tough in the beginning, but breastfeeding will get easier as your body heals.

A Sleepy Baby

It's very important that you take your pain medication after you have a cesarean section. If you are in pain, it will be harder for your body to heal, and you will be more uncomfortable while you breastfeed. Some medications are safe to take while you're breastfeeding, so be sure to tell the doctor you'll be nursing your child.

Even though the pain medication will be safe for the baby, some of it may pass through the breast milk and make your newborn sleepy. The sleepiness caused by the pain medication is not harmful to your child, but it can be a challenge to breastfeed a sleepy baby.

Delayed Milk Production

If you have a cesarean section, it may take longer for your milk to come in compared to if you have a vaginal delivery. You'll want to put the baby to breast as soon as possible and breastfeed very often to stimulate milk production.

If you and your child are separated after delivery (for example, if either of you needs extra care), you will not have the chance to begin breastfeeding right away. Ask to use a breast pump if you will be separated for more than 12 hours so you can start to stimulate your breasts to produce milk. Pump every two to three hours until you can put the baby to your breast.

Complex Feelings

If the surgery was very difficult or if it was an emergency that you were not prepared for, your physical and emotional state may interfere with breastfeeding. A traumatic birth or unexpected C-section may cause sadness and a sense of failure. If the birth did not occur the way you imagined, you might also be feeling a sense of loss.

These are common emotions, and you are not alone. Talk about your feelings and accept support. Keep in mind that breastfeeding your baby may actually help you get past the difficulty and sadness.

7 Tips for Post-Cesarean Breastfeeding

It may be more difficult, but you can definitely breastfeed after a C-section. These tips can help.

  1. Start breastfeeding as soon as possible. If you have an epidural or spinal anesthesia, you'll be awake, so you may be able to breastfeed right away. However, if it's necessary to have general anesthesia, your recovery will take longer. If you can't breastfeed right away, ask to hold your baby skin-to-skin. Then, put the baby to the breast as soon as you safely can. 
  2. Get help positioning your baby. Not only will you have an abdominal incision to protect, but you may have an IV line and a blood pressure cuff, too. The nurses and hospital lactation consultant can show you comfortable breastfeeding holds you may not have known about. 
  3. Breastfeed frequently, at least every one to three hours. You're more likely to be successful if you breastfeed early and often, though be mindful of your pain levels, and ask for support from the nurses and lactation consultant if you need it. 
  4. Keep your baby with you as much as possible. You will not be able to get up to take care of your child on your own right away, but if you have your partner, a friend, or relative stay with you, you should be able to keep your baby in your room. 
  5. Use a breast pump if you can't be with your baby. Pump every two to three hours to stimulate the production of breast milk.
  6. Take your pain medication. You will be more comfortable to breastfeed if your pain is under control. Medication may also help you relax so your body can concentrate on healing and begin making breast milk.
  7. Make use of the hospital resources. You will be spending a little more time in the hospital compared to someone who had a vaginal delivery. This allows you more time with the hospital staff and lactation consultant. Ask questions and learn all you can so you will feel more comfortable and confident when you get home.

A Word From Verywell

A C-section adds a few common obstacles to successful breastfeeding. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the pain and the physical and emotional exhaustion. Take your time, accept help, manage your pain, get enough rest, and stick with it. Breastfeeding will get easier as you heal.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hobbs AJ, Mannion CA, McDonald SW, Brockway M, Tough SC. The impact of caesarean section on breastfeeding initiation, duration and difficulties in the first four months postpartum. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2016;16:90. doi:10.1186/s12884-016-0876-1

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding.

Additional Reading

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.