As a volunteer in my different roles supporting parents to be, a conversation that regularly occurs is about breastfeeding after an elected c-section. This often comes with questions like:
Can I successfully breastfeed after a c-section?
When will my milk come in?
Is my milk enough if the baby is pre term?
What if my milk doesn’t come in?
Will I need to formula top up till my milk comes in?
So let me put your mind to rest, for most people:
YOU CAN DEFINITELY SUCCESSFULLY BREASTFEED AFTER A C-SECTION!!!
Also, you already have milk. Colostrum is milk and is made and can be accessed throughout your pregnancy. Some people may even find that their breasts leak in the latter stages of pregnancy. Say it with me!
COLOSTRUM IS MILK!
Colostrum is your first milk. Often referred to as liquid gold, and it is exactly what your baby needs when it first enters this world. It is like a concentrated version of breastmilk that is full of antibodies to give your babies immune system a boost.
The whiter liquid that people associate with breastmilk, can take a few days to come in. Usually this is around 2 days, but with complications, and depending on how early the c-section was, this time can be more. However, remember that your baby’s tummy at 40 weeks, only needs a small amount of your milk! Which it can get from your colostrum. The more you feed, get skin to skin and breathe in the wonderful scent of your baby, the faster the whiter milk will come in. So, cuddle your baby as much as possible!
You can also try and express some colostrum off before the baby arrives which can help increase your supply. I will add a great video on hand expressing at the end of this blog. Remember, your baby only needs a small amount at a time, and hand expressing can be an easy way to collect your milk. You can get syringes to store your milk from your midwife or GP, and can discuss storing this in the hospital for your baby with them to.
The other side of the coin is that having a baby early, and through a c-section, could be because there are complications. Now in this case, I would imagine you would be pretty stressed and distressed especially if your baby is linked up to machines to help it along. Breastmilk, is linked to your emotions and these sorts of feelings can inhibit the transfer of milk from you to baby. So, remember to try and be as relaxed as possible, when feeding and expressing, because you matter more than you know. Perhaps you could go through some guided meditation first, listen to a chilled out playlist or looking at images of your baby can all help.
It is important to also remember that a c-section is a major surgery. You will be left with a scar across the bottom of your stomach and this can be tender. Like I said before, you are important when breastfeeding. Always make sure you are comfortable and not in pain, before feeding begins. For some, this might mean practicing different positions to feed that don’t put as much strain on the stomach. Side lying and the rugby hold are both very good for this. With my own c-section, I found that cross-cradle, slightly leaning back worked fine, and I was not in pain. So, experiment and find what is most comfortable for you.
If the baby is losing weight, or struggling to feed, get help. Remember, continued pain whilst breastfeeding can be an indication that something is not quite right. Getting help early on can really make all the difference. If the baby is not swallowing even when latched, you can help the milk along by preforming breast compressions and doing switch nursing. Again, I will add a link which also has videos of babies feeding. Note the throat movement as the baby swallows, which is a good indication of a well latched and feeding baby.
If, for whatever reason, you are struggling and the baby starts to lose weight, formula may be used to help baby get back on track and you can still breastfeed successfully after this. If you are topping up with formula, remember to keep on top of your own supply. You need to be breastfeeding or expressing somewhere between 8-10 times in 24 hours (or 10-12 times if the baby is losing weight). This will help maintain your supply and move your milk from colostrum to the whiter form. When things settle down, you can then remove the formula feeds one at a time. Formula takes longer to digest for a baby than breastmilk, so you might find that your baby then starts wanting feeds more frequently, which is fine.
If you do need help, you can contact the national breastfeeding helpline on 0300 100 0212. Or, you can go to your local breastfeeding support group.
I have touched on quite a lot today and could discuss a lot of these topics in more details but I’m going to stop there.
I would love to hear from anyone that has had experience of breastfeeding after an elected c-section. What are your top tips to help get the breastfeeding journey going?
https://breastfeeding.support/what-is-breast-compression/ (pictures and videos of compression)
https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/breastfeeding-resources/hand-expression-video/ (a great video on how to hand express)