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If You Take Painkillers During Childbirth, You May Have Difficulty Breastfeeding

Woman breastfeeding
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Epidurals and other painkillers used to ease childbirth are linked with decreased rates of breastfeeding. This is the result of a new study led by Dr Siranda Torvaldsen, a senior researcher in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia. The study is published in the International Breastfeeding Journal.

The research followed 1280 Australian mothers who gave birth in 1997. Mothers who had epidurals during labour were more likely to have problems breastfeeding during the first week afterwards than mothers who did not have epidurals. They were also more likely to stop breastfeeding in the first six months.Of the 1280 women in the study, 416 (33 per cent) had an epidural during childbirth, of whom 172 (41 per cent) also underwent caesarean section.According to Dr Torvaldsen, "although most (93 per cent) women breastfed their baby in the first week, epidural anaesthesia was significantly associated with difficulty breastfeeding in the first few days after birth, and with partial breastfeeding in the first week after delivery."After taking the mother's age and education into account, the researchers found that stopping breastfeeding during the six months following childbirth was twice as likely for women who used epidurals compared to those that did not.Dr Torvaldsen and her colleagues found that 72 per cent of the women who had given birth without painkillers were still breastfeeding 24 weeks later, compared to 53 per cent of the women who took pethidine or had an epidural containing bupivacaine and fentanyl.Dr Sue Jordan, of the School of Health Sciences at Swansea University in the UK, researched the use of fentanyl during labour and breastfeeding last year, and comments on "the evidence so far" in the same issue of International Breastfeeding Journal. She says no research, including this latest study, has proved conclusively that using painkillers during labour directly causes less breastfeeding.There may be other reasons why mothers who have painkillers during labour tend not to breastfeed or stop breastfeeding early. However, Dr Jordan suggests that "women and their clinicians may feel that sufficient evidence has accumulated to justify offering extra support to establish breastfeeding if women have received high doses of analgesics in labour."(Source: International Breastfeeding Journal : University of Sydney, Australia : December 2006.)

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Posted On: 19 December, 2006
Modified On: 16 January, 2014


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