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Birth Interventions Impair the Ability of a Baby to Breastfeed

Monday, November 15, 2010 by: Penny Forham
Tags: birth, breastfeeding, health news

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(NewsTarget) Breastmilk is the best form of nutrition for a baby but many women struggle to breastfeed and have problems in the early days after birth: including difficulties with latch, problems with milk supply or baby being sleepy. Many of these problems can be caused by birth interventions which can decrease babies' ability to coordinate their suck/swallow reflex.

Inductions have now become commonplace and birthing centres vary in their policies around inductions. All inductions however result in a premature baby since baby has not been allowed to develop until the stage where his hormonal stimulus starts labour naturally. Induction of labour triggers harder and closer contractions than normal, and usually results in a longer labour. A longer labour can in turn require IV oxytocin to augment the contractions resulting in more stress and pain for the mother. Pain relief for the mother reduces the natural endorphin painkillers in the body, including those in the breastmilk. Birth can be a painful experience for the baby, especially if there is an instrumental delivery and if nature is not given the opportunity to provide the pain relieving breastmilk it has intended.

Epidural anaesthesia passes to the baby through the placenta. Babies exposed to epidurals can have difficulty with latching on, and with uncoordinated suck/swallow response for up to a month. Epidurals statistically increase the risk of an instrumental assisted birth. The trauma to the baby caused by an instrument birth can make it painful for him to assume the natural, instinctive positioning for breastfeeding and therefore cause an ineffective latch.

Epidural anaesthesia also requires IV fluids to be given to the woman in order to combat the lower blood pressure caused by the anaesthesia. The IV fluids are thought to cause swelling in the breast which makes it much more difficult for the newborn to get an effective latch. A non effective latch means that baby does not effectively remove milk from the breast. This means that the breast is not sufficiently stimulated to produce the correct amount of milk for the baby.

The IV fluids given to the mother additionally causes extra fluid in the newborn and greater weight loss over the next few days as the baby removes the extra fluid. Health care professionals can regard this loss of extra weight as a signal that the baby is not getting enough milk and use this to prompt the woman to top up with formula.

Newborn care practices also change breastfeeding. Suctioning can create oral aversion as the baby protects himself by keeping his mouth shut. Multiple assessments, weighing, measuring, heel pricks, eye treatments and injections can cause baby to become overstimulated and to "shut down" resulting in a sleepy baby that is difficult to nurse.

The early problems of difficult latch, sore nipples, sleepy baby and engorgement are rare when the mother has had a normal birth and has been skin to skin with her baby for some hours after birth. Remaining in close physical contact with mother, the baby's temperature, heart rate and respirations are more stable, and they allow for more frequent and effective nursing.

In an un-medicated normal birth contractions are accompanied by increasingly high levels of endorphins and move women into a meditative like state. As the baby moves through the birth canal catecholamines are released providing an energy boost for the mother. The baby is born with high levels of catecholamines, and they allow a bright, alert baby to meet a bright energetic mother and establish a successful breastfeeding relationship.

The Birth of a Breastfeeding Baby and Mother - Judith A. Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE
J Perinat Educ. 2005 Winter; 14(1): 42-45.
doi: 10.1624/105812405X23667.

Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding By Linda J. Smith

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