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Women who have epidurals find it harder to breast-feed

60 replies

hulababy · 10/12/2006 08:47

...according to a report in The Sunday Times today.

WOMEN who give birth with the aid of pain-relieving epidurals find it harder to breast-feed than those who give birth naturally, a study has found.

The research suggests that some of the drugs used in epidurals make their way into babies? bloodstreams, subtly affecting their brains and development for weeks afterwards ? including making them less willing to breast-feed.


In a commentary on the research, published today, one expert suggests the impact of epidurals on breast-feeding should be officially classed as an ?adverse drug reaction?.


Such a link could help explain why many British women fail to breast-feed, with 55% giving up within six weeks of birth. More than a third of women give up within a week, saying their babies simply refuse to breast-feed.


Other researchers support Torvaldsen?s findings. A study at Toronto University, Canada, of 177 women found they were less likely to be breast-feeding after six weeks if they had been given an epidural with fentanyl.

OP posts:
hulababy · 10/12/2006 08:47

Just wondered what people's thoughts and experiences were.

OP posts:
saadia · 10/12/2006 08:50

that is interesting, and a bit worrying. I had an epi with ds1 and he was bf for a year without any problems.

TinsellyRhino · 10/12/2006 08:52

I have had an epidural with noth my babies. the first was a complete block of all pain right through the whole thing and I never felt the urge to push(hated it, was awful) the second time it wasn't topped up nearing the birth and I could feel everything when it was time to push. I BF both of my daughters and apart from not realy getting the habg of latching on with my first and ending up with sore nipples for a couple of weeks they were both very proficient feeders, never had any problems with them wanting to or managing.

BUT having said thatm there may be some truth in this and I was just lucky

edam · 10/12/2006 08:54

Hmm, I found it very hard and had a 'natural' birth (ie they wouldn't transfer me across the corridor from midwife-led centre when I decided I did want an epidural after all).

My sisters both had epidurals - one long-term breastfeeder, one switched to bottles within a week (although I think that was down to crappy midwives insisting she expressed every x hours and fed every x hours turning b/f into a nightmare and ensuring she was knackered).

However, I know anecdote doesn't compare to proper research. I think it's an interesting theory. You'd have to compare against populations with low epidural rates and see if b/f was proportionately higher. How you'd compare for confounding factors I don't know.

winestein · 10/12/2006 08:54

I had an epidural and could not get DS to latch at all. Very interesting article, thanks for the link Hula.

hulababy · 10/12/2006 08:59

Forgor to add my experience. I had an epidural, following induct and prior to c section. I struggled with breastfeeding and eventually stopped entirely at 6 weeks, after forcing myself to keep going until then. I didn't know about, and wasn't directed to, any support systems back then.

OP posts:
xmasstocking · 10/12/2006 09:10

I had an epidural for my c-section and DS would not latch on - I gave up trying to bf after 2 days as he just wouldn't latch on and the midwives didn;t have the time to help me. But I also had 4 shots of pethidine during labour which I believe can have an adverse effect on bf so it may have been that rather than the epidural.

blueshoes · 10/12/2006 09:30

I had GA with dd and spinal with ds (both c-sections) and bf-ing has always been a breeze for me - could just be lucky I guess.

In dd's case, she was a special care but once they removed the nasogastric tube and felt the hunger, she latched on like a trouper.

With ds, he was delivered onto my tummy and started rooting almost right away. Suckled constantly for the next 2.5 days until my milk came in.

heavenlyghosty · 10/12/2006 09:44

I had an epidural with DS (followed by c/s) and a spinal block with DD (C/S) and had no problems breastfeeding either of them ...
(Gave up after 6 weeks with DS but that was for other issues, nothing to do with the birth ... Breastfed DD for 11 months)
Neither of them had a problem latching on or feeding, I had no problems with pain etc etc (apart from normal 'newness' etc)

moondog · 10/12/2006 09:45

Yes,it is interesting.
Frankly I'd be more surprised to learn that such intrusive chemical input into the body didn't have an effect on breastfeeding.

Not that I'm turning my nose up at pain management.
Oh no sirrreeee.
I'm all for drugs.
Loads of 'em.

Miaou · 10/12/2006 09:51

I had an epidural with dd1 and dd2 but nothing when I had ds - and tbh noticed no difference in terms of them latching on/feeding. But I guess I could have been lucky!

It wouldn't surprise me if there was a link.

jabberwocky · 10/12/2006 09:52

I had an epidural with both as they were c-sections and no problems with latch either time. IIRC fentanyl is not a necessary component of the epidural. Some anesthesiologists use it to help the patient relax and have a deeper/faster effect from the epidural. So a bit misleading there.

BrummieOnTheRun · 10/12/2006 10:22

Yet another report where researchers spot a correlation between 2 things and immediately assume one causes the other scaring the hell out of everyone. Not to say the link isn't there though. And I guess it is good they publish these reports even if it might be only half the story so you're aware of possible implications.

After you've had an epidural there is so much more fussing around after the birth, even if there aren't any complications like stitches, sickness, etc. You've got a drip in your arm, you're going to be in a more clinical environment where they've whipped the baby away from you to be checked and weighed. I guess what I'm saying is that it's a less ideal environment to bond with your baby and give them an immediate feed which does have an impact on breastfeeding I think. You also don't (IME) get that same surge of hormonal soppy stuff in the way that you do with a natural birth. That must effect things a bit.

But much more important for breastfeeding success is having trained counsellors available on the post-natal wards. I hope this study doesn't divert attention away from that fact (convenient that cutting epidurals cuts costs and trained m/wife counsellors cost money...but I'm not THAT much of a conspiracy theorist!)

Monkeytrousers · 10/12/2006 10:25

Haven't read it soz but my personal experience was that I had an epidural and DS was on the breast within seconds of being born. Breast fed ravenously for a year thereafter.

GlennCloseAsCruellaDeVille · 10/12/2006 10:30

It's an interesting article..i think there should be research in this area

Anecdotally I had three births all "natural" first and last with very slight amount of gas and air and niether of those babies successfully established breast feeding and middle one with nnothing at all and successful breast feeder

So can't comment from expereince on drugs and feeding really only on being unable to feed despite best efforts.

GlennCloseAsCruellaDeVille · 10/12/2006 10:34

in fact although norn at home the middle breastfeeder did have the worst start

She was an unplanned home birth who then had a degree of hypothermia

We had to go into hospital after the birth because baby was too cold and I was torn too much but we didn't get there until about 4 hours after the birth as we were not a priority for the ambulance

So the period immediately after the birth and to some extent the birth itself was not conducive to an easy start.

nogoeswithbellson · 10/12/2006 10:41

Yes, this research does not surprise me. I had an epidural with my c-section and ds was very sleepy and I could not get him to feed. I also found being hooked up to a cathetar and drip hindered my progress as I felt a complete lack of control over my body which was not helped by my midwifery team who were not happy to get ds out of his cot for me.

SpaceCadet · 10/12/2006 10:42

i had an epidural with ds 2 and breastfed with no problems.

sunnywong · 10/12/2006 10:45

same here
and all the attendant drugs for em Cs, bf in recovery

is this a competition? do I get a prize?

MadamePlatypus · 10/12/2006 12:20

DS: epidural, DD: a couple of paracetomol. Both breastfed very well. Its difficult to tell with only two, but I think the thing that really gave me confidence was feeding them really quickly (pretty much immediately) after birth. Maybe people who have epidurals are more likely to have other complications which may mean that the breastfeeding is delayed which can make it harder?

twickersmum · 10/12/2006 12:24

i had an epidural with dd1, gas & air with dd2
both bf no problem straight from birth

dd1 bf within minutes of being born. dd2 wasn't interested for a bit! saying that the epidural was well managed and had worn off sufficiently to allow me to push dd1.

motherinfurrierfestivefrock · 10/12/2006 12:26

I've had one epidural one not, both breastfed with no problems.


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MKGnearlyimmaculateconception · 10/12/2006 12:26

I had no pain relief with ds and breastfeeding was a nightmare. We'll see in May how it goes with this one.

hermykne · 10/12/2006 12:31

two epidurals and 2 c/s (1 emer)
BREAT FEED with no problems.

JARMgotstuckupthechimney · 10/12/2006 12:34

Jessica was induced, epidural and top up. Failed BF after 4 days - no support offered and I hadnt discovered MN by then!

Rebecca - epidural was givenbut failed... she would not latch at all - spent 12 hrs in hospital with a MW forcing her on me and she didnt want to know. Ended up bottle feeding both.

Next time I am ADAMANT I am going to give BF a proper try - only thing that worries me is the cost of all the BF counsellors - anyone know the real cost!?

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