Effects Of Anesthesia On Labor And Delivery On Breastfeeding

October 20, 1998

HERSHEY, PA-- The use of general anesthesia or pain-relief agents given during labor, delivery or the postpartum period should not interfere with breastfeeding, says a Penn State researcher.

Dr. Cheston M. Berlin Jr., M.D., professor of pediatrics and phamacology at Penn State's College of Medicine, reviewed the published literature, reached that conclusion and reported today (Oct. 20) at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in San Francisco. A member of the AAP Committee on Drugs, he says the purpose of the session is to enable pediatricians to understand how these drugs might affect the process of lactation and how to support nursing mothers at the same time.

"There is no reason a mother should not be given medications for pain relief such as an epidural. The effects of the anesthesia on the ability to nurse should be managed with knowledge and patience," says Berlin.

Some of the published literature shows that the anesthesia may cause the infant to have a delayed latch on time and may be uncoordinated at suckling, but Berlin says those effects last only a few hours to perhaps a day. There appears to be no long-term problems with anesthesia and breastfeeding.

Berlin says the AAP strongly recommends breastfeeding. He says the process should begin as soon as possible, usually in the delivery room. He says newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of hunger, usually about 8- 12 times per day for 10 to 20 minutes.

"Besides being nutritionally complete, we know that breastfeeding helps the child's immune system. It is the best thing a new mother can do for her child," states the Penn State researcher.

He estimates that about 60 percent of women in the United States leave the hospital, breastfeeding their infants. The AAP has a goal of 75 percent by the year 2000. Berlin says about half the mothers that breastfeed stop after six months, and many do so because of the need to return to work. The AAP recommends human milk as the only milk for the first year of life.

"We know that this can be a very anxiety-provoking period for the mother. She needs a great deal of patience and persistence and understanding that this process is very important," says Berlin. "We recommend that new mothers see a lactation professional within the first two to three days after delivery. With quick discharge times, it is important to deal with experienced professionals."

He also reports that this review of the current literature was conducted so that physicians will understand when anesthesia can be used, and he hopes they strongly promote and support breastfeeding by new mothers.
Leilyn Perri (o) (717) 531-8604 e-mail: lperri@psghs.edu
M. Steven Bortner (o) (717) 531-8606

Penn State

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