What’s the birth got to do with breastfeeding?

When I was pregnant with Pumpkin, I really wanted to have a natural childbirth. I was in awe of women who had birthed their babies the way nature intended – sans epidural or any other intervention. At the end of the day, I just wanted my baby to be born healthy and I saw birthing as something fascinating that I wanted to experience.

I had my birth plan, my partner was on board, and I hired a doula. I took prenatal classes, read a few books, practised deep relaxation techniques and Lamaze. I figured if I could prepare myself in every way possible, why wouldn’t I?

When the big day(s) came I wound up experiencing a complication that needed a medical intervention. The thing with birth interventions is that the first intervention often sets up a cascade of further interventions. For example, often the epidural for pain relief slows down labour, so intravenous Pitocin may be given to speed things up. Pitocin can cause stress on your uterus and on the baby and sometimes this can create the need for further interventions. If a baby is in distress, he may need medical attention at birth, delaying the first breastfeed.

I am pregnant with baby #2 and I have a totally different view of this whole birthing thing now. Obviously, like last time, I just want my baby to be born healthy. But also very high on my priority list is breastfeeding. It turns out that another reason to strive for a natural birth is breastfeeding success.

During the process of natural birth, the mother’s body produces a complex mix of hormones to get ready to breastfeed. Once the baby is born and placed skin-to-skin on mother, the baby is alert and will ALL BY HIMSELF make his way to his mother’s nipple and help himself to his first breastfeed. Any intervention during birth has the potential to interfere with this and with breastfeeding in the early days. It turns out that getting breastfeeding off to a good start doesn’t actually begin with the first moments outside of the womb. It starts with empowering women to believe in their bodies’ natural ability to birth their babies.

That is not to say that all women who have had birth interventions experience trouble breastfeeding, or that all women who have birthed naturally do not experience trouble breastfeeding. What we do know is that interventions during birth (including IV fluids, induction, epidural, Pitocin, forceps/vacuum, Caesarean section) can interfere with the biological stuff that helps moms and babies breastfeed easily. (If you do need help with breastfeeding, check out this list of breastfeeding supports and breastfeeding clinics across Halton.)

Medical interventions during birth do have a place, for your and your baby’s health and safety. Educate yourself about the various medical interventions that may be offered to you and why so that you can make informed decisions during labour and birth. Review our information on healthy birth practices.  Talk to your health care provider and labour support people well in advance of delivery so they are aware of your wishes for a natural birth and desire to protect breastfeeding.

Instead of expecting interventions, expect a natural labour and birth! Like a runner training for a marathon, train your mind and body for labour (Lamaze is great), envision yourself working hard, staying focused, and “crossing the finish line” with your baby being born. Picture your baby being placed on your chest, skin-to-skin with you right away for her first breastfeed. Birth can be a time to realize the amazing strength and ability in your female body to bring life to this world. Believe in yourself and in your body!

What do you think? For more information or to share your thoughts, there are many ways to connect with us:

  • Leave us a comment below
  • Tweet with us @haltonparents
  • Email us at haltonparents@halton.ca
  • Call the HaltonParents line for parenting information or to speak directly to a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
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3 Responses to What’s the birth got to do with breastfeeding?

  1. smeyer says:

    all that whole long article and not a single mention of midwives? midwives strive for a normal birth, and are expert at helping women breastfeed successfully.

    • Andrea Scott says:

      Thank-you for your comment. Midwives are one health care provider that is committed to protecting, promoting, and supporting normal childbirth and supporting breastfeeding. Surrounding yourself by a health care team that is supportive of normal childbirth is definitely a positive start to healthy birth practices and breastfeeding success.

  2. Pingback: Getting Ready to Breastfeed | HaltonParents

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