It’s common for new parents to embrace the adage that “breast is best.” Breast milk has long been linked to higher immunity levels and overall health and has even been lauded as a way to make children smarter. While some studies conducted in the last year have found no definitive long-term cognitive benefits to breastfeeding, the health benefits — like helping infants fight off infections and allowing premature babies to become stronger — are undoubtable. Now, results from one study show that the advantages of breastfeeding aren’t limited to children: it can help moms who gave birth via C-section to alleviate chronic pain.
The World Health Organization states that infants should be fed exclusively breast milk for the first six months of their life to achieve “optimal growth, development, and health.” But according to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 51.8% of new mothers in the U.S. meet these recommendations. And in 2015, approximately 26.8% of survey respondents said they expressed breast milk five to 15 times per week.
That said, breastfeeding rates are reportedly rising. And the results of this new study, conducted by the Hospital Universitario Nuestra Senora de Valme in Spain, may encourage new mothers to opt for breastfeeding for both their own health and that of their children.
Study co-author Dr. Carmen Alicia Vargas Berenjeno and her colleagues studied data from 185 mothers who underwent C-section births between January of 2015 and December of 2016. The mothers were questioned about their levels of chronic pain at the surgical site in the 24 hours following the procedure and their breastfeeding practices. They were interviewed again after 72 hours had passed and four months after the procedure.
Nearly 11.4% of these mothers said they experienced chronic pain after their C-section. But the researchers found that chronic pain levels were higher among mothers who breastfed for shorter durations.
Approximately 87% of these mothers breastfed their children, 58% of whom breastfed for at least two months. Only 8% of the new moms who breastfed for two months or more reported chronic pain at the surgical site. In contrast, 23% of moms who breastfed for less than two months reported experiencing this pain.
While these results are encouraging, researchers admit that there are other contributing factors at play. A mother’s age, her anxiety levels about breastfeeding, and even her educational background might impact how she experiences pain. Of course, surgical technique is a variable, too. The researchers have said they will continue to gather data in this area.
Still, the authors write in their conclusion:
“These preliminary results suggest that breast-feeding for more than two months protects against chronic post-cesarean pain, with a threefold increase in the risk of chronic pain if breast-feeding is only maintained for two 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 four months after the operation.”