FAQs About Breastfeeding While Pregnant

Breastfeeding when pregnant - crazy? unhealthy? selfless? sweet? exhausting? painful?

If you're anything like I was before I become a mom, you probably don't know much (er….anything) about nursing while pregnant. And I didn't give it much consideration until we started trying for baby #2 when #1 was very much still nursing. Faced with the decision of whether to wean our little one or keep the milk truck rolling while pregnant, I was eager to hear other mom’s experiences. And now I'm sharing mine!

Maybe you’re a pregnant mama not ready to wean or a mommy considering becoming pregnant while nursing. Or maybe at some point in your life you’ll have a friend, a sister or a co-worker who nurses through a pregnancy. My hope is that by sharing my personal experience, I can answer some questions, dispel a few myths and help others make the best decision for them. 

FAQs about breastfeeding while pregnant. www.CanDoKiddo.com

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Why Breastfeed While Pregnant?

It’s simple - most women breastfeed through a pregnancy because they’re not ready to wean their older child. In my case, my nursling was only 8 months old when I got pregnant. It was always my hope to continue to breastfeed beyond a year and wait for his cues to wean. Having a younger sibling in Mommy's belly didn't necessarily have to change that plan.

An additional answer to the “why” question is that in the vast majority of cases it’s safe and perfectly healthy to continue. Of course you'll need to talk to your healthcare provider and higher risk pregnancies may be exceptions.

How Is Nursing While Pregnant Even Possible?

If you think for even a second that you can’t become pregnant while breastfeeding - better to find out in a blog post than from an accidental pregnancy - you most certainly can!
You might be surprised to learn that some women regain their monthly cycle while exclusively breastfeeding; some as early as a couple months postpartum. For others, it takes months after weaning for fertility to return and so breastfeeding while pregnant isn't an option. Every woman’s body is different and there isn’t a great way to predict when your fertility will return.

My cycle returned at 6 months while I was still breastfeeding on demand and nursing several times a night. My baby had just begun solid foods but wasn’t yet eating enough to significantly impact his nursing habits. 

Do You Still Produce Milk While Pregnant?

Due to the dramatic hormonal changes in pregnancy, most nursing moms experience changes in supply. For some, that means milk supply completely disappears. For others, it drops significantly but some supply remains. And then there are those of us who experience fluctuations in supply.

I had a big drop late in the first trimester, bounced back and then experienced another drop at the beginning of the third trimester. I knew when I couldn’t hear my baby swallowing very much, he ended nursing sessions very quickly and after a few minutes I felt the *lovely* chafing sensation of him “dry nursing.” 

Drops or dips in milk supply may affect your nursling’s interest in breastfeeding. I found that my guy’s interest fluctuated right along with my supply. 

Drink water. Lots of it. More than you probably want to.
Be diligent with your prenatal vitamins.
Up your protein intake. I aimed to get over 100 g of protein a day, which takes some serious effort (I found that tracking my protein intake was very helpful). But I knew how important my protein intake was to a healthy pregnancy, optimal milk supply and the endurance to chase a busy toddler while pregnant.

Does Milk Taste Different During Pregnancy?

Another effect of hormonal fluctuations is a change in the taste of a pregnant mother’s breastmilk. Since I never tasted mine, I don’t have a good barometer of this but there were times when my babe seemed less interested and I wondered if it was taste-related.

If your babe takes a bottle and you have frozen milk stored, you might consider supplementing with bottles of breastmilk and pumping to keep supply up during times when your nursling's interest wanes. 

What Are Nursing Aversions?

Just as some women experience aversions to foods or smells that never bothered them before becoming pregnant, some develop an aversion to nursing. While I definitely felt “touched out” at times, I never experienced a true aversion to nursing. Most mom’s say that it’s very hard to describe but some liken the sensation of nursing their baby to nails on a chalkboard. And they report that it is very, very difficult to continue to breastfeed through a true aversion. 

Is Nipple Soreness A Guarantee? 

One of the hallmark symptoms of early pregnancy is nipple tenderness or soreness. Throw a nursing baby or toddler at those sore milk makers and the scenario is cringe-worthy.

I was terrified of this situation because I had very, very sore nipples during my first pregnancy. Luckily, I had a different experience when nursing while pregnancy with my second. 
I felt some tenderness, which was definitely made worse by “dry nursing” when my supply dipped and by an active toddler moving around (or worse - talking) while nursing. It was uncomfortable but certainly manageable.

Lanolin {affiliate} can be a huge help for sore nipples. Ditto cold compresses {affiliate}.
I also set boundaries with my toddler: nursing stopped if he got too wiggly, he could talk or sing after he nursed and Mommy decided when the nursing session ended. I started singing a song as his cue that nursing was almost over and then I’d gently use my finger to break suction and pop him off when the song was all done. When my supply was low and my nipples were sore, I sped the song up to quicken the nursing session (and I discovered that “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is one of the the shortest kids’ songs).

How Can You Breastfeed With A Pregnant Belly?

Even before I had a big baby belly, my abdomen got tender and I got uncomfortable with a wiggly toddler on my lap. It was really hard for me to find any resources about good positions for breastfeeding while pregnant. So I made my own up! 

One position I used occasionally was to sit in the middle of the couch with a Boppy pillow {affiliate} on my lap and let my big baby/young toddler lay next to me with only his head on the pillow. Sort of like a football nursing hold for babies except that the couch was doing all the holding. (Bonus: you can re-use that Boppy for playing with your new baby!)

My go-to position, however, was lying down to nurse. We transitioned our son to a toddler bed at 12 months and a queen-sized mattress on the floor at 15 months. This allowed me to nurse in his bed at nap times and wakeup. 

Find a spot where you can lay down to nurse. Even if your child is still in a crib, find a bed in the house, a futon or an air mattress you can keep out for a few months. You’ll be grateful for a comfy spot to nurse and don’t be surprised if you fall asleep many times laying down with your nursling!

Will Breastfeeding Cause Contractions?

Maybe you've heard that "nipple stimulation" is a natural way to induce labor at the end of pregnancy. It's true that breastfeeding through pregnancy can cause contractions but these are typically harmless.

I am prone to very frequent Braxton Hicks contractions beginning at about 20 weeks. These were noticeably longer and stronger when breastfeeding but always subsided immediately afterwards. I consulted with my health care providers (as you should with yours) and they were comfortable with me continuing to nurse despite contractions. The last few weeks of pregnancy the contractions got much more uncomfortable but were manageable (and since I went 9 days "past due," they clearly didn't induce labor in my case!).

What Will People Think If I Breastfeed While Pregnant?

Not to put too fine a point on it but... who cares?! Like everything else in pregnancy you'll receive unsolicited advice, raised eyebrows and unhelpful comments. The only opinions that matter are yours and your healthcare providers'. If you decide to nurse through a pregnancy, find a few solid supports - your partner, a close friend or a local breastfeeding support group (I'm so grateful for mine!). 

My husband was supportive even though he didn't fully understand my decision. My mom made a few comments of concern along the way ("Doesn't it just exhaust you? Are you able to eat enough to grow a baby and breastfeed?) but I chalked it up to motherly love and carried on with my breastfeeding journey. 

Talk to your health care providers. Discuss your questions with them. Listen to your mama gut and make whatever decision feels right to you. While there are certainly challenges to breastfeeding while pregnant I have no regrets at all. And it made it possible for me to tandem breastfeed, which has been amazing (more on that in an upcoming post!).