Are you nursing one baby and expecting another? This post answers your questions about breastfeeding during pregnancy. Can you? Should you? Here’s what you need to know!
Guest Post by Kate of Modern Alternative Mama
When I was ready to get pregnant with my second baby, my first was only 9 months old. My biggest worry was that my milk supply would dry up and that I wouldn’t make it to a full year of breastfeeding. I was honestly kind of terrified about that (it does happen to about 70% of women). But I got lucky…and she continued to nurse throughout my pregnancy. And my next pregnancy. And still sometimes now…at almost 4 ½ years old.
But this isn’t about extended breastfeeding, so we’ll skip that last part. This is about breastfeeding during pregnancy. Can you? Should you? Will it hurt? Let’s take a look.
Can You Breastfeed During Pregnancy?
There are some out there – even doctors – who will tell you that you can’t. They will tell you that breastfeeding during pregnancy could hurt you or your baby or even that you can’t get pregnant while you’re still breastfeeding.
However, many women – like me – do get pregnant while they are still breastfeeding. It is definitely possible.
Most women (about 70%) will notice a reduction in their milk supply, and it will continue going down until it basically disappears. There will be a small amount of clear-ish colostrum (much like during your first pregnancy), but not enough for your nursling. This experience of the milk disappearing can occur at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks, 20 weeks, etc. Women experience it at different times.
Most women who are going to experience the disappearance of their supply will notice by 16 weeks, because that is when the body begins to switch to colostrum production for the new baby. (Note from Erin: My milk has dried up between 16-20 weeks during both my second and third pregnancies. My two oldest girls weaned around this time in my pregnancies.)
Despite a lack of milk, some babies will continue to nurse for comfort. Others are turned off by the lack of supply and the change in taste and will wean. It depends entirely on the baby – and on the mom!
About 30% of women will experience lower milk supply but will still keep up decent production throughout pregnancy. Some of these babies will still wean, because the milk taste changes (similar to the way it changes during a normal weaning process) and they don’t like this. If you are someone who keeps her supply, it will be up to you and your baby if you continue!
Should You Breastfeed During Pregnancy?
This is an entirely different question. While about 30% of moms can breastfeed throughout pregnancy, should you?
It’s definitely not a good idea, nor very easy, to get pregnant while you are exclusively breastfeeding. When your body is providing 500+ calories per day to a baby plus supporting your own needs, you don’t need pregnancy draining you, too.
Overall, pregnancy and nursing are extremely taxing on your body and pull from your nutrient stores. It is incredibly important to eat a nutrient-dense diet and really take care of yourself during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and for a while after weaning, too.
Traditional cultures say that babies should be weaned between ages 2 and 3 and that mom should spend six months to a year building up her nutrient stores before getting pregnant again, with children spaced 3 – 5 years apart. Or, at least, this is what everyone seems to say (based on Dr. Weston A. Price’s research).
Image by Pusteblumenland
Everyone is an individual, though, and we make child spacing decisions based on more than what some research tells us is “ideal” in general. There are those who strictly adhere to this protocol because they feel that their bodies need rest and replenishing.
Some women are very vulnerable to nutrient loss, and their baby’s future health could suffer if they get pregnant again too quickly.
Other women “bounce back” very easily and do not suffer any ill health effects (nor do their babies) from more closely spaced pregnancies.
My first two are just under 18 months apart, and my second two are just over 2 years apart, and I have not personally had any health problems, and my third baby is my healthiest one. This worked for me. Your experience may differ.
When Should You Wean?
Supposing you’re already pregnant and still breastfeeding, whether to wean or continue depends on you (and baby). You may find the sensation of nursing very irritating, especially if you lose your milk supply. You may find, especially in the first trimester, that you experience a lot of pain associated with nursing (because of the hormones and breast tenderness). A few women even find that their morning sickness is more severe when they’re nursing (and a few find it is less severe). You may choose to wean because you can’t stand nursing anymore, physically.
Another consideration is whether or not you want to tandem nurse. If you are still nursing in the final weeks of your pregnancy, prepare to do it. It’s too abrupt to wean a toddler less than 6 weeks prior to the birth of a new sibling (in most cases), because the toddler will often be jealous and feel like their new sibling “stole their milk.” Tandem nursing alleviates a lot of that jealousy. (I actually didn’t see any from my oldest when my second was born, and very little from my second when my third was born. Most of my second’s jealousy came when my third became mobile and started getting into his stuff!)
If you don’t want to tandem nurse, aim to taper off nursing sessions and replace them with cuddles, stories, or other “bonding” moments by around 6 months pregnant. This will give you plenty of time to have a “break” and to help your child move on to this new stage of life before a new sibling arrives.
Nursing a toddler is a true give-and-take relationship (unlike nursing a tiny baby!) so communicate your feelings to your toddler as much as you can. “That hurts Mommy right now” or “Mommy’s feeling tired, can we snuggle instead?” can go a long way to helping your toddler understand. Don’t blame the baby, though – just talk about how you feel.
Circumstances That Warrant Caution
So far I’ve just mentioned personal preferences. But there are some women who shouldn’t breastfeed during pregnancy.
If you have a history of miscarriage, premature labor, or have been told for any reason to abstain from sex, you should avoid breastfeeding during pregnancy. Some women who are extremely sensitive to oxytocin can experience problems in pregnancy when they are breastfeeding.
This is rare. It does happen and if you have anything that concerns you (cramping, spotting, contractions, or a history of problems), consult a professional about whether or not nursing is right for you.
I carried my third baby to 40 weeks while tandem nursing, though. Most of the time, the body doesn’t produce enough oxytocin to actually affect the pregnancy. I even nursed my oldest while in labor with my second and it didn’t do a thing! Don’t worry too much, unless you know there is something in your personal history that warrants caution.
To get more answers to your questions about nursing while pregnant, check out these Q&As with La Leche League leaders.
Have you or would you breastfeed during pregnancy?
Kate is a work-at-home mom. She is married to Ben, a wonderfully supportive husband! She blogs at Modern Alternative Mama, where she writes about natural health, real food, parenting, and all things “green.” She has authored several books on real food and alternative health. In her “free” time, she enjoys sewing, crafting, cooking, and playing with her children. Follow her on Facebook!
Check out the other posts in this series!
*Note from Erin: Neither Kate nor myself are pregnancy or breastfeeding experts. We simply write from personal experience and personal research. Please consult your trusted health professional before making any decisions regarding pregnancy or breastfeeding. This blog is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice.