Breastfeeding Through Pregnancy and Beyond

One result of more women breastfeeding, and choosing to breastfeed longer, is an increasing number of women who find themselves pregnant again while still breastfeeding. Years ago, continuing to breastfeed might have been discouraged. [1-3]

Doctors feared that nipple stimulation from breastfeeding might be dangerous for pregnancy. This is because nipple stimulation can trigger release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin causes uterine contractions. Doctors worried about an increased risk of premature labor or even a miscarriage. [1-3]

Today there have been plenty of studies showing that breastfeeding is safe during most pregnancies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as long as you have a normal pregnancy, you can continue to breastfeed safely through pregnancy and you may even be able to breastfeed your newborn along with your older child after pregnancy, called tandem breastfeeding. [3]

Risks and Challenges of Breastfeeding Through Pregnancy

Oxytocin from nipple stimulation could be a risk if you have a history of miscarriage or early labor. It could also be a risky if you are carrying twins or multiples. Talk to your doctor about these risks. [3] In most cases, the risk is low because very little oxytocin is released from nipple stimulation and the uterus is not very sensitive to oxytocin until just before labor. Contraction caused by oxytocin do not affect the baby in your womb. [1,2]

Another more likely risk is that your child will wean during your pregnancy. The reason is that your milk supply will go down during the 4th and 5th month of pregnancy. The taste of your milk will also change. In some cases, these changes are enough to cause your child to wean. [1,2]

You may also decide to wean your baby. Nipples become more sensitive during pregnancy, and some women find that feeding becomes too uncomfortable. You may decide to wean due to fatigue. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding require extra energy. You will need to drink more, eat more, and rest more to keep up. [1,2]

You already need to add about 400 calories to keep up with the energy needs due to pregnancy. You will have at add another 400 to 500 calories for continued breastfeeding. If you can’t keep up with your energy needs, fatigue may become a factor and a reason for weaning. [3]

Risks and Benefits of Tandem Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding your new baby has obvious benefits. It is the best food for any infant. The benefits for your older child depend on your child’s age and if your child is feeding more for comfort or nourishment. There may be another benefit for your older child. Tandem feeding may help your child bond with and accept the new baby. [1,2]

If you decide to tandem feed, it is important to give your baby first preference. Breastfeeding should be the only source of nourishment for your baby and it is important for the development of your baby’s immune system. Your older child can get nourishment from other foods and no longer needs the boost to the immune system. [1,3]

Tandem feeding may help prevent breast engorgement and scanty milk supply that occurs at when you start breastfeeding all over again. Because you are continuing established feeding, you should have a constant flow of milk. The only real drawback is the effort it takes to keep up your nourishment and energy level. Breastfeeding two children may prove to be too exhausting. In that case, you may have to wean your older child. [1-3]

There is no right or wrong answer to breastfeeding during pregnancy or to tandem breastfeeding. If your doctor says it is safe for you, which it should be in most cases, the choice is up to you.

Sources:

  1. American Pregnancy Association, Breastfeeding While Pregnant.
  2. La Leche League International, Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Tandem Nursing.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics, Nursing During Pregnancy.
Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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