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Having surgery is scary enough without worries about your breastfeeding relationship. Here are a few tips and ideas we can share to help you prepare:*
We recommend discussing your concerns about breastfeeding with your providers ahead of time. When you do so, be sure to find out about each test, diagnostic procedure, medication, and intervals of time away from your baby, and discuss ways of minimizing disruptions to breastfeeding. Knowing exactly what the process will look like will allow you to prepare, give you an opportunity to problem-solve with your providers, and put your mind at ease.
If you know that you’ll be missing feedings while in for your surgery, and you want your baby to still have breast milk, try pumping in advance to create a stash in your freezer for your baby. If you know for a while in advance, you could try pumping once a day to create this reserve. Remember that if your baby has already started solids you may need to pump less than if your baby is exclusively or primarily breastfed.
If you’ll be under general anesthesia for your surgery, you’re probably wondering how soon after the operation you can nurse. The American Academy of Family Physicians states “Mothers of healthy term neonates can resume breastfeeding once they are awake and able to hold the infant.” If this isn’t consistent with your providers’ plans, we encourage you to share the recommendation with them.
One of the biggest worries nursing moms have about surgery is how the medications might affect breastfeeding. If you can, find out ahead of time which medications you’ll be using and call the Infant Risk Center. This center, founded by world-renowned expert Dr. Thomas Hale, was established to provide you and your healthcare providers free, accurate, up-to-date information about medications and breastfeeding. If you’re being told that you’ll need to pump and dump for a while after surgery, we’d especially recommend confirming this with the Infant Risk Center.
If you expect to have an iodinated or gadolinium IV contrast study done as part of your care (perhaps for a CT scan or an MRI), you might hear that you need to pump and dump for a while afterward. If so, you may want to check out (and share with your providers) this statement from The American College of Radiology‘s, which reviewed the evidence about the transfer of contrast agents into milk and finds no reason to interrupt breastfeeding. Many hospitals have changed their policies to reflect this recommendation, but your hospital may not have done so yet.
If you anticipate needing to pump while in the hospital, either plan to bring your pump (if you have one), or inquire with the hospital about the availability of a hospital grade pump you can use while there. If you will need to use the hospital’s pump, we’d strongly encourage that you let them know ahead of time. Also be sure to ask about where you can store milk that you’ve pumped while there.
Recovering from surgery takes time and rest, and the more you can take it easy, the better. This is obviously easier said than done, and with a baby (and perhaps older kids), it takes some concerted effort to slow down! We encourage you to reach out to family and friends who can help during your recovery. Tasks like meal preparation, care of children, and cleaning can be done by helpers, giving you time to rest and nurse your baby.
*This information is provided for educational purposes only and not as medical advice. Consult your healthcare provider for care suited to your needs.