Breastfeeding May Reduce Pain After Cesarean

Peter Russell

June 05, 2017

Breastfeeding for a longer period may reduce the likelihood of pain for women who have had their baby by caesarean section, a small study suggests.

Spanish researchers found that mums who breastfed for at least 2 months after a C-section were nearly 3 times less likely to experience persistent pain compared to those who breastfed for less than 2 months.

Long-Term Pain and Discomfort

C-sections account for around a quarter of all births in the UK and some other industrialised countries. It is usual for women to experience discomfort for a few days after giving birth this way but others might have pain for several weeks. One in 10 women will experience discomfort for the first few months.

In the UK, mothers are advised to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months. However, little research has been carried out on whether this could help ease long-term pain and discomfort after a C-section.

Pain Levels After 4 Months

A research team led by the Hospital Universitario Nuestra Señora de Valme in Sevilla looked at what happened to 185 mothers who had undergone C-sections.

They were asked about pain levels around the scar in the first 24 and 72 hours after C-section, and again 4 months later. The women were also asked about whether and for how long they breastfed.

Around 1 in 4 of the mothers (22.8%) who breastfed for up to 2 months said they were still experiencing pain in the scar area 4 months after giving birth compared to only 8.3% of those who said they breastfed for longer than 2 months.

The researchers also looked at other factors that might influence chronic pain. They found that mothers with a university education were less likely to experience persistent pain than those educated to a lower level.

They also found that 53.8% of mothers who breastfed said they experienced anxiety and say it is possible that anxiety during breastfeeding might influence the likelihood of pain at the surgical site 4 months after delivery. Less anxiety can mean less pain.

The preliminary study results are being outlined at this year's Euroanaesthesia Congress in Geneva. They should be treated with caution as they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Further Studies Needed

Commenting on the results in an emailed statement, Dr Pat O’Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), says: "Although the results raise the interesting possibility that prolonged breastfeeding may reduce the incidence of chronic pain, it is equally possible that more chronic pain leads more women to stop breastfeeding earlier.

"Further prospective studies are required to see if this association is truly cause and effect."

'Encourage Women to Breastfeed'

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says there is an "overwhelming body of evidence around the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby".

Its director for England, Jacque Gerrard, comments in an emailed statement: "The NHS should be doing everything it can to encourage and support women to initiate breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding for at least 6 months. This should include support for women and their babies in the post-natal period. This is often very difficult as maternity services struggle with too few midwives meaning mothers often do not get the much-needed post-natal support and help needed to establish breastfeeding.

"Investing in services to improve breastfeeding rates will ultimately and importantly mean healthier babies and infants which will continue in young people and eventually adulthood and will ultimately, in the long run improve the public health of the wider population and also save the NHS money."

SOURCES:

Breastfeeding as a protective factor of chronic pain after caesarean: Preliminary prospective cohort study, Berenjeno V et al, abstract, Euroanaesthesia Congress

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)

Royal College of Midwives (RCM)

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