Written by: Wendy, IBCLC.
If you are nursing a baby or toddler and become pregnant, you may be wondering whether it’s safe or okay to continue breastfeeding. You are not alone. Many parents become pregnant while still nursing a little one, and have many questions and worries.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common concerns and misconceptions, as well as what to expect if you decide to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy.
CAN YOU BREASTFEED WHILE PREGNANT?
The answer to whether or not you can continue nursing during pregnancy is an enthusiastic “yes!” If you are breastfeeding and become pregnant, there is almost no reason why you need to stop. In fact, several prominent medical organizations—such as the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)—say that nursing during pregnancy is an acceptable practice.
DO YOU HAVE TO WEAN?
There’s a misconception out there that if you become pregnant during breastfeeding, you need to automatically wean. While every person will have different feelings about whether to continue—some will want to wean soon after they become pregnant, some won’t know what to do at first, and some will be determined to continue—the decision about how to proceed is yours.
As AAFP explains, breastfeeding during pregnancy is common and barring any medical complications, it can be up to the parent to decide whether or not to continue. “If the pregnancy is normal and the patient is healthy, breastfeeding during pregnancy is their personal decision,” they state in a breastfeeding position paper.
IS IT SAFE?
Several studies point to the relative safety of breastfeeding during pregnancy. As ACOG points out, available research shows, “no increase in spontaneous abortion and preterm birth among low risk women who are breastfeeding during pregnancy.” Furthermore, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Nursing Research found that breastfeeding during pregnancy didn’t affect birth rates, nor did it affect the birth weight of newborns.
The AAP also expresses that nursing during pregnancy is generally safe, explaining that if you are a breastfeeding parent with a history of miscarriage or premature delivery, it’s important to stay in touch with your healthcare providers and report any unusual symptoms or contractions. Still, in the vast majority of cases, breastfeeding during pregnancy is safe for both the breastfeeding parent and their baby.
While breastfeeding during pregnancy isn’t usually unsafe or ill-advised, it’s not without challenges. Let’s take a look at some of the common issues people who breastfeed during pregnancy might experience.
The hormones of pregnancy can make your breasts tender and your nipples extra sensitive. For this reason, many people find that breastfeeding—especially in the first trimester—can be very uncomfortable. Many people report feeling “touched out” during this time. Additionally, as pregnancy progresses, it can be difficult to find a breastfeeding position to accommodate your changing shape and size.
Pregnancy can cause your milk supply to decrease, and it can also cause the taste of your milk to change. Everyone is different, though, and some parents notice a sharper milk supply decrease than others. Toward the middle of pregnancy, your body will start to produce colostrum for your new baby, which your current nursling can consume (colostrum has some laxative qualities, so watch for loose poops!).
If your nursing child relies on your breast milk for a significant portion of their calories or nutrition, you may need to ensure that they get enough to eat and drink from other sources, should your milk supply drop.
Motherlove offers herbal supplements for breastfeeding. Check with your IBCLC to see if there’s an herb that can support you during this time.
DECIDING WHETHER TO CONTINUE
Again, the decision to keep breastfeeding is up to you. You may find that the discomforts of nursing during pregnancy are too much. Your nursing child may not want to continue after your milk supply decreases, or they might not enjoy the changing taste of the milk.
On the other hand, especially if your nursing child is young, you may want to push past your discomforts and stick it out. Most people find that breastfeeding during pregnancy gets easier after the first trimester, for example. Others find that limiting their child’s time breastfeeding is a good compromise and helps them get through the tough moments.
If you decide to stick it out, you may find yourself nursing two children after your new baby is born. That will be a whole new adventure unto itself. It’s quite possible to nurse a new baby and your older child at once (a practice referred to as “tandem nursing”).
Several days after birth, your milk will “come in,” just as it did with your older child. Most parents offer the breast to their new baby at first, and then nurse their older child. Others choose to breastfeed both children at once. You will find a routine that works for you.
If you have questions about nursing during pregnancy, or continuing to nurse after your baby is born, you can reach out to your healthcare provider, a lactation consultant, or a breastfeeding peer counselor. Either way, you can rest assured that there is almost no reason you need to stop breastfeeding under these circumstances, and many people happily nurse during pregnancy and beyond.