A research study by the University of Sydney concludes that epidurals “hamper breastfeeding” (BBC News). Several factors may be at play:
– an epidural can make the baby sleepy;
– women who get epidurals are more likely to end up with a cesarean section, and c-sections can make it more difficult for the nursing mother to pick up the baby and position the baby at the breast; and
– mothers who choose not to have pain relief may be more motivated to breastfeed.
The study doesn’t really report anything we didn’t already know. This simply tells me that women should consider planning for a birth with the least possible amount of medical intervention, and prepare for the possibility of a cesarean birth. It is definitely possible to breastfeed after a cesarean, particularly if a woman seeks adequate breastfeeding and childcare support after the birth.
I’ve gone both ways–with epidural and without. I didn’t find that having an epidural interfered with breastfeeding, but I was highly motivated to breastfeed. Having gone without an epidural, I wish I had done so for my first labor. Generally when the pain starts mounting, that’s when the good work of the birth starts happening! I certainly do not fault anyone for their choice, and I recognize that some women do not have a choice. All this means is that women should prepare for the possibilities to give them the best start at breastfeeding.