Is Breast ‘Always’ Best? Breastfeeding While Pregnant

It’s one of those topics that is rarely discussed, though often considered: is breast always best? Particularly, when you are a mom who is breastfeeding while pregnant.

No doubt, if you are a woman who is currently breastfeeding an older child when you find yourself pregnant with another baby on the way, you suddenly may have a million urgent questions about the issue. Some of those questions may include: Can your body continue to keep up, given the new demands of pregnancy combined with the old ones of breastfeeding? Are you robbing either child of necessary nutrition, while you maintain a breastfeeding schedule? Are there any special physical considerations or discomforts to consider? Will nursing while pregnant ultimately lead to weaning?

(And, could somebody answer those questions sooner, rather than later, please…? Your boobs are beginning to leak.)

I can relate. When I got pregnant with my second child, I was still breastfeeding my first, too. At the time, my oldest child was a toddler who was already a foodie-in-the-making who ate regular meals religiously and with relish, so he no longer depended on my breastmilk as the primary source of his nutrition. I was more of a non-alcoholic aperitif, really – a sweet, time-honored tradition to be partaken upon waking, before bedtime, and any time a MAJOR boo-boo was incurred. But, I knew the importance of extended breastfeeding for a young child’s nutrition and development, and I enjoyed the thick-as-thieves-like intimacy that breastfeeding helped to nurture between my son and me, so I had no intention to wean him just because I was pregnant. Unless I needed to do so…? So I asked the very same questions:

1. Is it safe to breastfeed while pregnant?

Ab. So. Toot. Ly. Breastfeeding while pregnant is quite safe, provided that you continue to eat a healthy diet with sufficient calories to support your pregnancy, your breastfeeding, and yourself; and that you remember to drink plenty of water.

In fact, some moms safely nurse their older child throughout the entire pregnancy and continue “tandem nursing” both the older sibling and the new baby after the baby is born. Many of those moms report even that tandem nursing can help strengthen sibling bonds!

There IS one, major exception to this rule, however. If you are a mom who is experiencing uterine pain or bleeding, or if you are at risk for pre-term labor (say, for example, you are on strict bedrest), then breastfeeding while pregnant may not be safe for you – as it can trigger mild uterine contractions in some women. This is because the hormone oxytocin is released during both breastfeeding and labor. The amounts released during breastfeeding are relatively small, however, and usually are not enough to trigger labor in a normal pregnancy. (But, if you’re in any way unsure, you’ll definitely want to ask you doctor about this one.)

2. Am I robbing either my older child or my baby of essential nutrition if I continue breastfeeding while pregnant?

No. Provided that you are giving YOUR body the best possible nutrition. Translation: make sure you are eating nourishing, supportive, whole foods with lots of organic produce, healthy proteins, and good fats; drinking LOTS of water (both you and your babies can become dehydrated if you don’t drink sufficient water while doing this); and taking a good prenatal supplement with good amounts of critical vitamins and minerals like vitamin D (breastfeeding can tap the reserves of vitamin D, and this vitamin is critical to the proper growth of both baby and child – as well as to the overall health and wellbeing of the mother).

3. Are there any special physical considerations or discomforts to consider?

Well… There can be.

During my first trimester, my continued breastfeeding seemed simple enough: just like old times, really. But, as my pregnancy progressed, things began to get a bit uncomfortable. I expected my lap to get smaller as my belly expanded (duh!), but I didn’t expect my nipples to progress to painful sensitivity (in what seemed like a slow but agonizingly stubborn march to greater and greater intensity). By my fourth month of pregnancy, breastfeeding was no longer physically pleasurable (those warm releases of cuddly-hormone oxytocin seemed but a distant memory…) but more like a hair shirt worn for the love of my child.

NOT every mom is like me. Everybody’s body and pregnancy are different. However, there are some common physical considerations to be aware of:

- Pregnancy-related tiredness and fatigue might make nursing more of a challenge, especially if you’re still night-nursing your older child.

- As I experienced, your nipples might get tender and your breasts might feel sensitive and sore. Somedays, you might not even want to wear a BRA, much less a hungry child. (A good many pregnant moms experience this, to some extent.)

- Some women may experience increased nausea while pregnant and nursing.

- Others may feel quite agitated and a sensation like their skin is crawling (honestly, the things we go through as mothers…).

- Still others may feel slight sexual arousal, due to pregnancy hormones  (which often can increase sexual arousal). Should this unwelcome arousal happen to you, do not feel guilty – this is not due to inappropriate feelings toward your child, but, rather, due to weird and wonky – yet totally normal – hormonal shifts due to pregnancy.  If the discomfort of this leads you to sudden and expedited weaning, however, it would be perfectly understandable!

4. Will nursing while pregnant lead to weaning?

It doesn’t have to. As I shared earlier, some moms go on to tandem nurse older siblings along with the new baby.

This wasn’t my experience, however.

Despite the afore-mentioned discomforts, I was taken aback and hurt to my core when my son decided to wean himself from me. (Now, ain’t that some foolishness? It’s like those old, broken relationships you have when you want to break up more than anything but still manage to get pissed off that the other person got around to breaking up with you first. Really!!)

In my 4th-5th month of pregnancy), the taste of my breastmilk began to change. My little guy started to complain that it no longer tasted good and sweet, and he decided that he’d rather have just about anything else (coconut milk, goat’s milk, water, his own spit…?) than swallow down my New Milk-posing-as-the-Classic. So, my toddler fully weaned himself at 22 months.

Self-weaning by the older kid is really common, when breastfeeding while pregnant, due to two main factors:

- The content and taste of your milk will change during your pregnancy, as your milk will have more colostrum in it as your pregnancy progresses, and

- Your milk supply may start to dwindle in your 4th- 5th month of pregnancy.

All said, though, I feel really happy that I was able to keep breastfeeding my tot for 22 months – and breastfeeding him through 5 months of pregnancy helped make that possible. Many mothers who go on to nurse while pregnant report a similar sentiment.

For those of you who are considering breastfeeding while pregnant, kudos to you! It only goes to show how much you love your kiddos that you are even wrestling with those questions, in the first place.