By Jessica Martin-Weber
This post made possible by the support of EvenFlo Feeding
Increasingly, families are finding that breastfeeding through pregnancy, an option previously considered taboo, is one they are interested in trying. While it isn’t for everyone, many may find that it is something they would like to do and it turns out there’s good reason too. Though once common in some cultures and settings, in the USA and other countries there are a lot of unknowns as the practice has not been acceptable for a few generations. Today though, more is understood and as more families have ventured into the journey, we have more experience upon which to draw and share wisdom. Below are 7 points about breastfeeding through pregnancy that members of The Leaky Boob community shared as what we need to know about breastfeeding through pregnancy.
It is possible. Though it has commonly been believed that breastfeeding during pregnancy isn’t safe, this is a fairly recent belief and throughout history, breastfeeding during pregnancy was considered normal. A reliable source of nutrition and comfort, for many families it just makes sense to continue. Breastfeeding through pregnancy is not only possible, it can provide many benefits for both the nursling, the expecting parent, and the growing baby in the womb.
It is safe- most of the time. Unless there is some underlying condition that would make it risky for you to breastfeed your child through a current pregnancy, it is usually safe to do so. While breastfeeding does cause some uterine contractions, these are brief and short-lived and in a normal, healthy pregnancy will not result in early labor. Unfortunately, not all health care providers are aware of this and may incorrectly advise pregnant parents to wean their nursling. If your health care provider has told you to stop breastfeeding, request information on why they are making this recommendation and what your risk factors are. Share with them this information here, here, and here on safe breastfeeding in a normal, health pregnancy.
It can help ease the transition. An older baby or breastfeeding toddler may not be fully aware that they are about to have a new sibling but they can pick up on their parent’s emotions. Breastfeeding may help ease the transition through pregnancy, birth, and the newborn stage for your older nursling. Having this connection and nutrition continue may help them not to feel so displaced and gives them a way to share and connect with the new baby.
It may get uncomfortable. Some women, not all, experience discomfort with breastfeeding in pregnancy. Some will have pain. As the body changes it is possible the nipples and breasts may become more sensitive. For some women this is temporary and will end in the 2nd trimester, others experience it later in the pregnancy only, and still others may find it lasts the duration of the pregnancy. Trying different positions, setting limits with breastfeeding, and being patient with yourself and your nursling can help through this trying experience.
It may lead to low supply. Breastfeeding in pregnancy causes all kinds of hormones to rush through the system and some of them may have the unfortunate result of reduced lactation. Not all lactating parents experience this but it isn’t uncommon. As lactation is in response to the placenta detaching from the uterine wall at the end of pregnancy and birth and is maintained by regular milk removal and hormones, sometimes the body ceases milk production. Some may experience milk drying up early in the pregnancy and then early milk coming in near term, others experience milk drying up later in pregnancy with no signs of new milk until birth. It is possible to continue with suckling even if all milk production has ceased, this is often called “dry nursing” and if it is agreeable with both parties of the breastfeeding dyad it is fine to continue. Sometimes the drying up of milk leads to weaning of the nursling earlier than had been planned.
It may become an aversion. As much as some experience breastfeeding as a deeply beautiful, calming, bonding moment with their nursling, some find that pregnancy drastically alters their feelings about breastfeeding. In the moment, as their child latches and continues to suckle, they may feel a rush of intense dislike, anger, sadness, frustration, and a sense of being trapped. This can come as quite a shock and may lead to questioning her feelings and concern about her parenting. However, this is a hormonal response and not a reflection of her feelings for her child. There is a chance these feelings will ease through the pregnancy but some do experience it intensifying. On a case by case basis, pregnant breastfeeding parents may find that their mental health or their relationship with their child may benefit from weaning if feelings of resentment are making it difficult to connect. Many that experience breastfeeding aversion in pregnancy find that having an understanding safe person with whom to share their experience can help them cope should they chose to continue breastfeeding through their aversion.
It may help your supply. Breastfeeding through pregnancy and then tandem breastfeeding following birth can provide a number of positives including more demand which may lead to mature milk coming in quickly. Lactation is a hormonal response first, a supply response second. The more milk is emptied from the breast, the more milk the breast will make. Having an older nursling alongside a newborn can provide relief from engorgement while at the same time ensuring a solid supply.
It’s ok. Yep, it’s ok. It’s ok, it’s not weird. It’s ok to breastfeed through pregnancy as long as there is no underlying condition that could make it dangerous. It’s ok to not breastfeed through pregnancy. It’s ok to start breastfeeding through pregnancy and then decide it isn’t for you. It’s ok to try it and decide you want to continue all the way through. It’s ok that not everyone will choose this and it’s ok that some people don’t understand. It’s ok.
As always, breastfeeding is a unique adventure and not everyone will experience the journey the same. From breastfeeder to breastfeeder, our stories may differ and that’s ok. Regardless, everyone deserves support and information in reaching their goals, trusted to make the best decision for themselves and their family. Should you choose to breastfeed through pregnancy, you’re not alone and you have our support either way and no matter what your journey brings.