Researchers have long known that epidurals taken as pain relievers during delivery carried potential risks for both mother and the child. The most common adverse reactions were lowered blood pressure, a slowing of the birth process and risks of forceps deliveries.

The newest researches showed that women who received epidurals during childbirth had more difficulty breast-feeding and were twice as likely to stop breast-feeding within six months.

Epidurals are inserted into the spine to deaden the nerves that relay sensation from the lower body and legs. Epidurals that contained fentanyl, an opioid drug, could pass quickly into the bloodstream and into the placenta to reach the unborn baby’s brain and make the baby sleepy and less willing to breast-feed.

Sydney University studied around 1,280 women who had given birth, of whom 416 had had an epidural. 93% of the women breast-fed their baby in the first week but those who had epidurals had more problems in the few days following birth. Six months after, 72% of women who had not received painkillers were breast-feeding in comparison to 53 % of those who had been given epidurals.

This research is important in realizing why so many women fail to breast-feed and why over 55% give up within first six weeks following birth. Most of those who give up are discouraged by the baby’s refusal to breast-feed and find bottle-feeding easier.

It is essential that women get educated about all the possible adverse reactions of the epidurals and local anesthetics and that they receive extra support when starting to breast-feed after receiving an opioid during labour, researchers advise.