By Debbie Page, RN, IBCLC, CEIM, director of TheNewBornBaby.com
Many women find themselves pregnant while they are still enjoying a nursing relationship with their child. It doesn’t typically occur during the first six months, as long as you and your child are together most of the time and the child is exclusively nursing, but it can happen any time. Your child may be seven months or two years old when you discover you are pregnant. Should pregnancy be the reason to wean? For most mothers, the answer is a resounding no!
Babies need to breastfeed for years, not months, so continuing to breastfeed while pregnant could be the very best thing for your nursling. You will want to discuss this with your partner and your midwife/doctor. In Western cultures, the social norm is to breastfeed for a few weeks to a few months and certainly not during pregnancy. You may very likely have family members and friends pressure you to wean. Only you can make that decision. Educate yourself so you can base your decision on facts, not emotions. Embrace your freedom as a woman and mother to make the decisions you feel are best for your children and your family.
You and your family will have a lot to ponder about as you arrive at your decision. You may decide to continue nursing and set periodic goals for re-evaluating.
Is It Safe to Breastfeed While Pregnant?
There are two situations to consider:
- How are your pregnancies? If you carried your pregnancies to term without a threat of premature labor, then you are fine to continue breastfeeding. If not, you need to make sure your midwife/doctor is fine with your plan. If it is OK for you to have sex during pregnancy, it is safe to keep breastfeeding. Some doctors are concerned that the nipple stimulation of breastfeeding will cause premature contraction, but the medical literature does not support that theory. Nipple stimulation causes a release of oxytocin, which triggers the milk to let down. The synthetic form of oxytocin, Pitocin, is used to induce or augment labor. The amount of oxytocin released during orgasm is more than with breastfeeding, so the chances are slim to none that breastfeeding would put you into preterm labor.
- Are you well nourished? While you are pregnant, your body will draw from your stored nutrients to support your unborn child. You will continue to make high quality milk during pregnancy, but you will need to increase your calorie intake and your vitamins and minerals. Eat well, drink enough fluids, and make sure you gain the expected amount during your pregnancy. Women who are malnourished should not breastfeed during pregnancy. Vegan, anemic, or dairy-free moms need to pay special attention to their nutrition even if they are not pregnant, but especially if pregnant and breastfeeding.
Will My Older Child Get the Proper Nutrition?
Because your milk production may dwindle about halfway through your pregnancy, you may need to supplement a child whose sole source of nutrition is breastfeeding.
Not everyone will experience reduced milk supply, however. When Hilary Flower wrote her book, Adventures in Tandem Nursing, 30% of 200 mothers she had interviewed did not report a decrease in their production while they tandem-nursed.
What Other Ways Will Pregnancy Alter My Milk?
The taste of your milk will change, and some nurslings do not care for the new taste of Mommy’s milk.
At some point, your milk will revert to colostrum. This is still fine for your child and there is no need to worry that she will use it all up. Your breasts will keep replenishing the colostrum. Once you deliver, your production of colostrum will increase to provide plenty for the new baby.
How Does It Feel to Breastfeed While Pregnant?
Some women find it irritating or become restless when they nurse while pregnant. Hormonal changes are probably the culprit.
The hormones of pregnancy may also cause nipple tenderness. The tenderness may increase with the decrease of milk production.
For some women, morning sickness or nausea increase with nursing; for others, it decreases. If you experience more nausea, try altering your nursing schedule.
What About Weaning During Pregnancy?
You may decide that you want to wean before you deliver. This is fine. Giving some thought to this before you choose to breastfeed during pregnancy can help you emotionally if this does happen.
Some children will wean when the milk production dwindles or because the taste of the milk changes. Again, preparing for this possibility before it happens can ease the loss of your nursing relationship with this child.