It is possible to maximize breastfeeding potential by making certain key decisions during labor and delivery even if it doesn’t go exactly as planned.
Everything you do can have an affect on breastfeeding, starting with the pregnancy months. You can’t avoid labor and delivery, but you should know how it may impact your ability to breastfeed. With this information, you can make smart decisions that support your choice to breastfeed. You need to make some of those decisions before you deliver the baby, so it’s never too early to learn about labor, delivery and breastfeeding.
IV Fluids & Breastfeeding
A study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal in 2015 revealed that women who received IV fluids during vaginal labor and delivery were more likely to experience firm, tender breasts in the 10 days following delivery. Researchers noted that this breast swelling was due to the accumulation of IV fluid rather than engorgement due to overproduction of breast milk.
Any type of swelling in the breasts can make breastfeeding more difficult. Firmer breasts may make it more difficult for the baby to latch onto the nipple. Staying latch and expressing milk at a satisfying rate may become a problem as well. Breast tenderness can also make breastfeeding more painful for the mother.
What You Can Do: If your doctor orders IV fluids during labor, ask questions. If it’s not medically necessary, then you may have the option to safely refuse the fluids. You don’t want to get dehydrated because that can also lead to difficulties for you and the baby, but IV fluids aren’t always necessary in the delivery phase. You’re more likely to require an IV fluid drip if you have an epidural, so consider trying natural birth if you want to avoid fluids.
Forceps & Breastfeeding After Childbirth
Imagine gripping your baby’s head with oversized salad tongs. That isn’t a comforting image, but it’s basically what happens in a forceps delivery. Forceps are specialized medical devices used to guide unborn babies out of the womb and into the world. This is often done when immediate delivery is required due to a medical emergency. It’s also an option if your delivery stalls while you’re pushing, potentially putting the baby or you in danger.
Unfortunately, forceps often leave bruising on the infant’s head. They may also make your baby’s head and face tender and uncomfortable. Your baby may also have a cone-shaped head as a result of pressure from pulling with the forceps. All of this can leave your baby uncomfortable, which can negatively impact breastfeeding. You may have a fussy baby who is in pain in any breastfeeding position.
What You Can Do: Let your delivery doctor know that you want to avoid the use of forceps and other assisted delivery devices unless it’s medically necessary. Put this in your birth plan. Discuss the issue with all members of your delivery team when it’s time to deliver your baby. Make sure your delivery partner is well aware of this issue because they’re your best advocate if there are complications with your delivery.
Pitocin Induction & Breastfeeding
Pitocin is the man-made version of oxytocin. Women depend on natural oxytocin to bring on the contractions that lead to delivery of a baby. It also helps mothers bond with their new babies. If you guessed that a synthetic version of oxytocin could never deliver those exact results, you’re right. Pitocin can bring on contractions and force an early delivery of the baby, but it doesn’t work exactly like natural oxytocin.
Oxytocin is naturally produced in a mother’s body after delivering her baby, and it’s believed to play a critical role in breastfeeding. Research has shown that the administration of Pitocin to initiate labor can reduce the amount of oxytocin produced after delivery. This makes it more difficult for the mother to bond with the baby, which in turn may impact the amount of time spent breastfeeding and the amount of breast milk produced.
Research has also shown that Pitocin increases the chance that a woman will require a c-section. This leads to more complications after birth and longer recovery time. This can have an impact on the mother’s health, which directly impacts breastfeeding and the baby.
Finally, inducing labor increases the risk of a premature baby. Even if your baby is slightly premature, they may have more trouble latching than full-term babies. If you believe that you’re inducing labor after your due date, keep in mind that due dates are assigned by doctors, not babies. The only one who really knows when your baby is ready to enter the world is your baby.
What You Can Do: There are times when inducing labor with Pitocin is medically necessary. In those cases, the best thing you can do is remain aware of the potential complications for breastfeeding. If you have the choice between inducing labor and waiting until your baby is ready to make a natural entrance into the world, waiting is best.
Cesarean Section vs Vaginal Delivery
We noted above that inducing labor with Pitocin increases your risk of requiring a cesarean section. This can have a big impact on your breastfeeding efforts after birth. One research study that documented the births of more than 2,000 babies showed that women who experienced a c-section were far more likely to experience breastfeeding complications.
70 percent of the women involved in the study reported some difficulties with breastfeeding. Of those women experiencing difficulty, nearly 60 percent had experienced a cesarean section delivery. Some of the complications experienced by c-section mothers centered on a lower interest in breastfeeding and lactation struggles.
What You Can Do: Focus on stimulating a healthy milk supply as soon as your baby enters the world. Request a breastfeeding session and skin-to-skin contact as soon after birth as possible. Allow your baby to breastfeed on demand, which will tell your body how much milk is needed to sustain your new bundle of joy.
Separation After Labor and Delivery
Strong breastfeeding habits start immediately after birth. Your baby comes into the world with a natural inclination to seek nourishment. That’s only possible if medical professionals allow you to spend time breastfeeding right after birth. When you’re immediately separated from the baby, it interferes with your ability to establish healthy breastfeeding habits and a close bond with your baby.
What You Can Do: Write it in your birth plan that you want to breastfeed your baby right after birth. Discuss this point with your doctor in advance. Make sure that your delivery partner is aware of this issue so that they can advocate on behalf of you and the baby. There are situations that may make this medically unsafe, but many women can enjoy an immediate breastfeeding and bonding session safely.
Keep It Natural & Simple
The best thing you can do to maximize breastfeeding potential is keep your labor and delivery as natural and simple as possible. The more medication and interventions included, the greater your risk for breastfeeding complications.
Many hospitals and doctors include a variety of modern interventions in the birthing process. These interventions are typically designed to make labor and delivery more comfortable to the mother, but it’s important to question the impact on your baby and your breastfeeding plans. The more you ask for explanations and decline unnecessary interventions, the more natural and simple your birth will remain.