Epidural May Put Babies off Breast

SYDNEY ~ Women who choose to have a pain-killing epidural during childbirth may have more difficulty breastfeeding than those who had a drug-free delivery, according to new research.

The Australian study, one of the largest of its kind, found women who had an epidural anesthetic to numb their lower body during labor were more likely to have breastfeeding problems in the days immediately after the baby’s arrival.

They were also twice as likely to give up breastfeeding within the first six months as mothers who had no anesthesia during birth.

The research, published in International Breastfeeding Journal, studied more than 1,200 women around Australia.

Researcher Siranda Torvaldsen, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, said the study found that most women (93 percent) breastfed their baby in the first week.

But there was a significant link between those mothers who had an epidural and those who had difficulty breastfeeding and were already partially breastfeeding shortly after the birth.

“We found that in this group of 1,280 women, women who were partially breastfeeding in the first week were more likely to have had an epidural than women who were fully breastfeeding,” Torvaldsen said.

The study found that once other factors were stripped out, 72 percent of women who had no analgesia were breastfeeding at six months compared with only 53 percent who received pethidine or epidurals containing bupivacaine and the opioid fentanyl.

In an accompanying article in the journal, Swansea University senior lecturer Sue Jordan said the effect of opioids and epidurals on breastfeeding should be seen as an “adverse drug reaction.”

Jordan has called for extra support for the most vulnerable women “to ensure that their infants are not disadvantaged by this hidden, but far-reaching, adverse drug reaction.”

Torvaldsen said that many women who have an epidural during a delivery would have no problems with breastfeeding. But the drugs could make their babies drowsy and lead to problems suckling in the first few days.

“The message is that it’s important they (the mothers) get adequate information and support. And to realize it’s temporary,” she said.

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