Epidurals and problems with breast-feeding

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: April 11th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

To ease the pain of childbirth, most women in the U-S prefer an epidural… a medication that deadens pain in the lower body yet allows them to be fully conscious during labor.

But a new Australian study shows that even though moms-to-be prefer them, epidurals may not be such a good idea for new babies… especially when it comes to breast-feeding.

Experts recommend feeding babies only breast milk for the first six months and continuing breast-feeding after solid foods are introduced through twelve months.

Researchers followed nearly thirteen-hundred women who gave birth between March and October 1997. Thirty-three percent of them had an epidural during labor that included the opioid [OH-pee-oid] fentanyl [FEN-ta-nil] and the anesthetic bupivacaine [bew-PIV-a-kane].

Ninety-three percent of the women in the study breast-fed their babies in the first week after birth. But those who had epidurals had more problems breast-feeding from the start. They were more likely to nurse their babies partially rather than exclusively. And they were twice as likely to stop breast-feeding before their babies reached six months… when seventy-two percent of moms who did not have epidurals were still nursing.

Researchers say epidurals may cause problems with breast-feeding and cite previous research, which shows that fentanyl can hinder an infant’s ability to suckle.

Even so, women shouldn’t feel guilty about having an epidural. Instead, researchers urge women to be aware of the potential problem so they can make informed decisions about pain medication and to consult experts if they have problems breast-feeding.