I’ve heard many, many people tell you that you can’t breastfeed while pregnant. That it’s dangerous or will cause a miscarriage, or just that your milk will dry up. It’s mostly myths (though your milk might dry up). But, believe me, you can breastfeed while pregnant.
Know how I know? I’ve done it. Twice.
I breastfed my daughter (then 10 – 18 months) while I was pregnant with my son. Oh, and she’s still breastfeeding. Yes, really. At age 3 (we practice child-led weaning, so we’ll stop when she’s ready). So is my son, who is almost 20 months. So I’m actually breastfeeding two kids while pregnant. It can be done, with no risk at all to the baby.
Some of you now think I’m completely insane. Breastfeeding a three-year-old?? Who is this woman? Yeah, I know. That’s why I don’t usually volunteer the information! But my unique experience (and a lot of research) means that I know a lot about breastfeeding.
Let’s clear up a few myths here about breastfeeding while pregnant.
1) You’ll miscarry your baby!
No, you won’t. Unless your body is somehow so sensitive that you are advised to avoid intercourse or any form of nipple stimulation (rare), you are not at risk for a miscarriage. This one is based on the fact that breastfeeding produces the hormone oxytocin, which is the same hormone responsible for causing contractions during labor. The thing is, the amount of oxytocin produced during breastfeeding is a lot lower than the amount necessary to send you into labor! I have even breastfed during labor and it didn’t do a thing to speed up my contractions or change it any way. It is a tiny, neglible amount and it will not cause you to miscarry your baby.
2) It will hurt
It might. If your breasts get really sensitive during pregnancy, it could feel a bit painful. But in my experience, even when I was feeling sore, it wasn’t enough that I needed to stop. I warned my kids to be careful and not jerk around or unlatch suddenly (my 3-year-old is very careful about this). But, it really hurt much less than adjusting to breastfeeding in the first place. A few women will find the pain enough that they want to wean, but it probably won’t be that bad.
3) Your milk will dry up
It might. But it might not. About 30% of women have milk all the way through. I have, both times. I’ve asked and my 3-year-old says there is still milk, and I feel full sometimes. You’ll hear people say “By 8 weeks…by 12 weeks…by 16 weeks…your milk will be gone.” Depends on the individual. Your milk will start to change some around 16 weeks as your body gears up to produce colostrum but you may have something right up until birth (and then the cycle starts over with your newborn!). I did find that when I was eating plenty of healthy fats, I had more milk than other times.
4) You’re “robbing” your growing baby of nutrients
Your body will feed your growing baby first. Period. If your body cannot do both (more likely if your babies are close together because you haven’t rebuilt your nutrient stores; or if you are otherwise nutritionally depleted), it will stop making milk before it ever affects your new baby. You will not hurt your growing baby by continuing to breastfeed. If you’re curious, my son (my second baby) is actually healthier and stronger than my first, even though I breastfed through his pregnancy. He clearly wasn’t “robbed” of anything!
Now, you will need to eat a bit more. It depends on how much your child is breastfeeding, but you’ll probably need around 500 calories for your breastfeeding baby and 300 for your pregnancy. So you will need to eat a lot — think 3000 calories a day. (In my case I really don’t need more than that because neither of my kids nurses very much. That is common as they get older.) Make sure to rest, drink plenty of water, and eat whenever you are hungry. And eat well. Don’t skimp on the healthy fat (butter, olive oil, pastured lard, coconut oil), pastured meats, cheese, plenty of fruits and vegetables, etc. Try not to ever choose junk food (or not very often). There are more tips in The Lunch Conundrum…Or, What Pregnant Women Eat! And by the way, no, you don’t have to eat grains to get what you need. I usually don’t.
Why Would Anyone WANT to Breastfeed While Pregnant?
Some of you just read that and are saying Okay, I get it…it’s safe. But WHY? Well, a lot of kids aren’t ready to wean when they’re a year old. Many would prefer to continue nursing for another year…or two…or three. That’s really another post in itself, of course. But briefly, the worldwide weaning age is four years old. There’s no reason to push the older child away just because you have gotten pregnant again. Continue to meet his/her needs as best you can.
A few moms who are committed to meeting their child’s needs will decide that they don’t want to nurse any longer, because they would like a “break,” because they’re sore, or because they don’t want to end up tandem nursing. And that’s fine. A gentle, slow weaning that ends at least a couple months before the new baby comes (so the older one doesn’t feel like the baby “stole” his special milk!) is fine too, if that’s what works for you.
Have you ever breastfed while pregnant? Would you ever?
Top image by Daquella Manera