Breastfeeding while pregnant can be an unforgettable journey some mothers take. For others, it can be a nightmare.
One of the first things I heard while announcing our pregnancy was “I guess this means you’ll be weaning your little one, then.” It was usually phrased as a question but often came out more like a statement. And I doubt I’m the first mother to hear this.
The fact that I am still breastfeeding our 3-year-old is somewhat contentious in the current social environment, and to be pregnant on top of that seems to throw people into a bit of a tizzy.
No matter where you stand on the concept, chances are you have a few questions. I’m going to do my best to answer them for you, from my perspective, below.
Common Questions Breastfeeding Pregnant Women Hear
Is breastfeeding during pregnancy safe?
After I’ve confirmed that I am indeed breastfeeding and pregnant, the next question is usually “Is it safe?” And, fair enough, there is a lot of literature out there that indicates nipple stimulation can cause contractions, and of course people often wonder if the nutrition to the baby is in jeopardy.
The thing is that for most uncomplicated pregnancies, it’s compatible. Your body does a better job of prioritizing things like nutrition than we usually think about. So baby gets first pick of what it needs, just like in a non-breastfeeding pregnancy. Next in line is your toddler, and last is going to be you/me.
The reason behind the sequence is based on evolution (I think). As adults, we are most likely to be able to obtain what we need from outside sources. So your body will give away anything it thinks your offspring need to survive.
Aren’t you tired of breastfeeding?
Some days yes, other days no. It really depends. At some points in pregnancy, your body might kick into something called nursing aversion… where you really detest the idea of nursing, not to mention hate the actual act.
It happens, and no it doesn’t mean you hate your toddler. It just means that your body is going through a hormone swing and wants a break.
After all, breastfeeding creates hormone changes, and pregnancy creates hormone changes. Breastfeeding while pregnant can create too many changes at once, and we may need some time out.
However, you can (and some do) push through this period. For me, it was in the first trimester where it hit the strongest (highest levels of hormone changes from the pregnancy). The problem is/was for me that when I stop nursing, I get crazy mood swings… like, worse than pregnancy mood swings.
So I decided to push through, especially since my toddler didn’t seem to want to back off on the nursing (still doesn’t).
But when the baby comes, you’ll have to wean the toddler anyway…
Actually, no, you don’t have to. Remember how I pointed out that your body does this cool prioritizing thing? Yeah, you can tandem nurse a baby and a toddler. I don’t know all the details on this one yet, but I do know it is possible, and I’ve heard some great success stories of women doing just that.
I’m also sure that you’ve heard of women successfully nursing their twins or triplets as well… the concepts have some similarities. Especially since your body will produce milk on demand, meaning you only produce what is needed, when it is needed, and customized to the baby/toddler who is nursing.
So if your toddler is nursing on one side and your baby on the other, you will produce 2 different types of milk at the same time… they call it nursing on demand for a reason, people. 😉
But breastfeeding prevents pregnancy… how did you even get pregnant?
Ummmm…. if I need to explain the birds and the bees here, we might be a while. But to clear up this obvious myth, breastfeeding is not a reliable form of birth control. At least not for all women.
Women have been getting pregnant while nursing for ages. And some “Irish twins” are due to this exact misconception.
While breastfeeding works to change your hormones, not all women respond to this in the same way. Some of us will struggle to have a monthly cycle, others will get our rhythms back right away. Also, you can get pregnant before your first postpartum period, since the egg gets released before your bleed.
Isn’t breastfeeding while pregnant exhausting?
Yes, it is. At 6 months pregnant I’m on the rather big side (and, yes, it pisses a pregnant lady off when people comment on it), so I’m carrying around the additional weight and chasing a toddler. I’m also not sleeping a whole lot because, well… chasing a toddler.
Add to that the fact that kiddo nurses to sleep each night, and that keeps me awake an extra 30 to 60 minutes depending on if we managed to wear him out or not.
Then I also need to ensure I replace the water used in breastfeeding. You may have encountered the advice to drink as much water as you can, as fast as you can, for 15 minutes every morning. I can’t handle just chugging down water like that, so I usually spend another hour after kiddo has gone to sleep, trying to get enough water into my system so that I’m not going to feel dehydrated. There are other tricks and tips to drinking more water in a day that I also recommend, but even they don’t always take care of all your needs when you are growing one human and feeding another with your body.
Are you sure it’s safe for you?
Ok, this question is usually a little bit different in inflection than the “Are you sure it’s safe?” Usually, it’s referring to the fact that you will need more water and more nutrients, and many people don’t see how you can consume enough to effectively feed 3 people with your own body.
I get it, but the thing to remember is a 3-year-old doesn’t nurse the same as a new baby will. And many of the people asking this question have a year or less of personal experience with nursing.
After a year old, many kids start the self-weaning process on their own. Or, at the very least, reduce the number of times they feed. For instance, my 3-year-old only nurses at night when he is falling asleep and usually only for about 5 to 10 minutes. The rest of the time, he just needs me beside him to help him fall asleep. Which is nothing like having an under-1-year-old who relies on you for all their nutrition and fluids from nursing 24/7.
So my body’s needs to cover the nursing are reduced significantly from what they were in the first year. I still have to accommodate the fact that I’m pregnant and need enough nutrients to grow another human, but that is fairly straightforward for most pregnancies.
And, no, I’m not “eating for 3” with being pregnant and nursing; let’s just clear that up before that question pops in.
But breastfeeding doesn’t have any value after the first… (insert whatever time frame you want here).
UM, yes, it does. While I am not the primary source of nutrition for my toddler, he still gets an immune boost, as evidenced by the fact that when he gets sick, he is faster to recover than his non-nursing counterparts.
Add to that the natural bonding aspect and the comfort this familiar connection has for him, and it’s a good thing all around.
It’s also worth noting that if my toddler gets sick, chances are he may stop eating. When that happens, my body just kicks it up a notch to handle his needs, and he nurses instead. So rather than having to worry about him getting dehydrated (which complicates most illnesses), I’m only focused on helping him battle whatever is making him sick.
Is It Safe?
I answered from my perspective above, but I’m also wanting to make it clear here that, scientifically speaking, no research has shown that breastfeeding while having an uncomplicated pregnancy increases the chance of miscarriage. There is also no research I can find that states there is NOT a connection either.
However, the La Leche League quotes a study done in 2012 of women who already had at least one child and were again pregnant. The participants in this study were split into two groups: non-breastfeeding and breastfeeding during pregnancy.
“Results of this study found no significant difference in babies born at full term or non-full term between the two groups; birth weight was also unaffected.” The researchers concluded that breastfeeding during normal pregnancy is safe and “does not increase the chance of untoward maternal and newborn outcomes. Overlap breastfeeding is a personal decision for mothers.”
It is worth it to note that they only included uncomplicated pregnancies in this study. If you are expecting multiples or have any risk factors, make sure you talk to your care provider.
How Breastfeeding Changes Throughout Pregnancy
There are a number of things that can change throughout pregnancy in a non-breastfeeding mom, and all those can happen here as well. What I’m going to run through are more the changes that you or your toddler could notice if you are pregnant AND actively breastfeeding.
One of the things I’ve noticed more this time around is that I’m getting uterine contractions. I’d describe them as very mild and nothing I worry about. It’s kinda like someone just brushed up against me and the muscle is moving to accommodate that.
But this is a concern for some women. The sensation can be slightly unsettling if you are not used to it. It also could just feel like baby is moving around in there and having fun.
According to the Mayo Clinic, in an uncomplicated pregnancy these are not a concern. If your care provider suspects you are at risk of preterm labor, however, they may discourage breastfeeding.
Changes to the Milk You Produce
Over the course of your pregnancy, your milk will change in composition. This is normally due to the hormonal changes in your body as you prepare for the new baby. Sometimes this will affect the taste.
Some women report that they notice the change in milk themselves as well, including things like the texture (more watery or thicker), as well as the taste.
For myself, I’ve noticed that the milk is not nearly as sweet as it was before I got pregnant. The consistency seems to only change when my toddler is getting sick; then it tends to get a touch thicker. (Yes, I check my own milk ’cause I get curious. 😉 )
It’s also helpful to know that when you get closer to delivering, your milk will change to colostrum for baby. And although your body can produce different types of milk, when the baby is born it’s going to focus on making only the colostrum that baby needs for the first few days.
Milk Supply Changes
Many women note a drop in their supply. Often it starts around the 4- to 5-month mark due to the hormonal changes at that time. However, it can happen at any point in pregnancy.
Even if it does drop, it may not dry up entirely, and many women do successfully breastfeed throughout their entire pregnancy and beyond.
My understanding is that if your supply is drying up, using the normal tactics of more pumping or extra nursing sessions will not increase your supply the way it would if you were not pregnant.
Dry nursing is one of the things that could happen if your older child continues to nurse while you are drying up or after you have already stopped producing. In effect, they are using you like a pacifer since there is no milk coming out.
From what I’ve read, this is painful. You will likely know it is happening, due to that.
If you had tender nipples in your first pregnancy, chances are you will again. Only this time, you will also have someone sucking on them too, which can make it worse.
The good news is that depending on how old your older child is, you can likely negotiate with them to help you out with this. I’ve had more than a few times where I’ve had to ask kiddo to unlatch for a minute because Mommy was sore and needed a break.
You may also want to ask your kiddo if they can nurse later or negotiate for something else entirely.
Your Older Child May Wean Themselves
Due to things like the milk changes, your older one may wean themselves without a lot of prompting from you. As you get closer to the end of your pregnancy, your milk will change to colostrum, which is a whole other flavor specific to what your baby needs. This will likely taste very different from what your older child is used to and may prompt a sudden or gradual weaning, depending on your child.
The Emotional Challenges of Breastfeeding During Pregnancy
For me, this is the hardest part to write about and to go through. During pregnancy many women experience a heightened emotional state as our bodies are bombarded by hormones and all the changes needed to become a mother. And the second (or later) pregnancy does it again to help us adapt to the additional offspring we are responsible for.
So it’s understandable that if you have any emotions around breastfeeding, they would be heightened at this point.
A common thing that happens is nursing aversion, which is basically a natural desire to NOT be breastfeeding anymore. I hate to admit this, but I went through this intensely in the first few months and still struggle with it at least once a week.
When this happens, you have the choice to wean or continue. And I totally hear you, Mamma, if you take the route of weaning. I’ve wanted to so many times in the last few months, I’ve lost count.
However, my ability to stick with that resolution has been weak, and kiddo has been determined as all heck to continue breastfeeding. So we have continued but with an altered relationship because some days I just can’t handle being touched, let alone sucked on.
Bonding with Your Older Child
Due to the heightened emotions, nursing during pregnancy may actually increase your bond with your older child. That sensitivity and connection can come in handy when working with a rambunctious toddler or even in understanding your older child’s moods better.
You may also notice that your todler interacts with the baby while breastfeeding. For instance, my toddler currently loves to press against me while nursing, and the baby tends to take these moments to kick in the direction of big brother. While occasionally this hurts me, it is an interesting sensation, and big brother is usually amused by it.
It is also relevant to note that nursing any child for any length of time does create a unique bond between mother and child. And sharing this time with your older child can be very special.
Being “Touched Out” and Freaking Out
Ok, another hard one for me. Breastfeeding while pregnant makes me MORE sensitive to being touched. For most women, the likelihood of feeling “touched out” increases with the second pregnancy because now you are also handling a child outside of you as well as inside.
If you have a toddler in the house, chances are that you are the center of their world, which means peeing by yourself is not going to happen, let alone anything else. And since the majority of kids don’t sleep through the night until they are older, it’s likely you are not sleeping through the night either. (Even if you have an awesome hubby who gets up and helps.)
This all adds up to a higher chance of being “touched out” or just downright mad at your older child.
I count this as a more emotional thing than anything else because for me that’s exactly what it is. Kiddo is highly demanding of my time, and the heightened hormones from being pregnant make me irritable to start with.
I don’t do hugs with anyone other than kiddo and sometimes hubby, and even then I’ve sometimes asked for rain checks because it is just too overwhelming.
The trick here is to fit in more self care. I know it’s hard, but self care can include naps or sleeping in. You don’t have to go to some fancy extreme to get a break. Grab your hubby or someone else you trust and get them to take the toddler out so you can rest for a few hours once a week (more if possible).
The Nesting Urge Could Hit You a LOT Sooner
Usually with your second pregnancy you have a chance of this anyway. However, the “compounding hormones” of breastfeeding while pregnant can drive you nuts to a whole new level, a whole lot sooner.
I started full-out compulsive nesting around month 2. Yes, you read that right. Month 2, about 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant, I started nesting on a level I had NOT even done near the end of my first pregnancy.
And I’m certian I’m still driving my husband nuts as it is.
Nesting tendencies in most pregnancies tend to come on slowly. It’s a gradual buildup in anticipation of baby’s arrival. For many of the women I’ve talked to online, the common theme was extreme focus on nesting a lot earlier than they remembered with their other pregnancies.
A Mother’s Choice
Whether or not you breastfeed during your next pregnancy is really up to you. While I encourage you to check with your health care provider first, in case of risks or concerns they may have, it is something many women choose and successfully do.
I’ve made my choice repeatedly over the last few months to continue nursing our toddler while pregnant. But I’m also aware of the differences that this has caused in both my relationship with my toddler and my ability to handle other day-to-day tasks too. So please, no matter what you choose, be gentle with yourself. And make sure it is the right choice for you before proceeding with it. You can always change your mind at any time.