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How birth affects breastfeeding

It takes 60 muscles for an infant to master the suck-swallow-breathe reflex, so it’s no wonder that a baby’s birth affects their ability to breastfeed. But how much control do you have over during labor and delivery when it comes to giving your bundle of joy the best start to breastfeeding? From medications taken during labor to stress, discover seven things to ponder during pregnancy that may influence your infant’s breast milk intake after birth.


1Medications in labor

During your pregnancy, explore the possible effects different medications used during labor and delivery can have on of breastfeeding long before your baby makes her grand entrance. Clinical observations show that many babies have difficulty breastfeeding when an epidural is given to the mother. However, “everybody metabolizes medications at different rates, affecting them differently,” states Sara Chana, IBCLC, international board-certified lactation consultant, birthing instructor, classical homeopath and herbalist. “But overall, I believe epidurals affect the suck-swallow-breathe pattern in newborns, which may pose breastfeeding challenges. However, there are many reasons women may need epidurals, such as preeclampsia, and many cases where babies still feed like champs.”


Moms who undergo cesarean section can experience a delay in milk production. Typically, your milk does not come in until the fifth day following a C-section, again leading to supplemental feedings and nipple confusion.

Get tips on how to lose baby weight after C-section >>

3Position in labor

Although the length of your labor is not in your control, long labors, especially with posterior lie, can influence breastfeeding abilities. “Posterior babies can have TMJ, the clinching of the jaw, due to the pelvic bone pushing on the forehead of baby,” explains Chana. “A clinching of jaw makes babies clamp down and prevent breast milk from expressing.”

4Vacuum or forceps extraction

A possible temporary risk of suction or forceps extraction is that the procedure can cause irritation of the mouth for your newborn, deterring her from wanting to nurse. This delay in breastfeeding can lead to nipple confusion and delay in milk production after pregnancy.

Learn more about forceps during delivery >>

5Early birth

Whether born prematurely or induced early, some babies born even two to three days early can experience challenges when trying to learn to drink breast milk. “In utero, suckling reflex in babies is mastered last,” shares Chana. “For babies born before their due date, their suckling reflex may have not have kicked in yet, causing breastfeeding issues.”

6Baby bonding time

Whether your bundle of joy is whisked off to the NICU or has been toted away to be given a bath during her first few hours in the outside world, the quicker you and your newborn are separated after birth, the higher chances are your infant will have problems breastfeeding.

7Stress by the mother

Stress is a milk-buster, especially shortly after pregnancy. However, after labor and delivery, moms typically do not get the relief the human body needs to recover from the release of cortisol. “Typically, if moms and newborns are allowed to rest, babies will be up for four hours after birth, then sleep for eight hours. Moms who are allowed to seize the opportunity to rest as well can find the rejuvenation the body needs after labor and delivery,” explains Chana.

Doctor or midwife: which should you choose? >>

Seeking a doula or talking with your doctor during your pregnancy about a birth plan may help minimize your newborn’s challenges with breast milk intake. But regardless of your labor and delivery experience, you can cope with breastfeeding issues due to birth by getting help from a lactation consultant, breastfeed as early and often as possible, using a breast pump when you cannot nurse, avoiding bottles or supplements when possible, and engaging in skin-to-skin contact with your newborn — and focus on the joys of having a newborn instead!

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