Booby Traps Series: The c-section rate is at a record high. What does that mean for breastfeeding?

by Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC | July 12, 2011 5:55 pm

This is the 12th in a series of posts on Booby Traps,™ made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

According to the CDC, the cesarean birth rate in the U.S. is at an all-time high.  It increased 71% between 1996 and 2007, rising from 21% to a record 32%.  During roughly the same period, the rate of vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) declined from 28% to 8.5%.  The World Health Organization recommends a cesarean rate no higher than 10-15%.

Back when the founders of La Leche League were having their babies mothers were sometimes told that breastfeeding after a cesarean was impossible.  Of course we now know that to be wrong, but the truth is that breastfeeding after a cesarean comes with particular challenges which can make it harder for mothers to meet their personal breastfeeding goals.

What are those challenges?  Linda Smith, in The Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding cites research showing that the following breastfeeding-related outcomes are associated with cesarean birth:

And possibly as a consequence, research has found that mothers who have had cesarean births:

Cesarean section itself isn’t a Booby Trap,™ and there is no doubt that cesarean births are sometimes necessary to preserve the health of the mother and/or baby.

But birthing practices contributing to our record-high cesarean birth rate – practices like early elective birth and being denied the option of attempting a VBAC – are indeed institutional barriers to our breastfeeding success.

The good news is that with the right support, many mothers can overcome these challenges and meet their breastfeeding goals.  If you’re not sure how to get great support to both decrease your chances of a cesarean birth and to increase your chances of breastfeeding success if you do have one, please see our tips for assembling your A-Team.

I can speak from personal experience, having had one cesarean birth and one vaginal birth (VBAC).  Recovery from my cesarean birth was far more challenging both physically and emotionally, but both of my births were followed by wonderful breastfeeding experiences.

Did you have a cesarean birth?  Did it impact your breastfeeding experience?

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