Breastfeeding: Wean for surgery and nurse again?

I have a six-month-old son who I breastfeed two to three times a day. (He gets formula while at day care.) I am going to have abdominal surgery and my doctor says I will need to stop nursing because of the anesthesia. Can I stop breastfeeding for the two week recovery period and then just pick up again? I do not want to pump.

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

If you decide to wean for two weeks, while you recover from your abdominal surgery, there is a very good chance that your little one will not return to breastfeeding.

It is unlikely for two reasons: Often a baby who has had a "separation" from the breast, especially a long separation like this, may just decide he is no longer interested when nursing is offered again. This may even be more likely in an older baby. Also, when you wean temporarily, and do not express your milk, your breasts will begin to involute, or "dry-up," and the sodium content will naturally increase. This is sometimes referred to as "weaning milk." Babies typically do not like salty tasting breastmilk, so even if they decide to try nursing again, the taste may very well turn them off.

As you noticed after weaning your first baby, you will have some milk remaining after weaning does take place, but the quantity decreases and the taste changes. Returning to nursing will not be very appealing for most babies under these conditions.

It is not necessary to wean for most surgeries. Most medications are compatible with nursing, and your baby will generally receive only very small quantities (usually less than one percent of your dose) through your milk. Keep in mind, that even teeny newborns breastfeed after their mothers have received anesthesia when giving birth. See Pain Meds Following Oral Surgery for additional information.

Your may wonder how you will be able to get the rest you need while continuing to nurse your baby. It may work out well for you to have a friend or relative help out during your two weeks of recovery. You can then recuperate, nursing your baby as needed, while getting the help you need around your house. Best wishes!

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