Does Anesthesia Affect a New Mom’s Ability to Breastfeed?

For Immediate Release
For more information, contact AANA Public Relations

Park Ridge, Ill.—There are myriad benefits associated with breastfeeding an infant, but when a mother is faced with surgery should the breastfeeding stop?  According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA), most anesthetic drugs are safe for use during lactation, and typically only 1percent to 2 percent of such medications given to the mother appear in breast milk—not enough to harm a baby.

For mothers committed to breastfeeding, the need to have surgery and anesthesia often presents a concern.  In addition to the logistical difficulty of breastfeeding when a new mother is admitted to the hospital, there may be concerns about the medications the mother could receive.

“Many studies have found that the use of general anesthesia and most commonly used medications for pain relief are safe and should not interfere with breastfeeding because only minimal traces of the anesthetic are passed on through the breast milk," said Janice Izlar, CRNA, DNAP.  “A nursing mother should be allowed to breastfeed as soon as she is awake and aware after general anesthesia.”

Some quick facts about breastfeeding and anesthesia include:

  • Most medications used in general anesthesia do not remain in the mother’s system and do not affect her milk.
  • Nearly all pain medications are safe for the nursing mother. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (such as Advil) are safe. Narcotic analgesics should be used with greater caution, but in general only very small amounts appear in breast milk. Morphine has been shown to have the least effect of all narcotics on infants. Codeine should be used with caution but is easily substituted with other medications, and Demerol may cause some drowsiness in an infant but is generally considered safe.
  • Pain suppresses lactation. Proper pain relief will help lactation continue.

New moms who need anesthesia for surgery or another procedure should always consult with their anesthesia professional for information specific to their situation.  There are exceptions to every rule and there may be other considerations to think about.  Deciding whether to continue breastfeeding is about weighing both the risks and the benefits after receiving proper guidance.