Breastfeeding while Pregnant
So you’ve passed the home pregnancy test—you’re pregnant with your next baby! Does this mean the end to nursing your baby/toddler? Why, no! You may be surprised to learn that you can indeed continue nursing during, throughout, and even beyond your pregnancy.
Doctors Who Discourage
A general rule of thumb about breastfeeding while pregnant: if it’s safe for you to have sex, it’s safe for you to breastfeed. There are, of course, legitimate reasons why certain mothers may be advised to wean — and abstain from sex — when they become pregnant (such as those with a history of preterm labor, premature delivery, or miscarriage, women who experience uterine pain or bleeding, and others with the potential for higher-risk pregnancies). But for most mothers, breastfeeding while pregnant is perfectly safe. In fact, in many regions of the world, women routinely breastfeed one child while pregnant with the next.
So why do so many doctors, friends, and family members discourage pregnant mothers from continuing to breastfeed? It’s a bit of a mystery. According to The Breastfeeding Answer Book, “there is no documented danger to mother or fetus when mothers breastfeed during a healthy pregnancy.” Similarly, Moscone and Moore, in their study entitled “Breastfeeding During Pregnancy” in the Journal of Human Lactation (1993), concluded that “breastfeeding does not appear to adversely affect the course of pregnancy.”
Perhaps the opposition to the notion of breastfeeding while pregnant is simply a matter of practicality. As you already know, being pregnant can be challenging, and breastfeeding can be challenging. Together at once, they can be particularly challenging. That’s why it’s important to find support if you plan to give it a go — from friends and family members who have successfully breastfed while pregnant, knowledgeable and informed doctors, a certified lactation consultant, and/or La Leche League.
[Note to the civic-minded: most doctors, sad to say, are educated about breastfeeding through their patients. Do what you can to inform yours about the safety of breastfeeding while pregnant. Future moms will salute you.]
Even if you’re eager to continue breastfeeding through your pregnancy, you may understandably have questions about whether it is truly safe: Will breastfeeding rob your unborn child of vital nutrients?
Your ever-efficient pregnant body makes the growing fetus a top priority by immediately shifting nutrients in its direction. It has been found, in fact, that fetal growth is protected even at the cost of maternal nutritional status (Merchant, K., R. Martorell, and J.D. Haas. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. October 1990; 52, 4: 616-20). But if you’re healthy and well nourished, there is plenty to go around. Is breastfeeding while pregnant in any way harmful to your nursing baby/toddler?
According to The Breastfeeding Answer Book, the hormones that maintain pregnancy are found in only very small quantities in mother’s milk, and they are not harmful to the breastfeeding child. Your milk supply, however, may dwindle somewhat, especially in the last few months of your pregnancy, so enlist the guidance of your pediatrician and obstetrician, who will help you ensure that your breastfed baby is gaining appropriately — and, of course, that you are, too. Is your nursing baby likely to wean herself at some point during your pregnancy?
The volume and content of your milk will change during pregnancy — the sodium and protein levels will increase and the lactose and glucose levels will decrease, which make the milk gradually look and taste more like colostrum. Many nursing babies will easily and happily adjust to the change, while others may start to lose interest and begin the weaning process. Your best bet is to arm yourself with information on how to recognize and support child-led weaning and heed your little one’s cues.Will your baby’s sucking stimulate contractions that lead to miscarriage or premature labor?
While there have been studies showing that nipple stimulation can indeed initiate labor in the third trimester, the types of mechanical stimulation in the studies were more vigorous than one would get from a nursing child. “It has also been theorized that an accustomed level of nipple stimulation from breastfeeding or lovemaking may not have the same effect as the techniques used in these studies” (Lufkin, Ruth. “Nursing During Pregnancy,” Leaven. May-June 1995; 31, 3: 35-6). Again, mothers with a history of preterm labor or miscarriage are often advised to wean when pregnant.
Wanting to Wean? Wait
Whether to continue breastfeeding or to wean when pregnant is a highly individual decision. Decide what’s right for you and your family — but decide slowly as you allow yourself time to adjust to your pregnancy, both emotionally and physically.
Some scientists theorize that mothers experience a biological impulse to wean during pregnancy. (Newton, N. and Theotokatos, M. “Breastfeeding During Pregnancy.” Fifth International Congress on Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. Academic Press. 1979: 845-49.) Be patient; it’s possible that the impulse will subside.
Similarly, pregnant women often experience tender breasts and sore nipples that become incredibly painful while nursing. Many such women report, however, that the pain is most intense during the first 15 seconds or so of a nursing session and then drops off. Try varying positions and employing relaxation and breathing techniques. And rest assured that the pain will lessen after the first trimester when your nipples typically become less sensitive.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Pregnant women need to eat well, drink plenty of water, remain as stress-free as possible, and stay well rested. Nursing moms need to eat well, drink plenty of water, remain as stress-free as possible, and stay well rested. Sense a trend? If you’re both pregnant and nursing, you need to be doubly good to yourself and the wee ones counting on you. It is vital that you stay well nourished by maintaining a healthy, nutritionally balanced and varied diet. You may be advised to consume extra calories and consider taking vitamin supplements. This is especially important when your nursling is under a year old and less likely to be taking in many supplemental solids.
Be Still with Your Babes
Continuing your breastfeeding relationship is one wonderful way to help ensure that your child not feel in any way rejected or replaced by baby-to-be. It’s also a nice way for you to carve out much-needed and much-deserved quiet time — even if just a 15-minute nursing session every now and then — to soak in the sweetness of your babe in arms as you dream about the splendor of your babe in belly.