Breastfeeding after a Caesarean section may help manage pain, according to Spanish research presented at a major conference.
Researchers found mothers who breastfed their babies for at least two months after the operation were three times less likely to experience persistent pain compared to those who breastfed for less.
“Our study provides another good reason to encourage women to breastfeed”
Caesareans account for around a quarter of all births in the UK, US and Canada, with chronic pain affecting around one in five mothers, noted the study authors.
They highlighted that, while it was accepted that breast milk was the most appropriate nutrition in early life, little was previously known about its effect on a mother’s chronic pain after a Caesarean.
The study included 185 mothers who underwent a Caesarean at the Hospital Universitario Nuestra Señora de Valme in Seville between January 2015 and December 2016.
Mothers were interviewed about breastfeeding patterns and the level of chronic pain at the surgical site in the first 24 and 72 hours after Caesarean, and again four months later.
The researchers also looked at the effect of other factors including pain in the first 24–72 hours, maternal education and occupation, anxiety during breastfeeding, and surgical technique.
They found 87% of the mothers in the study breastfed their babies, with 58% reporting breastfeeding for two months or longer.
They also found 23% of those who breastfed for two months or less still experienced chronic pain in the surgical site four months post-op, compared to 8% who breastfed for two months or longer.
The differences were notable even after adjusting for the mother’s age, said the researchers.
“Anxiety during breastfeeding could influence the likelihood of pain”
Further analysis showed that mothers with a university education were much less likely to experience persistent pain, compared to those who were less well educated, they added.
The researchers also found that 54% of mothers who breastfed reported suffering from anxiety.
The study authors said: “These preliminary results suggest that breastfeeding for more than two months protects against chronic post-Caesarean pain, with a three-fold increase in the risk of chronic pain if breastfeeding is only maintained for two months or less.
“Our study provides another good reason to encourage women to breastfeed,” they said. “It’s possible that anxiety during breastfeeding could influence the likelihood of pain at the surgical site four months after the operation.”
The study results were presented as a poster (see attached PDF, below) at this year’s Euroanaesthesia congress in Geneva. The work has yet to be submitted to a journal for publication.
Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives, said “This is an interesting finding on a very small study so further research into breastfeeding for relieving persistent pain after a C-section is required.
“However, there is an overwhelming body of evidence around the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby,” she added.