Breastfeeding When You Are Pregnant

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Sometimes you get surprised by a pregnancy coming quickly on the heels of an earlier pregnancy, and sometimes you plan to have your children close together. In either case, it’s possible that you will breastfeed an older baby or toddler while you’re pregnant. Read on to learn what to expect and how to cope with issues that might arise.

 It’s possible that your breastfeeding relationship with your older child will continue as it always has. As long as it’s still working for you both, it’s probably safe to continue. In a study published in the journal Perspectives On Sexual And Reproductive Health in 2019, author Joseph Molitoris, an expert in patterns in family planning and reproductive health, determined that the rate of miscarriage was higher in mothers who got pregnant when they were exclusively breastfeeding their babies. But in mothers whose older children were eating other foods in addition to breastmilk—as most children are by about six months—had no greater risk of miscarriage than mothers who were not breastfeeding at all. Though this study did not examine the effects of nursing while pregnant on the older child being breastfed, it is unlikely to cause him or her harm and likely confers some benefits.

On the other hand, if your breastfeeding relationship with your older child is no longer working for you, you have some options. If you’d like to keep breastfeeding, but you’re struggling with nursing in the first part of your pregnancy, you can cut down to one or two nursing sessions per day. Once the hormones of early pregnancy level out, it’s possible that nursing will work better for you again. Hormonal changes can cause nipple pain during nursing and increase feelings of irritability that might make nursing harder. Sometimes those negative experiences improve, but sometimes they don’t.

Just like other causes of breastfeeding agitation and aversion, being pregnant can make nursing an older child really unpleasant. Some suggestions to overcome breastfeeding aversion include: distract yourself while nursing, get as much sleep as you can (admittedly this could be hard in early pregnancy when you have an older kid), and make sure that you are well-hydrated. It also might help to make boundaries with your older child. If they want to nurse on-demand throughout the day, perhaps it would make sense to limit the times when you are up for breastfeeding. You could offer milk before rest times only and when your older child wants to nurse, you could offer cuddles and a bottle or sippy cup of other milk (pumped milk, formula, or cow’s milk, depending on the child’s age) or water.

It can be an easy or difficult choice to make, but if you are ready to be done breastfeeding, that’s great, too. As you’re feeling all the strong feelings that come with a pregnancy, you might also be experiencing some sadness or guilt about your older child growing up. Be gentle with yourself. If you have a loved one, trusted friend, or mental health professional you can talk to, do so. As you’re processing being done nursing your older kiddo, there are some concrete steps you can take to wean him or her.

First, decide how much you want to nurse, if at all. If you are fine with the morning or before bed feeding but don’t want to nurse for the rest of the day, that works. You also might decide that you are completely done with nursing. Regardless of your choice, talk with your older child about weaning. Explain that you need to stop nursing because your body is ready. It’s probably a good idea not to credit this change to the new sibling growing in your body right now if you can help it. Tell your child that it might be difficult and new to not have mama milk anymore, and that you will support them as they cope with this hard thing.

Then make a plan and stick to it. If you plan to only nurse in the morning or plan to nurse one night before bed for the last time, then be consistent. Your older child will likely have big feelings about the change, but you do them a disservice if you relent and allow them to nurse when you’ve said you wouldn’t. There may be tantrums or tears, so plan non-nursing ways you can offer comfort or enlist the help of another loved one, like the non-nursing parent, to help your child manage their feelings. When you’re weaning an older toddler, it can be tough, but you can both do it!

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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