The news that you’re expecting may have left you with breathless excitement, a pit in your stomach, or simply feeling shocked. These emotions may be even more intense if you’re expecting while still breastfeeding an older child.
While some people believe breastfeeding can prevent them from becoming pregnant, many women conceive while breastfeeding.
If you’re still breastfeeding an older child, you may have a few questions. Is it possible to continue breastfeeding while pregnant? Is breastfeeding while pregnant safe for both my current and future child? How will this impact my milk supply?
Don’t stress, whether you choose to continue breastfeeding or want to start to wean, we’ve got the information you need!
Yes, it’s safe to breastfeed while pregnant as long as it’s a healthy pregnancy and you’re consuming enough calories for yourself, your growing fetus, and your breastfeeding baby. (Researchers found no significant difference in babies born to breastfeeding mothers with normal pregnancies and those who did not breastfeed during their pregnancies.)
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) points out that breastfeeding during pregnancy is not unusual, and the decision to do so should be left up to the mother in a healthy pregnancy.
Furthermore, the AAFP points out that there are benefits to breastfeeding toddlers, so if a mother decides to do so, there are certainly reasons to support the decision.
If breastfeeding is safe, you may wonder why some women decide not to breastfeed while pregnant. To put it simply, being pregnant can be exhausting and uncomfortable in itself, and continuing to breastfeed during pregnancy can heighten the physical and emotional challenges.
If you are pregnant and breastfeeding, you may discover that you have:
- sore nipples
- nausea (may be triggered during letdown)
- feelings of being overwhelmed
- a decreased milk supply
- changes to your breast milk — the color, consistency, and taste may change. (Even if you wish to breastfeed while pregnant, this may lead your little one to choose to wean on their own.)
- contractions (Breastfeeding involves the hormone oxytocin, which is also responsible for contractions. As a result, you may experience contractions while breastfeeding. While the risk of preterm labor from these contractions is small, if you’re concerned or have experienced miscarriages/early deliveries in the past, you may want to discuss this with your OB-GYN.)
While breastfeeding may be more challenging while pregnant, there are plenty of benefits that cause some moms to choose to continue to breastfeed. Some of these include:
- immunity boosts and nutritional gains for your currently nursing child that continue as long as they drink breast milk
- extra bonding and attachment opportunities with your child during your pregnancy, especially when you’re feeling fatigued, as breastfeeding can be a relaxing way to spend time together
- promoting feelings of safety and security in older children during times of change
- helping reduce symptoms of engorgement after the baby arrives thanks to your experienced nurser
- a solid milk supply thanks to tandem feeds, plus breastfeeding them at the same time can keep older siblings out of trouble while you nurse!
It’s very common for pregnancy to reduce your milk supply. This generally occurs around the 4th or 5th month of your pregnancy. The composition of the milk will likewise usually change slightly.
Because these changes are caused by hormonal shifts, extra pumping and feeding will not usually increase your supply as it normally would.
Additionally, many parents worry about their older child consuming their breast milk during pregnancy. You can rest assured that pregnancy-related hormones in the milk are safe for your older child to consume.
What about colostrum?
You may also wonder whether there will be enough colostrum for your new baby. Colostrum will still exist for your newborn no matter how much your older child feeds. Still, to ease your concerns, consider offering your newborn the breast first at each feed.
Will both children get enough breast milk?
To produce the best possible milk, keep yourself healthy, and provide the nutrients your growing child and fetus need, you’ll need to consume more food.
It’s recommended to consume an extra 500 calories per day if your nursing baby is also consuming solids — and an extra 650 calories per day if they’re under 6 months relying solely on your breast milk.
You’ll also want to factor in an additional 350 calories in your second trimester and 450 extra calories in your third trimester. Seem like a lot of food? Don’t worry, you’ll likely find yourself extra, extra hungry if you breastfeed during your pregnancy.
After your baby is born, if you plan to tandem nurse (breastfeeding children of different ages at the same time), you can start each feed so the new baby always gets the first opportunity to eat. Why? Well, older children need to breastfeed less frequently and can get their nutritional needs met in other ways.
If you decide that pregnancy means that it’s time to wean your older child, ideally you’ll be able to do so gradually. This typically makes the experience more comfortable for you and offers you extra time to adjust your child to the idea that breastfeeding is coming to an end.
Most moms plan to drop one feeding session every 3 to 5 days. When determining which sessions to drop, you’ll likely want to drop the early morning and bedtime ones last, as these can be special bonding opportunities with your child.
If you need to wean quickly or find that your milk supply isn’t drying up as fast as you’d hoped, you may want to speak with your doctor about using over-the-counter medications, birth control, herbs, or another medication to help expedite the weaning process.
If you find yourself with pain and discomfort, you may want to try cold packs and over-the-counter pain medications to help with inflammation. You may also need to hand express small amounts of breast milk to take a little pressure off. (Just be careful not to drain the breast, as that can trigger more milk production!)
Weaning can bring about a lot of emotions, and pregnancy is already a time when your hormones may have you feeling a little more emotional than usual. If you find that you need some support, don’t be afraid to reach out to a lactation support group or take up some physical activity to get those happy endorphins flowing.
If you find that weaning has left you with an angry or emotional child, you may want to try offering extra cuddles/special time, making sure pacifiers and teething rings are available, and double-checking that all their nutritional needs are getting met in their daily meals. (If you have a child who’s a little pickier with their food, you may want to check with their doctor about whether supplementing is needed.)
Your child may be fully weaned but show interest in breastfeeding again when they see their new sibling breastfeeding. You may choose to tandem feed at this time, or you may just want to explain to your older child that this is just for the baby. Again, this is a very personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer.
Breastfeeding is a very personal journey that will look different for every mom and baby. Whether you continue to breastfeed after you find out you’re pregnant is a decision that only you can make.
Although you may feel pressure from friends and family members, it’s important to listen to your body and child. (You may also want to chat with a lactation consultant or doctor if you have any questions!)