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J Hum Lact. 2016 Aug;32(3):507-20. doi: 10.1177/0890334415623779. Epub 2016 Apr 27.

Labor Epidural Analgesia and Breastfeeding: A Systematic Review.

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Columbia University, Graduate Program in Nurse Anesthesia, New York, NY, USA Yale New Haven Hospital, New Haven, CT, USA
University of Connecticut, School of Nursing, Storrs, CT, USA.
Department of Anesthesiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.


Despite widespread use of epidural analgesia during labor, no consensus has been reached among obstetric and anesthesia providers regarding its effects on breastfeeding. The purpose of this review was to examine the relationship between labor epidural analgesia and breastfeeding in the immediate postpartum period. PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature were searched for articles published in 1990 or thereafter, using the search term breastfeeding combined with epidural, labor epidural analgesia, labor analgesia, or epidural analgesia Of 117 articles, 23 described empirical studies specific to labor epidural analgesia and measured a breastfeeding outcome. Results were conflicting: 12 studies showed negative associations between epidural analgesia and breastfeeding success, 10 studies showed no effect, and 1 study showed a positive association. Most studies were observational. Of 3 randomized controlled studies, randomization methods were inadequate in 2 and not evaluable in 1. Other limitations were related to small sample size or inadequate study power; variation and lack of information regarding type and dosage of analgesia or use of other intrapartum interventions; differences in timing, definition, and method of assessing breastfeeding success; or failure to consider factors such as mothers' intention to breastfeed, social support, siblings, or the mother's need to return to work or school. It is also unclear to what extent results are mediated through effects on infant neurobehavior, maternal fever, oxytocin release, duration of labor, and need for instrumental delivery. Clinician awareness of factors affecting breastfeeding can help identify women at risk for breastfeeding difficulties in order to target support and resources effectively.


breastfeeding; epidural analgesia; labor

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