Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A positive birth experience aids breastfeeding more than a vaginal delivery

Cesarean delivery is frequently reported as having a negative impact on breastfeeding and bonding. However, the vast majority of problems occur following emergency surgery and also planned surgery for medical reasons that were nonetheless unwanted by the mother.

That is not to say that women who plan a cesarean delivery through their own choice are guaranteed breastfeeding success (if indeed breastfeeding is their personal choice), but as you'll see from the medical research I have listed on my website, it is erroneous to claim that these women are any less likely to have a positive breastfeeding experience.

The evidence

In answer to the question 'Is it possible to breastfeed after a cesarean birth?', La Leche League International says this: "Yes... A smooth birth contributes to a smooth breastfeeding experience, so when you take advance measures to prevent difficulties from birth complications, breastfeeding can succeed more easily."

Now a new study from New Zealand, 'Impact of Birth Trauma on Breast-feeding: A Tale of Two Pathways', reiterates this sentiment. It found that up to 34% of new mothers reported experiencing a traumatic childbirth, citing "stressful labor and delivery, unscheduled cesarean births, and psychosocial stress and pain related to childbirth". All of these traumas occurred as an outcome of a planned vaginal delivery - not a planned cesarean delivery.

The researchers continue: "Eight themes emerged about whether mothers' breast-feeding attempts were promoted or impeded. These themes included (a) proving oneself as a mother: sheer determination to succeed, (b) making up for an awful arrival: atonement to the baby, (c) helping to heal mentally: time-out from the pain in one's head, (d) just one more thing to be violated: mothers' breasts, (e) enduring the physical pain: seeming at times an insurmountable ordeal, (f) dangerous mix: birth trauma and insufficient milk supply, (g) intruding flashbacks: stealing anticipated joy, and (h) disturbing detachment: an empty affair."

Birth trauma rather than surgery leads to problems
They conclude: "The impact of birth trauma on mothers' breast-feeding experiences can lead women down two strikingly different paths. One path can propel women into persevering in breast-feeding, whereas the other path can lead to distressing impediments that curtailed women's breast-feeding attempts."

Women, midwives, doctors and journalists alike need to keep studies like this in mind before making a connection between breastfeeding problems and cesarean delivery on maternal request.

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