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Labor Drugs Hinder Breastfeeding Efforts

Have you ever heard, “I couldn’t breastfeed“? I sure have. Some women simply can’t. They’re a rare bunch, accounting for only a small percentage of mothers overall, approximately 3 to 6 million women worldwide.

Those of us who believe in natural processes, like breastfeeding and childbirth without medical interventions, won’t be surprised to hear this news:

Labor drugs interfere with breastfeeding.



The BBC reports that drugs used during labor, such as those given to prevent hemorrhaging after birth, could lower the rate of breastfeeding.

This study, performed by Swansea University researchers of 48,000 women who gave birth to healthy (singleton) babies over 10 years, found that women who took these drugs had a 7% chance of lowered milk production.

Not a startling statistic, I know. Researchers warn not to conclude anything just yet. They want studies performed on these clotting drugs specifically to see if they, too could be one culprit in poor milk production.

Lead researcher Dr. Sue Jordan told the BBC that this could have the effect of 50,000 fewer British children breastfeeding annually. Think about the implications, then, worldwide.

Labor drugs such as the epidural have long been villified in the breastmilk department. And recently, a study on mice found that dioxins, present in all of us thanks to bioaccumulation, may also play a part in poor breastmilk production.

Find the study in BJOG, a worldwide gynecology journal. I was just as surprised as you were.

Image: Raphael Goetter on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. Women should be told the truth about these drugs and then given the choice whether they want it used on them or not.

  2. Some of us couldn’t breastfeed not because of a medicated birth but rather because our babies were physically unable to latch on. Yes, we can try exclusively pumping but the pump is less efficient at stimulating milk supply than a baby nursing is.

    I had no supply problems whatsoever with my babies who were able to latch on successfully. So you can just drop your “holier than thou” attitude and STFU about situations you know nothing about…

  3. I had an epidural and I am glad I did since I had to push for long 3.5 hours. My milk production was more than fine. I could have probably fed 2 babies.

    I rarely agree with Crimson Wife (sorry!) but this time I have to.
    Be happy that you had an “easy” birth, that you were able to breastfeed right away and that your baby was as well but don´t be so quick on judging others. Just because someone doesn´t breastfeed or uses drug for child birth doesn´t make her a less loving mother.

  4. Wow, you ladies are reading a lot into this post. I see facts & surprise that they felt they had to do a study to learn something that seems pretty obvious. Maybe you need to examine why a statement of fact makes you so defensive?

    I find it really interesting that they specifically mention anti-hemmorage drugs. I had a horrible time nursing my oldest, mostly due to supply issues, but with determination managed to make it work. I had a cesarean after a failed induction for ROM and it took them a very long time to get the bleeding to stop since I had a “boggy” uterus which was refusing to clamp down after my baby was removed. I don’t know for sure, but it’s pretty likely I was given drugs to stop the bleeding.

  5. Lisa, I am not sure why I am getting so defensive. It might be that I am just getting tired of this “don´t get drugs to ease the pain or breastfeeding is the only way or you´re a bad mother”- attitude. I´ll try to keep myself calm the next time. I promise! 😉

  6. I had an emergency C-Section at 30.5 weeks….so not only did I have to contend with the meds and surgery, but then Alexa was transferred to a hospital 45 minutes away with a higher level NICU. My body wasn’t ready NOT to be pregnant anymore and I couldn’t see my baby for a week (well 4.5 days till I was released). She was in for 5 weeks and I had major supply issues. I pumped and pumped and pumped, but would get like ONE ounce a day…TOTAL. We eventually rebuilt our breastfeeding relationship, but it was fragile and has turned sour again. I am grieving would could be the lose of my one “trick” after 6 hard (but soooo worth it) months :-(

  7. I’m also not seeing what others are seeing in this article. I don’t see anything judgmental or holier-than-thou. It states right at the beginning that “some women simply can’t” breastfeed. That’s a fact.

    What this article is talking about, is a study that attempts to discover WHY breastfeeding is so difficult for some women. “I had low milk supply despite taking herbs, feeding on demand, supplemental pumping, and professional assistance” is a description of the problem some women have, but we should be asking the question WHY, after doing everything “right”, they still had trouble. Is it simply that their genetics weren’t programmed to make milk correctly? Or is there some unknown environmental factor (ie, external influence) at work?

    It’s not judgmental or holier-than-thou, to try to figure out the cause of low milk supply issues. If we CAN figure out some causes, then it will only HELP all women and their babies. Wouldn’t it be best if they didn’t have these problems at all? If learning that certain drugs used in labour (and they are not talking only about pain relief drugs in this study) means that these drugs will be used less, then tens of thousands of women could potentially be SPARED the difficulty of low milk supply.

    Of course there are other causes for low milk supply, so this one cause will not be a cure-all. So someone saying “I had low supply but I had no drugs” is not refuting the study at all, they just had some different cause. It also does not say that “these drugs guarantee low supply” — only that there’s a greater risk. So someone saying “I had an epidural and I had great milk supply” is also not refuting the study.

    And it also doesn’t say a THING suggesting that low supply due to medicated birth is the ONLY difficulty that women face when nursing. Crimson Wife’s example of a difficult latch is probably the most common problem outside of low supply. I really, really don’t understand why she’s offended by this article, which is not AT ALL about that kind of issue. I don’t see anywhere where it says “if you have a natural, unmedicated birth, then everything will be guaranteed eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeasy!!!!” This is just factually addressing one of the problems, and one of the potential causes. Which is a good thing, because it means that in the future, more babies who would not have been breastfed otherwise, might indeed be.

  8. Good point, Heather!

  9. Well said, Heather. Thanks for articulating that better than I obviously did! 😉

  10. just a point of clarification that i think it important. you said “The BBC reports that drugs used during labor, such as those given to prevent hemorrhaging after birth, could lower the rate of breastfeeding.”

    but the article said “oxytocin or ergometrine to cut the risk of haemorrhage.” i didn’t know that pitocin was used to prevent hemorrhaging, i thought it was used just to induce labor. anyway, just wanted to point out that pitocin, which is so commonly used, is one of the drugs they studied.

  11. In reply to Cindy above, Pitocin is often given right after birth as an injection in your upper thigh. It helps the uterus keep contracting to expel the placenta and helps it contract back down so the blood vessels where the placenta was contract and the bleeding stops. Most women will have it, but you may not know.

    I also wonder if inducing labour or doing a c-section before the body experiences any natural labour has an influence since maybe the body is not ready to not be pregnant and to nurse a baby. I had a scheduled c-section with my first without any labour because we found out she was breech at 40.5 weeks, and my body did not make milk for about 4-5 days. My second pregnancy was twins, and I went into labour naturally at 40 weeks. 27 hours of labour and 4.5 hours of pushing later and no drugs, and my body produced tons of milk by the second day. I did not have issues with milk production either time in the long run but it was like my body needed more time to figure out the baby was out and needed to be nursed the first time, where after the labour my body knew the babies were out? Maybe for some it makes a longer term difference.

  12. Stephanie says:

    I had an induced labor and I had every drug you could imagine to “manage” my labor and ended up with a c/s. As soon as I was able I breastfed my son and never had milk supply problems. In an almost identical situation, I had a friend that really did try to breastfeed and just couldn’t get it. She said it was a latching problem so I handed her my son and I took her daughter. The latch was not the problem her daughter with a small bit of adjustment latched fine. Now the funny part was that we later discovered was that one of her breasts wasn’t producing milk and the other had a very low supply. While I could have easily fed both of our babies on mine she didn’t even enough to be able feed her own. This is a very interesting study and I hope they do a larger one that either proves, disproves or shows a 100% correlation. That might help women make a more informed decision in their care and birthing choices. But right now it is just food for thought.

  13. I think articles like this don’t do woman any great service. I had an epidural and my daughter latched on perfectly and would not stop sucking. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with pain management if a woman needs it during child birth. Articles like these inadvertently say that epidurals are bad and that we as women should suffer through the tremendous labor pains and we are less for it if we don’t.

    For every woman that has struggled with breastfeeding; it can be number of things. Saying that it’s the epidural and trying to sensationalize it. Really, what happened to ECP?

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