Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Breastfeeding After Surgery

With about 4 years of solid exclusive breastfeeding experience, I have had my fair share of challenges. I have struggled with flat nipples, thrush, foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, and more. But, one of the most challenging events I have had to prepare for and go through, both mentally and physically, has been surgery.

With my second baby, it was having my wisdom teeth removed. With my third, it was having my tonsils removed.

When you are ill and breastfeeding, one of the first questions that comes up is "Can I have surgery and continue breastfeeding?" The answer is a big YES. Continuing the breastfeeding relationship throughout the recovery process is absolutely doable. It may seem daunting, but it can be done. I hope my story inspires you to be positive if you are facing surgery while still maintaining a breastfeeding relationship with your child.

Anesthesia, Pain Killers, and Breastfeeding

One of my biggest fears about surgery were if the anesthesia and pain killers were safe during breastfeeding. I pretty surprised to find that even some of the heaviest pain medications I would be taking would be safe. The key is knowing what medications you will be taking, and check with a breastfeeding medication reference, such as Medications and Mother's Milk.

This book is not cheap, but you can call your local lactation consultant and have her check her reference book for the medications you will be taking. She may even be able to recommend some alternative medications if the ones you will be taking are not safe.

General anesthesia is also safe. As are many other forms of anesthesia. What matters is how fast the medication metabolizes in your system and how much will be present in your milk. Most of the medications used during and after surgery metabolize very quickly and/or leave very little traces in your milk.

How to Prepare for Breastfeeding After Surgery

I'm not going to tell you that breastfeeding after surgery is easy, because it's not. The older your baby is, and the more established your baby is at breastfeeding, the less likely it will impact your relationship in the long run.

If you are an attachment parent or cosleeping, your recovery from surgery could be very difficult for your baby and you. Firstly, you will most likely be on very heavy pain medications, and therefore, it will not be a good idea for your spouse or family to leave the baby alone with you as you sleep. It will not be a good idea for them to leave the baby with you to sleep in a chair, either.

So how do you prepare for such a difficult road bump in breastfeeding? Here are the most helpful things I learned during my recoveries:

1.) Pump and store breastmilk if you can. This is not always possible before surgery, either because of time restraints or low supply from illness. My supply was so low before I had my tonsils out, that I could not store up any milk, though I did have a few bags in the freezer from before.

If for some reason you must miss a feeding (like the day of your surgery), baby's caregiver will have something to offer.

2.) Recruit help. Having to care for a breastfed baby while mom is not around can be very stressful. Get as much help for your spouse as you can from friends and family, with meals, childcare, household chores, etc. Let them know your expected recovery time and tell them exactly what you need help with.

3.) Bring a pump, breastfeed right before surgery, and as soon as possible after surgery. My husband brought the kids and I to the hospital, and it gave me a chance to breastfeed right before I was wheeled into surgery. After my tonsillectomy, I arranged for someone to watch my older kids so that my husband could bring the baby to me at the hospital. I also brought along my pump. I knew that my breasts would be full just a short time after surgery. I also wanted to breastfeed as soon as I felt well enough to sit up and hold my baby.

Of course, it helps to alert your doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologist that you are currently breastfeeding and  how you plan to handle the recovery process. Let them know if you've talked with a lactation consultant about your options, and if needed, you may ask for lactation consultant support at the hospital.

4.) Breastfeed when possible, but focus on your recovery. Plan to have your spouse or support person available to care for you during the entire length of your recovery. Breastfeed as often as possible, but don't let breastfeeding interfere with your recovery. Comfort nursing is okay, as long as you can handle it during this time. As long as your baby is getting enough to eat, either through breastmilk or food, know that your baby will be fine.

Your baby will cry. It's okay. You are not a bad mom. You are recovery from surgery, and you should be very proud of yourself for continuing to breastfeed through such a difficult time. Your baby will be okay, and you can resume your normal breastfeeding bond after recovery.

Nights may be very hard for your spouse, especially if you are unable to cosleep. After my tonsillectomy, I was unable to lay in bed for 2 weeks (I had to stay at a certain angle.) My son had a very rough time. But we made it through, and he is breastfeeding today at 19 months.

Breastfeeding after surgery is possible! Please leave a comment and let me know of your own breastfeeding difficulties and experiences, or let me know if you have any questions. I would be happy to answer the best I can. Or, you can email me at vanessapruitt@gmail.com


  1. I'm about to have my tonsils removed, I co sleep and I am a single mother! I'm scared!!!! Really scared.
    My son is going to flip out, how can I make it easier on him? My parents will be looking after him and I after the surgery and they follow my rules in regards to parenting but I don't want to lose the nursing relationship we have (bubs is 8 months old will be 12 months at surgery time).

    I hope we will both be okay but I could use some encouragement haha

  2. You will do great. As I said, you are right, it will be hard on your son. But, you can survive and so can your nursing relationship and bond. The first week is the hardest, and you will still be able to cuddle and nurse plenty when you are awake. :)

  3. Hi Vanessa, it seems EXTREMELY difficult to find information about what to expect after breastfeeding mother's tonsillectomy. My son is 7 1/2 months old, and I'm having a tonsillectomy in a few days. I'm not so worried about what medications are safe, since I've researched that heavily and I know what to specify and ask for. I'm more worried about if my supply will dip because I won't be able to eat well after my surgery. I really, really don't want to supplement with formula if it can be avoided. I know that in order to keep that from happening, I need to get as many quality liquid calories in, with hopefully as few swallows as possible.

    Could you share your experience specifically regarding your tonsillectomy recovery? Did your supply drop? Were you able to get enough calories in? Was it difficult to care for your baby while you were unable to comfortably speak? Any tips or tricks? I know the recovery will be painful, but it will be so much worse if I'm not able to feed my baby!!!