Can I breastfeed after anaesthesia?

Many breastfeeding mothers who need surgery will require some form of anaesthesia. Women are often told to express and discard breastmilk after the operation as a precaution due to concerns about drugs passing into the milk.

Anesthesia medications are short-acting and do not accumulate in breast milk, making it safe for breastfeeding

New guidelines suggest anaesthetists should use pharmacokinetic information to ensure they select medications that will not interfere with breastfeeding. This should help to eliminate the unnecessary interruption of feeding that has been seen previously.

 breastfeed after anaesthesia

What can I expect when I breastfeed after anesthesia?

Currently, breastfeeding women needing an anaesthetic are often advised to stop breastfeeding and discard their expressed milk due to fears about the possible effects of drugs passing into breastmilk. This can cause unnecessary stress and disruption to breastfeeding and a temporary drop in milk supply. It is important to let your surgeon and anaesthetist know if you are breastfeeding so that they can help you to plan ahead and to discuss how best to manage your recovery whilst continuing to breastfeed.

Most anaesthesia and pain medications pass into breastmilk in small amounts (known as the pharmacokinetics) and are not thought to pose any danger to the infant. However, some medications do have long half-lives which may prolong the time they are in your milk. It is worth checking the pharmacokinetics of specific medication with lactation specialists.

If you are having a general anaesthetic it is probably best to express and store your milk before the operation, so that it is not overfull when you have to stop feeding. This is especially important if you are having a procedure such as a caesarean section.

For regional anaesthesia (epidural or spinal) it is much easier to continue breastfeeding as most of the medications have short half-lives and clear from your system quickly. Alternatively, you can ask someone else to care for your baby while you are having your operation and breastfeed them.

Preparation is key in breastfeed after anaesthesia .

Ideally, breastfeeding should be avoided or disrupted as much as possible and in some cases this may not be feasible. In these situations, planning ahead is key to ensuring the best outcome for both mother and baby. Women who need to undergo an operation and are breastfeeding should let their anaesthetist know they will be breastfeeding. This is so they can advise on how to proceed and ensure that any medications given are compatible with breastfeeding. It is also important to have a plan in place for pumping and storing milk so it can be fed to the baby later. In addition, a plan for who will care for the baby should be made as this is essential to avoid separation.

It is reassuring to note that the advice currently given regarding breastfeeding and anaesthesia has been updated in line with current evidence. Previously, some healthcare professionals recommended that breastfeeding should be stopped for 24 hours or more after anaesthesia due to concerns that drugs used in anaesthesia may transfer to breastmilk and have adverse infant effects. However, research now shows that most anaesthetic drugs do not pass into breastmilk in levels that are of concern to infants.

The Association of Anaesthetists (Great Britain and Ireland, AA) has produced a guideline on anaesthesia and breastfeeding for health professionals as well as patient information leaflets that contain this up to date information. This is available online here.

Expect a drop in supply.

Most of the medications used in anesthesia and procedural sedation will clear from the mother’s body quite quickly, especially those with a short half-life. Breastfeeding should resume shortly after the woman awakens.

However, there is often an initial drop in supply as the drugs leave her system. This can be very stressful for the mother, but it is a normal response. A small amount of drug may remain in the milk for a few hours, but there are no studies to demonstrate that this has any adverse effects on infants.

It is important to tell the anesthetist that you are breastfeeding. It can help them to plan the anaesthesia, pain control and recovery procedures. It also allows them to check that any drugs they give you are safe for breastfeeding.

If you are able, try to express and safely store your milk ahead of the surgery. This can help prevent mastitis and maintain your milk production. You should talk to a breastfeeding counsellor to learn about pumping and storage.

It is also important to have a plan in place if you will be separated from your baby during the procedure. This should include a carer who can be arranged to look after your infant when you are in hospital, and an alternative space for breastfeeding if necessary.

Don’t panic.

Breastfeeding is a very important part of a woman’s life and health. It is therefore understandable that breastfeeding mothers may be anxious when needing surgery. The good news is that most women who require anaesthesia and/or sedation can continue to breastfeed without any problems. In fact, in August of 2020, the Association of Anaesthesia (Great Britain and Ireland, AA) published a guideline that recommends that mothers can resume breastfeeding as soon as they are alert and able to do so. This is in line with the UK’s Baby Friendly Initiative and the World Health Organization’s recommendations.

The guidelines include pharmacokinetic data on medications used in anesthesia and sedation to ensure that anaesthetists have the necessary knowledge to support breastfeeding mothers. This information is important because it allows doctors to determine what drugs are transferred to the breast milk and in what quantities. In the past, mothers were sometimes advised to express and discard their breast milk after anesthesia in order to reduce the amount of drug transferred to the infant. However, this advice is no longer necessary.

In addition to a revised protocol, Dr. Reece-Stremtan is also working to develop free patient education materials for surgeons and physicians to help them discuss breastfeeding concerns with their patients. She hopes that this will help ease the minds of breastfeeding moms who are worried about their surgery and any medication they may need to take while undergoing it.


In conclusion, breastfeeding after anesthesia is generally safe and encouraged. However, the timing and specific recommendations may vary depending on the type of anesthesia used and individual circumstances. It’s crucial to communicate your intention to breastfeed with your healthcare providers, who can provide guidance and ensure your baby’s safety and your comfort.Breastfeeding after anesthesia is generally safe, but the timing and precautions you should take depend on the type of anesthesia used and the specific circumstances of your surgery or procedure.

Can I breastfeed my baby immediately after surgery under general anesthesia?

In most cases, you will need to wait until you are fully awake and alert before breastfeeding your baby after general anesthesia. The specific timing may vary depending on the type of surgery, medications used, and your individual recovery.

Is it safe to breastfeed after receiving local or regional anesthesia?

Yes, it is generally safe to breastfeed after receiving local or regional anesthesia, such as an epidural or spinal block. These types of anesthesia do not typically affect breast milk or your baby.

How long should I wait to breastfeed after receiving general anesthesia?

The waiting time before breastfeeding after general anesthesia can vary. It is advisable to follow the guidance of your healthcare provider or anesthesiologist, who can assess your condition and determine when it’s safe for you to nurse your baby.

Are there any specific precautions I should take when breastfeeding after anesthesia?

One precaution is to make sure you are fully awake and alert before breastfeeding. Additionally, inform your healthcare provider about your intention to breastfeed, so they can select anesthesia medications that are safe for nursing mothers.

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