You’ve discovered you’re pregnant again but you’re still breastfeeding your toddler. Does this mean you must wean your child? If you don’t are you putting your unborn child at risk? Will breastfeeding during pregnancy be more demanding on my body? All good questions! The reality is that in a normal healthy pregnancy, breastfeeding through pregnancy should not present a problem.
In the past mothers were routinely cautioned against breastfeeding through pregnancy. This was based on the knowledge that breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, the same hormone which stimulates your uterus to contract when giving birth. It’s not hard to see why a connection was made between breastfeeding during pregnancy, and miscarriage or premature birth. However the reality is that in a normal healthy pregnancy there is no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding will threaten your pregnancy.
There are a couple of exceptions though. If you have a history of miscarriage before 20 weeks or preterm labour after 20 weeks or you experience strong uterine contractions while breastfeeding, there may be some basis for caution. In this case it is important to discuss your situation and concerns with your doctor or midwife in order to make an informed choice.
That said women who have never experienced miscarriage or preterm birth may find themselves in either of these unfortunate positions and wonder if breastfeeding is to blame. The simple answer is, it’s unlikely. Miscarriages and preterm birth can happen for all sorts of reasons and it is important not to assume that breastfeeding was the culprit, or to blame yourself by association.
Another common concern about breastfeeding through pregnancy is that this will somehow deprive your unborn baby of valuable nutrients. It might surprise you to know that when it comes to receiving nutrients from the food you consume, your unborn baby comes first… even before you! Your body has quite a strict set of proprieties when it comes to distributing nutrients. Baby first. You second. Everyone else third. Naturally eating a sound diet, drinking lots of water and getting adequate rest gives your body the best chance of meeting its own needs and your children’s.
Some say that women are better at multi-tasking than men. While we can debate whether or not that’s true in a practical sense, in the case of breastfeeding through pregnancy it is true hands down. While your body is producing milk for your toddler it is also patently aware that a new baby will arrive soon. Your body knows that your new baby’s greatest need will be colostrum rather than the more mature milk your toddler is receiving. Research has shown that as your pregnancy progresses your milk supply is likely to change, slowly returning to the colostrum stage of milk production.
While this is exactly what your new baby needs it may not be entirely well received by your toddler. For a start, colostrum is much saltier than mature milk and your child may not appreciate this new taste sensation. Also colostrum is thicker and far more nutrient-dense so there is a lot less of it. As a result of these factors your child may actually self-ween, either permanently or at least until their little brother or sister is born and the ‘yummy milk’ returns. On the other hand some children are happy to accept these changes and continue feeding.
As a ‘colostrum insurance measure’ of sorts, some women may decide to feed their child from only one breast. The logic here is that without the stimulation of feeds, your non-feeding breast will cease producing mature milk ready to produce colostrum after your new baby’s birth. Whether you choose this route or not is a matter of personal choice and talking it over with your doctor or midwife can be helpful.
If your child is under 12 months you may be concerned that your baby will be deprived of breast milk and require formula. Babies this young will generally still be having much more regular and longer feeds than an older child. If you eat well and continue to offer your baby the breast for regular feeds on demand, you may well find that you are able to sustain your milk supply.
If your baby reaches 12 months of age during your pregnancy you might choose to introduce cow’s milk and use a sipper cup. This avoids formula and bottles if your child is seeking something more to drink than you are producing. However if you experience supply issues and your child is under 12 months, it will be important to discuss your options and alternatives with your doctor, midwife or lactation consultant.
This might sound like an odd question but some women do actually experience what might be considered unpleasant side effects when breastfeeding during pregnancy. For some women morning sickness seems worse while breastfeeding. Apart from possible hormonal causes, ensuring you are drinking enough water, eating regularly and well, and getting enough sleep may help (yes that is an answer for many things during pregnancy!).
Keeping in mind that your nipples can become sensitive during pregnancy, some women find breastfeeding uncomfortable or even downright painful. You might not have had to worry too much about positioning and attachment for a while now, but when breastfeeding during pregnancy these become important again to help alleviate discomfort. Nipple tenderness generally disappears soon after birth though. Some women find that breastfeeding during pregnancy actually results in less nipple trauma when their new baby’s feeds.
There is a definite need for sound nutrition when breastfeeding through pregnancy. Given that we know that you need to eat well both in pregnancy and when you breastfeed, it stands to reason that sound nutrition is even more important if you are doing both at the same time! That said, this does not mean you need to consume a huge number of extra calories, or take any specific supplements unless you have been advised you have a deficiency. Generally speaking, providing you ensure you eat a nutritionally balanced diet and drink lots of water, your body will be able to adequately distribute the nutrients and energy to your unborn child and your body will maintain adequate nutrient stores.
Ishii H 2009, Does breastfeeding induce spontaneous abortion? J. Obstet. Gynaecol45(5): 864-868. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20149033
Marquis GS, Penny ME, Diaz JM, Marin RM 2002, Postpartum consequences of an overlap of breastfeeding and pregnancy: reduced breast milk intake and growth during early infancy. Pediatrics 109(4):e56-e56. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/109/4/e56.abstract
Moscone SR, Moore MJ 1993, Breastfeeding during pregnancy. J Hum Lact 9(2):83-88. Retrieved from http://jhl.sagepub.com/content/9/2/83.short