A certain amount of the drugs present in epidurals enter babies’ bloodstreams and can make them less willing to breast-feed, say researchers from Sydney University, Australia. Epidurals are commonly used to reduce pain during childbirth – a catheter is inserted into the spine, into which painkillers are infused.

You can read about this study in the International Breastfeeding Journal.

The researchers found that the painkilling drugs, especially fentanyl, affect the baby’s brain in a subtle way, making him/her more sleepy.

The scientists examined 1,280 births, of which 416 involved the use of an epidural. All the mothers were 16 or over, they all gave birth to a single live infant in the Australian Capital Territory in 1997.

Here are some of their findings:

— 93% of all the mothers breast-fed their infants during the first week
— Mothers who had had an epidural had more difficulties breast-feeding during the first couple of days, compared to the mothers who hadn’t had an epidural
— Six months later, 72% of non-epidural mothers were still breast-feeding
— Six months later, 53% of epidural mothers were still breast-feeding

Fentanyl is an opioid drug which enters the bloodstream rapidly, and easily makes its way through the placenta into the unborn baby. The scientists believe the baby’s development and coordination could be undermined by this drug.

The researchers said it is vital that women at higher risk of breast-feeding cessation be given breast-feeding assistance and support.

“Intrapartum epidural analgesia and breastfeeding: a prospective cohort study”
Siranda Torvaldsen, Christine L Roberts, Judy M Simpson, Jane F Thompson and David A Ellwood
International Breastfeeding Journal 2006, 1:24
Click here to view abstract online

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today