Prepare for Natural Birth, Prepare to Breastfeed

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about how birth experiences influence breastfeeding. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!

Today I could have written about how I was able to breastfeed my first daughter, a breech baby born via cesarean after I went into labor three weeks before her due date. Or I could have written about my twin daughters’ successful VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) two years later, how I went on to breastfeed them for four years, after struggles with a NICU stay, jaundice, and sore nipples.

Both of these stories are wonderfully inspiring examples that it is possible to have a fulfilling breastfeeding relationship, even if your birth experience was less than perfect; that it’s possible to make up for a rough start to breastfeeding if things don’t go so well at first; and that just because you didn’t have great success breastfeeding one or more babies doesn’t mean it can’t ever work out. You just need to have the right tools. There is nothing like a La Leche League meeting – even before you give birth – to help you fill your tool kit.

But today I choose to write about my latest birth experience. My fourth baby – a boy – was born almost one year ago. It was a peaceful, fulfilling, natural birth experience that I wouldn’t give away for the world. Having been through it twice before, I felt sure of what I wanted and what I was capable of. With my son’s birth, I felt fulfillment and closure with the birth process.

Why “Go Natural”?

Why do mothers-to-be in today’s developed world choose a natural, unmedicated birth, in an age of advanced medical knowledge and widespread access to obstetric intervention? I certainly wouldn’t volunteer to have a tooth pulled with out anesthesia. But I chose to have a baby that way. Why the difference?

For me, the only reason was to improve chances of getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible. My style of parenting a newborn is all about breastfeeding. There’s the breast, change a diaper, more breast, a quick snooze, breast again, maybe another diaper change, and breast again. This is a vital part of my relationship with my newborn babies and I would be devastated if that interaction were postponed, shortened, or diminished in any other way.

But, plenty of mothers give birth with anesthesia and their babies breastfeed “just fine”. Moreover, I myself had given birth to three other children “unnaturally” who went on to breastfeed. So what was the big deal with having an unmedicated birth?

It turns out that epidurals and other birthing interventions can lead to less-effective first nursing sessions – the baby may be sleepy and have trouble with the coordination of sucking, swallowing, and breathing. (1) A mother might not even know that the first few days of nursing are not going like they should. Additionally, “if feedings were restricted or limited (for whatever reason) in the early weeks, milk supply may begin to drop at four months or so.” (2) Have you met a mother whose baby was said to have weaned himself before a year old? (3) Possibly this early weaning was a result of a cascade of events starting with the epidural!

I’m probably not the only woman, recently post-partum, who has had a recovery nurse shove her boob into her baby’s face to help get the breastfeeding business started. Maybe this nurse’s help is deemed necessary because introducing medical procedures or medications “… tends to disrupt a mother’s sense of motherhood and impede a baby’s ability to breastfeed easily .…” (4) It might be a comfort to know that a natural birth can improve the chances that the only people necessary to initiate breastfeeding are Baby and Momma. “[M]others who kept control of their births find their babies can usually take care of the breastfeeding.” (5)

Finally, while medicated births seem to be mother-friendly, “…women who received epidurals were also more likely to suffer from pruritus, headache, nausea, vomiting, urine retention, and maternal fever that resulted in unnecessary, expensive neonatal sepsis evaluations and antibiotic treatment.” (6) Medicated births are also baby-unfriendly. (7) “Pain-relieving drugs reduce your own endorphins, which may increase your baby’s discomfort, both before the birth and after the birth, when more endorphins are passed on through your milk.” (8)

Prepare for Normal

The best way to prepare to breastfeed is to have a normal, unmedicated birth. Here are some things that I did before my son’s birth to ensure a normal, unmedicated delivery:

  • I made sure that my obstetrician was supportive of an unmedicated birth, despite the risks of VBAC. I made it clear that I was not interested in interventions to induce labor early. On a side note, my obstetrician seemed a little disappointed every week near the end when I came for my visits with no evidence of early labor.
  • I mentally prepared myself for my baby to stay in utero until he was ready to come out. For example, I tried to have a positive attitude about those last few weeks of pregnancy. When people asked if I was “done”, I replied with positive responses that I was glad he was in until he was ready to come out. I also pointed out that after week 37, I was more pregnant than I had ever been – that was a good thing!
  • I educated myself on the normal course of birth and prepared myself for that. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has a birth section that is calming and reassuring. (9)
  • However, I also prepared myself for the event that the birth or breastfeeding didn’t go like I had planned. For example, I programmed the phone number of a La Leche League Leader into my cell phone! (10)

Breastfeeding After a Natural Birth

Here are some of the ways that my birth experience affected our breastfeeding experience:

  • My baby was on my chest immediately after birth. He had some mild respiratory distress that required suctioning a few minutes after birth. He was able to breastfeed before and after that suctioning.
  • Because I wasn’t recovering from abdominal surgery, I was able to keep my baby with me all the time. I think he was six weeks old before he left my arms for any long period of time! Without the complication of a c-section incision, I was able to comfortably adjust in the hospital bed and at home to sleep next to my baby.
  • Due to the uncomplicated delivery, I was able to leave the hospital almost exactly 24 hours after my baby was born. This made getting to know him and establishing our breastfeeding patterns much more comfortable in my own home. I was in the hospital for four excruciating days after my first delivery (c-section).
  • Since I was not taking any opioid medications, nipple sensation wasn’t diminished. This made it easy for me to sense when my baby’s latch wasn’t quite right, correct it immediately, and prevent sore nipples. (I had horribly sore nipples with all my previous newborns.) I was taking low doses of ibuprofen at first for some perineal pain. But I stopped taking it when I started to notice that I couldn’t sense my baby’s latch as well.
  • My baby was incredibly alert and nursed efficiently. This was probably a combination of his being a full-term baby and an unmedicated birth.

Each of my babies’ births was an absolute miracle. Those excruciating, joyful, and primal moments combine in my memory to form knowledge through first-hand experience, then mix with a mother’s instinct and time to one day become wisdom. My birth stories will always be part of who I am, part of who my children are, and part of the mother-child relationships we are developing. I feel blessed to have these mothering experiences.

  1. Roth, Michelle. 2006. Epidurals and Breastfeeding. Leaven 42(4):74-77. 13 Jul 2011
  2. Wiessinger, Diane et al. 2010. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 8th ed. New York: Ballantine Books. 176.
  3. Bonyata, Kelly. 15 Jan 1999. “Do babies under 12 months self-wean?” 13 Jul 2011
  4. Wiessinger, Diane et al. 2010. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 8th ed. New York: Ballantine Books. 40.
  5. Wiessinger, Diane. 2007. “It’s the Birth, Silly!” Common Sense Breastfeeding. 13 Jul 2011
  6. Riordan, Jan. 1999. Epidurals and Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Abstracts 19(2):11-12. 13 Jul 2011
  7. Wiessinger, Diane. 2007. “Why Your Baby’s Birth Matters”, Common Sense Breastfeeding. 13 Jul 2011
  8. Wiessinger, Diane et al. 2010. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 8th ed. New York: Ballantine Books. 46.
  9. Wiessinger, Diane et al. 2010. “Birth!” The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 8th ed. New York: Ballantine Books. 39-61.
  10. To contact a La Leche League Leader in Utah, call 801-264-LOVE. La Leche League is an international organization. Find Leaders and Groups throughout the world here:

Today’s guest post is from Marilee Poulson. Marilee lives in Salt Lake City and is the mother of three girls and a boy. Since last Monday, she has applied 25 Band-Aids, washed 47 loads of laundry, changed 72 diapers, cleaned up 145 glasses of spilled milk, watched 246 episodes of “Cat in the Hat”, nursed her baby 326 times, and cooked 502 homemade meals.

Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.


Filed under Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival

3 responses to “Prepare for Natural Birth, Prepare to Breastfeed

  1. I had a natural birth with my first born and he arrived alert and was a pro at breastfeeding. I attribute my successful breastfeeding to having a natural birth. My second child is due in 2 weeks and this time I am having a home birth. Thanks for the wonderful tips!

  2. Pingback: Setting Myself Up For Success « The Adventures of Lactating Girl

  3. Pingback: Breastfeeding Carnival: Day 6 | Chaotic Mama

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