Breastfeed while pregnant

Breast, Baby and Belly Can You Breastfeed Through a Pregnancy

Breastfeed while pregnant is one of the most interesting events that women wonder. We tried to shed light on this issue with the help of experienced mothers

People you know may be surprised if you decide to breastfeed while pregnant or even fear that it is dangerous. However, there is no documented danger to the mother or fetus when mothers breastfeed during a healthy pregnancy.

Paul M., an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant  (IBCLC), points out that uterine contractions, which are experienced during breastfeeding and sexual activity, are a normal part of pregnancy. She does caution, however, that if a mother has a history of premature delivery or is experiencing uterine pain or continued weight loss, then weaning should be considered.

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Judith Cain of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, is nursing her 19-month-old son and expecting her second child in late June. She plans to nurse as long as her son is interested. “I kind of hope that he keeps nursing because I’ve heard that tandem nursing is a great way for the toddler to bond with the new baby and feel less rivalry,” she says.

Karen Sanchez of Bound Brook, New Jersey, almost gave up nursing her 14-month-old daughter due to the extreme fatigue that she felt in early pregnancy. “But I was soon over that, and my daughter was so interested that I couldn’t bear to wean,” says Sanchez, who is pregnant with her third child. She also kept nursing because studies show that breastfeeding through the second year provides health benefits to the child.

Also, check our another article about basic breastfeeding positions: Holding On Basic Breastfeeding Positions

Its Difficulties

The choice is a personal one with pros and cons, but it should be noted that there is the potential for added discomfort when nursing during a pregnancy.

For one thing, breasts and nipples tend to become quite sensitive during the first trimester, which can make nursing difficult. Cain found that she was very sore at first, but the pain lessened in the second trimester. “However, I still have much more nipple sensitivity than usual and I’ve had to work with my son on latching properly to avoid abrading the nipple with his teeth,” she says. “I had to say ‘big open, no teeth’ for about two weeks to help him re-learn a good latch.”

Maria S., an IBCLC, suggests dealing with nipple soreness by using breathing techniques, changing nursing positions, starting the letdown before the latch and/or by asking the toddler to nurse more gently.

Dealing with a growing belly is another challenge for moms who breastfeed while pregnant. Creativity is helpful, according to Maria. “No position is a wrong position,” she says. “Babies are ingenious and if they want to continue to nurse, they will find a way.” Cain has tried a modified cradle hold or lying on her side to nurse and has found both of these do-able.

Tanya Brock of Toledo, Ohio, didn’t have to contend with fitting her toddler around her stomach, because her daughter self-weaned at 14 months when Brock was 5 months pregnant. This is a fairly common occurrence and has to do with the fact that the taste and the consistency of the breast milk changes, usually at some point during the second trimester. Paul attributes the change in taste to an increase in sodium and protein and a decrease in glucose and lactose.

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Milk production may diminish at this time as the milk changes to colostrum in preparation for the newborn. Although the milk automatically reverts to what is best for the newborn, Paul explains that a nursing toddler is unable to use up the colostrum and there should be enough milk for both children once the baby is born.

Some toddlers continue to nurse in spite of the changes to breast milk, because of the comfort factor. “I’m actually amazed that he’s still nursing,” says Cain. “I can’t express more than a few drops by hand … but he’ll stay latched on, sucking for a long time. I think it’s a real comfort to him.” For toddlers, this is fine because they are consuming other types of food by now, but for babies, Maria suggests monitoring weight gain if breast milk diminishes.

To get some parenting advice for a better postpartum life: Preparing for Postpartum Life The Joys and Challenges of Life After Delivery

If You Want to Wean

If your toddler doesn’t wean spontaneously and you would like to hasten the process, mother-led weaning is always an option. Some toddlers wean during the pregnancy but ask to taste the milk again when the new baby is nursing. “There is no ideal time to wean during a pregnancy,” Maria says.

Toddler-led weaning is thought of as ideal, and La Leche League  recommends proceeding gradually if you decide to wean during a pregnancy. The “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach has worked for many moms. Extra attention, avoidance of nursing routines (such as a favorite nursing chair) and the distraction of a drink or snack are also good ways to work toward weaning. Remember that it is safe to wean by dropping one feed at a time. The less milk you take out of the breast, the less you will produce.

Emotional factors have a lot to do with the personal decision to breastfeed while pregnant. Sanchez says that she hates to see mothers sacrifice nursing one child because of the mistaken belief that they are endangering their unborn child. She believes that “you can continue a healthy and loving nursing relationship with your child during pregnancy.”

There is the added bonus of educational value, shocking people who assume that you can’t nurse while pregnant. When people make comments to Cain about weaning soon, she replies, “No. I don’t have to; I just have to eat a lot.”

Finally, Brock reports that the looks of shock and horror on some people’s faces when she told them she was pregnant and still nursing really amused the rebellious part of her. Says Brock, “I liked showing people that it is possible to think outside of that formula box.”

Our articles are prepared to give advice. Always consult your doctor first for any problems and exact information.

The names of the people mentioned in the article have been changed for security reasons and to protect privacy.