For the rest of this month I’m going to be talking about some issues surrounding birth. Since I’m freshly back from the SD Regional Breastfeeding Summit, I really want to give you some highlights of one of LindaSmith’s presentations on how birth affects breastfeeding.
I wrote briefly about this awhile back where I posted an excerpt from the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I had long suspected this was the case, and in recent months have found and received information and research verifying that yes, birth in fact *does* have an impact on the breastfeeding relationship. It actually can have a very big impact. So, I was very excited when I learned that this was going to be one of Linda’s topics. (insert happy dance for doula, blogger, and studying childbirth educator-to-be)
Ok, so what about today’s birth practices can have such a big impact and why?
Well, it’s going to be difficult to put all the information Linda gave us on this topic in one little blog post, so I’m actually going to do a mini-series on it, but let me give you the bottom line: ANY intervention can have an effect on breastfeeding and the breastfeeding relationship/ability of your baby.
Linda gave us the following practices that compromise infant status and/or feeding ability:
- ALL labor drugs - *including* epidurals
- Cesarean surgery
- Induction of labor
- Instruments (vacuums, forceps)
- Suctioning, intubation
- Separation from mother for ANY reason
- Maternal IV hydration
Today I’m going to talk about labor drugs that are commonly used.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard - from all sorts of different people…from other women to medical providers to random strangers on the Internet that epidurals are safe – that they don’t reach the baby anyway, so really all that’s happening is mom is more comfortable as she labors (well, sometimes she is – that’s the goal anyway).
I’m going to repeat Linda here: All drugs reach the baby within seconds. Period.
First of all, several types of analgesia given to the mother during labor may interfere with the newborn’s spontaneous breast-seeking and breastfeeding behaviors and increase the newborn’s temperature and crying (1) and disturbs newborn behavior in general. There can be *measurable* effects for at least 30 days after birth! (Sepkoski) Can you believe that? No wonder some babies sleep so much!
Epidurals are actually a combination of narcotic (i.e. fentanyl or morphine) and anesthesia (i.e. bupivacaine or lidocaine) that is administered via a small catheter into a woman’s epidural space in her spine. Each hospital and anesthesiologist will differ on the dosages and combinations of medication, so you may want to talk with your provider about theirs. One reason to ask about dosages, is that there are significant negative effects from high dosages of fentanyl. In fact, in the study that Linda cited, the conclusion was that among women who breast-fed previously, those who were randomly assigned to receive high-dose labor epidural fentanyl were more likely to have stopped breast-feeding 6 weeks postpartum than women who were randomly assigned to receive less fentanyl or no fentanyl. (2) And as we know, not breastfeeding is a risk to baby's health!
There are other reasons that epidurals and drugs in labor affect breastfeeding…since all of these drugs go directly into baby’s blood, baby is actually altered and can have a more difficult time feeding, latching on, etc. Drugs can undermine a mother’s confidence, block or reduce endorphins that are released in labor (endorphins are natural pain relievers), and can also suppress onset of lactation because the baby isn’t feeding effectively enough.(3)
So, if you don’t get anything else from today’s post, please just be really educated about risks vs benefits of things like epidurals and other drugs that are often given in labor and delivery. Drugs can have a significant effect on not only your birth, but your breastfeeding relationship with your baby and success, so please weigh your options carefully before proceeding.
In the next post, I’m going to go through even more birth practices that Linda talked about that have shown to have an effect on breastfeeding.
- Ransjo-Arvidson, A., Matthiesen, A., Lilja, G., Nissen, E., Widstrom, A., & Uvnas-Moberg, K. (2001). Maternal analgesia during labor disturbs newborn behavior. Birth, 28, 5-12.
- BeilinY et al. Effect of labor epidural analgesia with and without fentanyl on infant breastfeeding: A prospective, randomized, double-blind study. Anesthesiology 2005, 103(6), 1211-1217
- Smith, L., Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding 2012, Drugs for Pain Management Clinical Implications, 12.