When it comes to infant feeding, new parents are often told that “breast is best” for their baby’s health. A new study provides further evidence that breast-feeding can benefit mothers, too, after finding that it may help to reduce chronic pain after cesarean delivery.

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Breast-feeding for longer than 2 months could help to reduce pain after cesarean delivery, researchers suggest.

Researchers found that new mothers who breast-fed their babies for at least 2 months after undergoing a cesarean section (C-section) were less likely to experience pain at the surgical site than those who breast-fed for under 2 months.

Study co-author Dr. Carmen Alicia Vargas Berenjeno, of the Hospital Universitario Nuestra Señora de Valme in Spain, and colleagues recently reported their results at the Euroanaesthesia Congress 2017, held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Current guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) state that infants should be exclusively breast-fed for the first 6 months of their life, in order to achieve “optimal growth, development, and health.”

According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, just 51.8 percent of new mothers in the United States meet these recommendations, though the rates are rising.

The new study may help to encourage some mothers to extend their breast-feeding duration, after finding that it could help to ease pain after a C-section.

Dr. Berenjeno and colleagues came to their findings by analyzing the data of 185 mothers who underwent a C-section between January 2015 and December 2016.

In the 24 hours after their C-section, the mothers were interviewed about their levels of chronic pain at the surgical site, as well as their breast-feeding practices and the presence of anxiety during breast-feeding. Interviews were conducted again within 72 hours of C-section and at 4 months after.

Breast-feeding was taken up by 87 percent of the mothers, and 58 percent of these breast-fed their babies for at least 2 months. Around 11.4 percent of mothers reported experiencing chronic pain after C-section.

The researchers found that the rate of chronic pain was higher among mothers who breast-fed for a shorter duration.

Just 8 percent of mothers who breast-fed for at least 2 months experienced chronic pain at the surgical site at 4 months after C-section, compared with 23 percent of mothers who breast-fed for under 2 months.

These results remained after accounting a number of possible confounding factors, including the mother’s age.

On further investigation, the team found that mothers who had a university education were at a reduced risk of experiencing chronic pain at 4 months after C-section.

What is more, the researchers found that more than half of breast-feeding mothers reported experiencing anxiety, which they believe might affect the risk of chronic pain.

The researchers are continuing to gather data on how breast-feeding duration might influence chronic pain after cesarean delivery, but these early results present some interesting findings.

The authors write:

These preliminary results suggest that breast-feeding for more than 2 months protects against chronic post-cesarean pain, with a threefold increase in the risk of chronic pain if breast-feeding is only maintained for 2 months or less.

Our study provides another good reason to encourage women to breast-feed. It’s possible that anxiety during breast-feeding could influence the likelihood of pain at the surgical site 4 months after the operation.”

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