There is a ton of cultural misinformation about breastfeeding while pregnant. Which is probably why, the biggest question we get asked, here at SCV is, “is it safe?” A lot of times, when women are receiving the medical care model, the rule of thumb is “wean the baby” as soon as you find out that you’re expecting again. But while there are certainly precautions to take into account when pregnant and breastfeeding, our perspective is a bit different.
To answer the big question: “Is it safe?” The answer is a resounding “yes!” You absolutely can safely continue breastfeeding while pregnant. And in many cases, certainly if the pregnancies are close together and your infant is quite young when you conceive, you may really want to! We think that is absolutely appropriate and support that choice. There is no reason to assume you must instantly wean the baby, as we’re so often led to believe.
But let’s break down the basics a bit, because there are some important things to acknowledge first.
Here’s are the facts you really need to know about breastfeeding while pregnant:
First off, it’s important to know that you can absolutely get pregnant while breastfeeding. For many women, breastfeeding will halt a woman’s ovulation cycle until at least the six month mark. But that’s not always the case. For about 20% of women, it doesn’t! That means you may have a fertile ovulation even while exclusively breastfeeding. Therefore, if you are planning to space your pregnancies, you need to make sure you are taking precautions other than breastfeeding your infant. That’s why at the six weeks postpartum visit, we always make sure to discuss birth control options with our clients. No, the old wive’s tale that breastfeeding is birth control just doesn’t hold up (believe us! We know from experience).
If you do venture down the path of breastfeeding while pregnant, congratulations! You’ll soon find out (if you didn’t know already) that your body is quite incredible. Maybe even more incredible than your realized. You will come to understand that you are capable of growing a human while nursing one, and completing that cycle of creation- feeding the baby you grew inside you. It’s incredible and yes, your body can do it.
During the first trimester, which for some women can be quite challenging in terms of experiencing exhaustion and morning sickness as your body works hard in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, you may see a drop in your breast milk supply. The second trimester as your baby grows bigger and takes up more space in your body, the same can be true. Your body is ultimately trying to take care of the baby you are growing inside your and prioritizing growing that process over the baby you are nursing.
For some babies, the drop in supply this will trigger a natural weaning process. But of course, it depends on how close together your pregnancies are. If you are still exclusively breastfeeding while pregnant, staying hydrated must become a top priority so that your body can continue to make enough milk to support your growing infant. You also need a bit more calories, which can also mean some women will experience a bit more morning sickness during the first trimester. Blood sugar levels can dip more easily when nursing and pregnant because of all the work your body is doing to feed both your growing fetus and your infant, so eating nourishing food frequently becomes incredibly important. If you find your supply is fading, regardless of eating well and staying hydrated, there isn’t much you can do to keep it up. The fact is, the pregnant body is adjusting and accommodating your new baby. In essence, the body is giving the bulk of your energy to support your pregnancy because it is necessary for the fetus’ development.
Still, breastfeeding while pregnant proves to be safe in most situations. If you’ve had a history of miscarriages, we might recommend that you wean your baby before trying to conceive. This is just a precaution because we want to do everything possible to support the pregnancy. But we don’t see an increase in preterm birth or miscarriages with women who nurse while pregnant. We believe it is safe and if it wasn’t, your body likely wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. Our bodies are very wise and know how to take care of our developing babies.
For some women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, hormonally, there comes an aversion to breastfeeding. Know that this can be very normal and you shouldn’t feel like a bad mother for losing the desire to breastfeed. Beginning a dialogue with your child, rather than going cold turkey, can be a great place to start weaning the baby.
On the other hand, lots of mothers go on to tandem nurse their babies, which means nursing the new baby while still nursing your older baby. Yes, it can be challenging. It takes more energy and calories and hydration. It is not for every mother. But it can be a beautiful and rewarding experience, as well. The main piece of advice that we give to moms who decide to tandem nurse is to make sure the new baby gets to nurse first. This helps ensure that your new addition is getting enough milk because they are depending on it solely, unlike your older baby.
The most important takeaway is that nursing while pregnant, in most situations, is completely safe and should be supported by your care provider if you choose to do it. It may not be for every mother and in that case, always do what is best for you and your family. But also know that we support your choices- not just in your birth, but in your breastfeeding journey, too.