Study says epidurals affect breastfeeding

Study says epidurals affect breastfeeding

“Women who receive epidural anaestesia during childbirth have difficulties breastfeeding their babies”

Epidurals, or spinal anaestesia, may hinder woman’s ability to properly breastfeed her newborn baby.

A team of Australian researchers looked at 1,280 women who had given birth, 33% of whom were given an epidural. Overall, 93% of the women breastfed their babies for at least the first week.

Australian study has found that women who are given an epidural have a harder time breastfeeding during the first week after their child is born, and that overall they are more than likely to stop breastfeeding their baby earlier, compared with women who had been given no pain relief during labour.

72% of women who had no pain relief were still breastfeeding when their children were 24 weeks old, compared with only 53% of women who received an epidural or the painkiller, pethidine.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
6 comments
  • With all due respect, the headline you supplied doesn’t quite accurately describe the news article linked (or, as far as I can tell, the study being summarized).  The article says that some mothers who have an epidural have difficulties breastfeeding; which is also true of some mothers who don’t have any pain medication during labor, which is also true of some mothers who have pain medication during labor that isn’t an epidural.  That just concerns the thumbnail of the article linked (admittidly, not a very good one in any case).

    As I am not able to access the full study through any quick means, I don’t know if it controls for women who have an epidural who later go on to require a C-section (a situation which is known to cause breastfeeding more difficult) or if it controls for other factors adequately.  All I read from the summary of the study is that it suggests that women who don’t have an epidural during labor are more likely (or, perhaps, more motivated) to continue to breastfeed for a longer time than those who do. 

    Love the blog, though.  Really.  grin

  • Domenico,

    I had my kids in the early 70s when you had to be a pioneer to do either of these, let alone both, but…..

    So, this doesn’t surprise me a bit, actually.  Women who give birth with minimal medical interference are much more likely to feed with minimal medical interference. 

    Interestingly enough, in the years since, the medical establishment bought into the ‘natural birth’ idea but then co-opted it, in a manner of speaking.  “Lamaze classes” are now held in hospitals but the number of women giving birth without unnecessary medical interference is down and caesarians have tripled.  I’m not sure why but the whole mindset has changed.

    So the goal now is to get women to do “some” breast-feeding and still not very many people are very successful.  They give people to much stuff when they leave the hospital—maybe that’s part of it.  You have to throw that stuff away on the way to the car.  wink

  • This is old news. One of the main arguments used by the Bradley people is:
    1.  EPidurals (like all pain kilers) don’t just relieve pain; they weaken muscles and impede functionality.
    2.  The woman can’t actively participate in the birth process when she’s on an epidural, both because her muscles are weakened and she’s more confined to one space.
    3.  Doctors must therefore intervene more to get the baby out—forceps, vaccuums, and increased rates of C-section
    4.  When a baby comes out totally naturally, they argue, the baby comes out healthier.  Forcibly pulling the baby by the head (especially forceps and vacuums) causes the hematomas that result in jaundice.  Pulling the baby out artificially doesn’t allow the baby to expel the lung fluid that comes out during a fully natural birth. 
    5.  Therefore, during those initial hours that are crucial to bonding, when the baby is “programmed” to start breastfeeding, the post-epidural baby has to be under all sorts of “medical attention” for things like jaundice & fluid that are side effects of the epidural.  Nurses stuff a pacifier in the newborn’s mouth.
    Thus,
    6.  The baby has problems learning how to breastfeed.

    We experienced that with our first (no epidural, but vaccum).  Less os with our second.  THe third was the first completely natural birth,and had very little post-natal care, and latched on just fine.

  • FWIW, my own anecdata (3 kids, one with epidural, one with no drugs at all, and one a scheduled C-section): the baby that has been breastfed the longest is the C-section baby.

    I think michigancatholic’s point is the most on-the-ball. This isn’t a controlled experiment. For the most part, those who don’t get an epidural are those who explicitly state that they don’t want one. This may be an indicator of those who are more apt to go the “all natural” route.

    I would have asked for an epidural on the second birth (actually, I was asking for it) if I wasn’t ready to deliver by the time they got around to offering an epidural. It’s kind of pointless when you’re just about to push. And I stopped feeding #2 before 6 months.

    For the third baby, I would have foregone the epidural if I didn’t need a C-section. And I’m still breastfeeding him (at 7 months).

  • The point of articles like these is to intimidate women into not seeking pain relief during delivery and make it more likely that they will have fewer children imho.

    7 c-sections, 7 breastfed babies, 6 epidurals, one general anesthesia.

    And I’m a little tired of hearing about “unnecessay c-sections. I’d rather have a healthy baby than a brain damaged one or die in child birth. Some women need c-sections. Some babies need c-sections. And in a few generations you have more women that cannot deliver naturally (they do not get selected out of the gene pool by maternal death) and hence an increase in the number of c-sections. 

    We should be encouraging more women to get w/ the program, have the babies that God sends them and stop agonizing over every insignificant issue the media or scientists raise to try to make women feel guilty.

  • I think the real question is: who many women are truly motivated to breastfeed? Many say they want to breastfeed, but when it comes to the pain, time, adjustment, cracked nipples, etc, they are ready to quit. Breastfeeding is a commitment.

    I have had 6 c-sections and have nursed them all well over a year. I ask to nurse in recovery and all my babies have nursed well while I was in recovery. But I was motivated to breastfeed.

    I think women who are motivated to suffer the pain of childbirth are more likely motivated to breastfeed even through the difficulties. But they have to be motivated for both.

    With that said, I have a friend who delivers without pain relief, but when it comes to breastfeeding, the struggle becomes too much.

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