Breastfeeding after a c section is a completely different experience than breastfeeding after a vaginal delivery. And I had no idea this was the case until I actually had a vaginal delivery.
Before that, I had two babies via cesarean delivery so I had only known breastfeeding after a c section.
And let me tell you, learning to nurse a newborn is much easier when you didn’t just have your stomach cut open!
BUT- that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding after a c section is impossible. Or that it needs to be hard. It just means you’ve got some more learning to do!
If there’s one theme I have found in all of my postpartum recoveries it’s this:
knowledge is power.
The more you know, the easier it is to take care of yourself and baby.
So if you are a mom who is interested in breastfeeding after a csection then read up! You’re going to learn what to watch for with baby and how to help baby (and yourself) nurse more efficiently after a cesarean delivery.
The good news is there is really one major difference between nursing a baby who was born via csection vs. a baby who was born vaginally.
Are you ready?
Babies who were born via c section are more sleepy than babies born vaginally.
BOOM! Did I just blow your mind?
I didn’t realize this until my third baby was born. He was my first kiddo born vaginally He came along and was so alert and latched with ease. It was then that I realized it was because I wasn’t on major pain killers
After both of my cesarean deliveries I was on heavy duty painkillers (which is normal). Of course the pain killers were in my blood stream – and therefor my milk- and this made my babies really sleepy.
This isn’t a concern, the pain killers don’t harm the baby and YOU need them to recover. So don’t storm off and toss those pain pills just yet.
In fact, kellymom.com (a trusted parenting and breastfeeding site) suggests that there are pain medications that are compatible with breastfeeding. So you might want to discuss with your doctor which pain medications you will be receiving post-surgery.
Because my first two birth experiences were via cesarean I just figured that newborn babies are sleepy because, hello……they’re babies! Babies are sleepy.
And that’s true.
But babies who are born vaginally – or more specifically their mothers aren’t taking major pain meds to heal – are more alert when they are awake.
This means that they are ready and willing to nurse more often. Which gives you more opportunity to practice your latch. AND a more alert baby is a baby that will latch better and breastfeed more efficiently.
So it’s no surprise that breastfeeding after a csection can be challenging. Those sleepy babies really make you work to get them latched and nursing!
But I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to make breastfeeding after a csection a little easier. Just remember, breastfeeding takes a lot of practice. It doesn’t matter what kind of delivery you have had, it can take up to 6 weeks (or longer) fo you and baby to find a good rhythm.
Tips for breastfeeding after a c section
Ok, we’ve already established that cesarean babies tend to be a bit more sleepy. This is due to the pain medication that mom is on and is therefor passing through her milk.
Again, this is not a concern for baby’s health and safety. But you’ll want to be aware that baby might need a little extra help latching and feeding.
Offer baby plenty of opportunities to breastfeed
Ok, the first tip: make sure your baby has plenty of chances to nurse.
What I found with my csection nurslings is they were far more willing to sleep three hours (or more) at a time. Which sounds great, but that meant less chances to practice latching. And less time at the breast.
In those early days it’s important to have baby at the breast as often as possible. This will help you perfect his latch and establish your milk supply.
And if he is awake, I highly recommend offering baby the breast for any reason.
My motto is “when in doubt, whip it out”. If baby is hungry, tired, cranky, wanting mom, anything…..just put him on the breast!
Make sure baby is awake to nurse
This is the tricky part, it’s not good enough to just offer baby the breast, he has to be awake.
Babies know how to latch instinctively, they want that nipple in their mouth because they know it’s how they’re getting fed.
But…..and here’s the but……you might find that your c section baby struggles to really wake up and be alert.
That can be pretty normal (remember the whole pain killer situation??) so you’ll have to get creative in waking him up.
My number one trick is undress baby down to his diaper.
One of my favorite nurses once told me:
“A naked baby is a wake-y baby” (I know “wake-y” isn’t a word, she was trying to rhyme….it’s just a whole thing….)
Essentially what this means if you want to wake baby up, get him naked. That first feeling of cool air on their skin usually does the trick.
And don’t worry, baby will warm up when he’s snuggled against your breast nursing. Once he’s latched you could even drape a blanket over his body to keep him warm and cozy.
But not too warm and cozy……you’ll want him awake long enough to get a decent amount of milk.
Make sure baby is latched correctly
Checking that your baby is latched correctly is just good breastfeeding practice no matter what.
In fact, having a correct latch is probably my number one breastfeeding tip of all time. The latch will make or break your breastfeeding, so do plenty of research and ask lots of questions.
And just remember, if you’re in pain (like toe-curling, back-arching pain) when baby latches, he’s not latched correctly.
Having said that, knowing that your baby will likely be pretty sleepy, one of the biggest challenges in breastfeeding after a csection is a proper latch.
What you might find is a sleepy baby = a lazy baby. Meaning he’s not willing to open his mouth all the way for a proper latch.
Don’t be afraid to demand a proper latch from your baby. And by demand I don’t mean yell at your baby Gordon Ramsay style. I do mean unlatching and re-latching him until he is latched properly and nursing well.
With my second son I remember some nursing sessions when I would unlatch and re-latch him close to a dozen times before we got it right. But it was worth it because after about a week of that (it was a long, frustrating week) we were the perfect breastfeeding pair!
Try different breastfeeding positions
Trying different positions for nursing is also good breastfeeding practice. Regardless of how your baby was born. You might be surprised what actually feels comfortable (and successful) for you and baby.
Especially if you are breastfeeding after a c section you’ll want to try different positions. You might find the traditional positions – with baby lying across your tummy – is more than a little uncomfortable.
In those early days post cesarean surgery I found a football position to be most successful. This is where you tuck baby under your arm like a football!
This position allowed me to easily latch my son without irritating my tender abdomen. Also, I could then hold a plate of food in my lap…..but that’s another post!
BONUS TIP—- This is great csection recovery advice in general: use lots and lots of pillows to position you and baby properly. Even building a little nest of pillows in your lap can help you nurse baby in a traditional cradle hold.
Be patient when breastfeeding after a c section
Be patient. Give yourself plenty of grace. If you need to give baby a bottle sometimes because you’re in pain, that’s ok.
If you insist on nursing baby no matter what, that’s ok too.
I’ve done it both ways. What is most important is that you are listening to your body and to baby’s body.
Take care of yourself – this means rest, water, and good food. And be patient with baby.
If you are breastfeeding after a c section and you’re struggling, it’s ok. Be patient, it’s not impossible, it will get better! And remember to seek out professional help if you need it!
Do you have any questions about breastfeeding after a c section? Leave them below!
Updated Summer 2020 – The C Section Recovery Timeline
the complete guide to easing the pain of c section recovery