Epidurals Affect a Mom's Ability to Breastfeed

A new study of more than 1,200 women suggests that those who receive epidural anesthesia during childbirth with the narcotic fentanyl may have trouble breastfeeding.

Women who got a fentanyl epidural reported more difficulty with breastfeeding in the first week early on, and they were also twice as likely to give up breastfeeding within the first six months.

Evidence from other research suggests that fentanyl can interfere with infants' ability to suckle.

Experts recommend that babies be fed only breast milk for the first six months, and that partial breastfeeding continue until the baby is 1 year old.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Here's one more reason expectant mothers should reconsider an epidural. In addition to increasing your chances of needing a Cesarean section, it can cause problems with breastfeeding in both the short- and long-term.

Breastfeeding is one of the most important physical benefits you can provide your baby and to remove this as a possible option would be a serious reason to consider opting out for an epidural.

There is no doubt that breastfeeding is the best thing you can do to ensure your baby's better health as well as your own. If you have any question that breastfeeding is the best health option for your baby, I urge you to read an article I wrote that outlines the seven solid reasons for doing so, which include improving your baby's brain function and boosting their immune system.

As a result, formula-fed babies have higher rates of:

  • Middle ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis, a digestive tract disorder that is a leading killer of premature infants

If, for whatever reason, you are simply unable to breastfeed then PLEASE avoid commercial infant formula, especially soy formula. You can use the infant fortification formula protocol I published a number of years ago.

On Vital Votes, reader Mary offers another perspective:

"Let's be real here. What this study is really saying is that interventions (here, epidurals) mess with the entire birth process and create serious problems. Breastfeeding problems are serious enough, but what they are really saying is that interventions get in the way of bonding.

"Bonding. Those first few moments after birth when the world stands still and you meet your baby for the first time. If it was a perfect world, every woman and baby would meet this way. There are very specific 'chemical reactions' that occur when you are in labor that lead to the ability for you and your baby to connect.

"As labor progresses and the baby is getting ready to be born, your body releases high levels of endorphins which give you a 'high' feeling, and plenty of oxytocin (the 'love hormone'). Both of these are produced in higher and higher levels as labor pain intensifies so that you can deal with the pain.

"The pain is a good thing, and is actually needed so that this entire chain reaction can occur.

"So, when we mess with the natural ability of the body to deal with pain (getting an epidural), we screw up the process of birth and bonding. It's really that simple. Not to mention that any drug used during birth does get to the baby, and as this study illustrates, can affect the baby's ability to suck.

"Although totally predictable, the part that makes me most angry is the quote from the study's lead author, Dr. Torvaldsen: 'I think the most important message for pregnant women is to get good advice and help with breastfeeding.


"That's not fixing the problem, that is just trying to take a rather pathetic stab at masking the symptoms. Breastfeeding isn't the problem, the epidural is! ...

"The ultimate goal is an experience that changes you, and allows you to create a lifelong bond with your baby. It is your right and your baby's right to birth and bond in peace."

Other responses to this article can be viewed at Vital Votes, and you can add your own thoughts or vote on comments by first registering at Vital Votes.

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