Breastfeeding Through Pregnancy

Toddler hugging baby belly momBy Kylie Powell

Nursing while expecting is more common than you may be aware. Many parents find themselves pregnant with a toddler or older child still snuggled up and nursing. Perhaps you or someone you know is nursing their first baby and thinking about another pregnancy. Maybe you are considering weaning before the next baby arrives or tandem nursing both children. In today’s blog post, we’ve compiled some tips on this topic from some classic breastfeeding books.

If you’re wondering about what happens when a parent is pregnant and breastfeeding, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th Edition) offers the following information:

“About three-quarters of nursing parents have some nipple tenderness or pain in early pregnancy, and more than half begin to feel fidgety and impatient when they nurse during pregnancy. Some mothers opt to work through the fidgetiness or nipple soreness; others choose to wean; others wean and resume nursing later on — feelings and responses are all over the map. Follow your heart; every situation is different.”

Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond (2019) by Hilary Flower is an in-depth resource for parents who may be considering nursing through pregnancy and perhaps continuing to nurse two.

Is Breastfeeding During Pregnancy Right for Me?

Adventures in Tandem Nursing (page 4) offers a checklist to help parents work through whether or not breastfeeding while pregnant will be a good fit for their family. Some things to consider from that list are:

  • The parent’s particular body and pregnancy: A caring parent knows their body’s patterns, needs, and history of lactation and pregnancy better than anyone. Consider how well breastfeeding may overlap with this pregnancy.
  • Caregivers: Do you have healthcare providers who are breastfeeding-friendly and can help the parents make balanced decisions?
  • The nursing child: Consider the positive and negative ways that breastfeeding or weaning will affect the current nursling.
  • Resources: Is there access to the rest, nutrition, and support needed to make milk, grow a baby, and enjoy the pregnancy? Extra encouragement at this time can be crucial. Talking things over with an LLL Leader or chatting with other parents at your local LLL meetings can be really helpful. Find local support here.
  • Flexibility for twists and turns: From tender breasts to dwindling milk, pregnancy can change breastfeeding. A nursling may wean, un-wean, and wean again, making a roller coaster out of breastfeeding-as-usual. Can you roll with it?

Is It Safe to Breastfeed While Pregnant?

Some parents may wonder whether there are risks in continuing to nurse once they become pregnant. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (8th Edition) shares some specific situations in which parents may be cautioned about breastfeeding during pregnancy, but those cases are not common.

“There may be cases in which it’s important to wean in order to maintain a pregnancy, but they’re extremely rare. The concern is that the oxytocin released with nursing will stimulate uterine contractions and start labor prematurely. But were you cautioned against orgasm, which releases even more oxytocin? Women with a history of premature labor may be advised to avoid sex, orgasm, and nursing during the pregnancy, but the sex prohibition is usually to avoid mechanical disturbance of the cervix. After all, even extreme happiness causes oxytocin release.”

If a parent does have a high-risk pregnancy or has been put on pelvic rest, they should consult with a breastfeeding-friendly healthcare provider and consider reading Adventures in Tandem Nursing Chapter 3, Breastfeeding in a High Risk Pregnancy.

Will My Nursling Get Enough Milk?

Particularly for babies under one year of age, nursing parents need to consider whether or not their baby will get enough milk during pregnancy as the milk supply dips. Milk supply can be reduced due to the hormones in pregnancy. When this happens, the nursling may increase their solid food intake. The child’s weight gain and diaper output should be monitored to ensure they are getting enough nutrition throughout the day.

Cutting Back on Nursing and Nursing Manners

Parents may feel they want to reduce nursing time during pregnancy for their own comfort or set limits on certain bothersome nursing behaviors. Some parents report using timers to help shorten the length of time during a nursing session – plus, toddlers are often very excited about timers! Similarly, if you want to cut back on the duration of a session you could consider singing a song and finishing the nursing at the end of the song. Nursing manners can be helpful at this age, too, especially if you find yourself feeling overstimulated during pregnancy.

Extra Food or Water?

When you are eating for three, you may be wondering if you will need additional calories or water and possible ways to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Frequent healthy snacks can be helpful for staying nourished throughout the day, especially if you are dealing with nausea or vomiting during pregnancy. In that case, take advantage of any moments of hunger you may feel and eat what appeals to you. Unless you are facing food scarcity or unable to keep food down, eating for three is manageable for most. For hydration, aim to drink to quench thirst. Plan to eat a varied diet and let the scale guide you to ensure you are meeting your needs. Remember that the body has natural safeguards in place to ensure that the nursing parent doesn’t become depleted, the breastmilk is high quality, and the fetus’s needs are taken care of.

A Strong Support Network

Parents are the experts on their own families, and each family must decide for themselves what path to take when nursing while pregnant. There are lots of factors to consider. Having a reliable support system is key to whatever is decided. Lean on friends and family, especially those who support breastfeeding, and know that La Leche League Groups and Leaders are always here to help and encourage.

Have you breastfed while pregnant? We’d love to hear from you. Share your parenting and human milk feeding stories with Kylie at [email protected]


Supporting Breastfeeding Families–Today, Tomorrow, Always

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