Breastfeeding While Pregnant

Toddler with pregnant mother

Whether planned or not, a lot of us who practice extended breastfeeding find ourselves breastfeeding while pregnant. This is normal and common in many cultures.

Once you address a few potential concerns, you just need to be sure that you get enough nutrition, water, and rest as your body is nourishing three.

My first child was 24 months old and still breastfeeding frequently when I got pregnant with my second child. I had some of the common issues, like nipple sensitivity and lower milk production, but we maintained the breastfeeding relationship. Even the Braxton-Hicks contractions weren’t too much to bear until the day my son was born. That day, the bedtime feeding brought on such strong contractions that we skipped a feeding, for the first time in nearly three years. My son was born a few hours later.

Once my baby was born, I nursed both children for another two years. If I hadn’t seen a photo of one of my online friends showing how she stacked her tiny baby on top of her toddler, it might never have occurred to me that it was possible to breastfeed two children at once. Sitting with a baby and a toddler on my lap breastfeeding or holding my two children in my arms as we all fell asleep as they nursed, these are some of my sweetest memories of their young lives.

I was and am so grateful for women who share their experience so others can expand their own possibilities. That is how I expanded my own possibilities. If breastfeeding while pregnant then tandem nursing hadn’t occurred to you, I hope this opens a door for you.

“In a study of 179 mothers who had breastfed for at least six months, 61% had also breastfed during a subsequent pregnancy.1 Of these, 38% went on to nurse both newborn and toddler postpartum, an arrangement known as ‘tandem nursing.’”
Hilary Dervin Flower, “A New Look at the Safety of Breastfeeding During Pregnancy,” August 1, 2011, KellyMom.com.

Nutrition Concerns

To a great extent, you control your nutrition by what you take in. If you are pregnant AND breastfeeding an infant (not a busy toddler who checks in less often), you will probably need more calories.

Health Canada estimates energy requirements for a pregnant woman increase by 340 over the mother’s basic needs during the second trimester and by 452 calories during the third trimester. For breastfeeding, the energy requirements go up by 330 calories for a child 0-6 months and by 400 calories for a child 7-12 months. At the point when a child is no longer exclusively breastfeeding, the mother does not necessarily need to boost caloric intake over her basic needs. Not adding calories can help a mother lose some of the pregnancy weight if it is still lingering.

If you have a 4-month old exclusively breastfeeding and you are one month pregnant, you will need extra calories for the breastfeeding but not for the first trimester of the pregnancy, and you might find that your milk supply decreases too much for your newborn. You should watch your baby’s weight gain closely. If you have a 9-month old exclusively breastfeeding when you discover that you are one month pregnant, you will probably need to be aware of adding calories for both your breastfeeding baby and your pregnancy by the second trimester. That will mean about 740 extra calories a day. Your lactation consultant, midwife, or doctor can make specific recommendations.

Contraction Concerns

One of the most common worries I see associated with breastfeeding while pregnant is the possibility of miscarriage or early labor. Oxytocin released during breastfeeding does cause contractions, but these contractions are so mild that most women don’t notice them. (KellyMom)

Unless there is a specific medical reason to expect pre-term labor or miscarriage, very mild contractions during breastfeeding are not necessarily a reason to wean your child during pregnancy.

Comfort Concerns

If you experience nausea or fatigue during pregnancy, breastfeeding could potentially increase either. You will need great nutrition and plenty of rest. Fortunately, focused breastfeeding time could give you regular rest time. Keep snacks near your favorite nursing area. Eating a few crackers and having a drink while breastfeeding can take the edge off of nausea.

Many women experience nipple sensitivity during pregnancy. This is caused by hormone levels and can be mild or extreme. Breastfeeding while your nipples are very sensitive can be excruciating. Toddlers can get lazy with their latch, so be sure your child has taken a full mouthful and isn’t pulling from your nipple. You can also just ask your toddler to be quite gentle with you. Some women use this time to practice pain management techniques they learn for the birthing process.

You Are the One Who Knows

You are the one who knows whether or not you should continue breastfeeding your baby through pregnancy then continue tandem nursing both children. Watching those babies reach out and touch one another, bonding while they sit on your lap nursing, can be one of the most moving experiences of a chaotic life with young children. But, you need to ensure everyone’s nutrition, safety, and comfort before you get to that point.

Resources for Breastfeeding While Pregnant

If you plan to breastfeed while pregnant, you will probably find it helpful to talk to a La Leche League Leader who has done the same. It can be very reassuring to share the experience with someone who has been there.

For more evidence and experience, I recommend the following articles.

Image © Marina Dyakonova | Dreamstime.com

Blog to Inspire: The Bliss of Breastfeeding

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This following post was an entry in our Blog to Inspire contest. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Dagmar profileBlog to Inspire entrant Dagmar’s momsense is Dagmar Bleasdale, grew up in Germany then moved to Los Angeles. Now, she lives in Westchester, New York, near her husband’s family with him and their toddler son.

I hadn’t given it much thought before, but the second I learned I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It was one of the things I looked forward to the most about being a mom. I just had a feeling that being able to deliver the nourishment my child needs to thrive would be an amazing experience, and I didn’t want to miss out on that. I had no one to help me — my mother did not breastfeed my brother or me and did not encourage me to breastfeed. After a wonderful, drug-free birth, my doula helped me to latch on my son, but after that I was on my own. I tossed out the schedule they had given me at the hospital because my son nursed so frequently and was so content that I wasn’t afraid that he wasn’t getting enough milk. I followed my instinct, fed him on demand, and trusted that my body would provide what he needed.

Dagmar breastfeeding day 1

My son was thriving, yet my nipples were hurting so much during those first weeks, I would gasp from pain every time he latched on. But I was determined — instead of giving up, I sought the help of two lactation specialists. The first one didn’t know what she was doing — the second one is the reason why I am still nursing. She diagnosed my son as a lazy baby who didn’t latch on properly. We learned the correct latch and now, three years later, I am still proudly nursing my little man. He still nurses several times during the day and night and has no intention of self-weaning, and I love nursing him so much, I am in no hurry for him to stop either.

I feel most like a mother when I am breastfeeding. I was meant to do this — for my son and for myself.

I feel most like a mother when I am breastfeeding. I was meant to do this — for my son and for myself. I never get tired of giving him the comfort and nourishment he needs and wants, and feeling his little body close to me. And I don’t get tired of encouraging as many moms as possible to start and continue to breastfeed. I had no idea I would breastfed my son this long, but I count it as one of my proudest accomplishments to be able to do this for him. I also had no idea that I would become a passionate breastfeeding advocate, a La Leche League member, and that my desire to connect with other women interested in breastfeeding would lead me to start my blog, Dagmar’s momsense.

After learning how important it is to get the correct information and support in the beginning, and that most problems with breastfeeding have to do with an incorrect latch, which often can be remedied pretty quickly, I started writing my blog out of a desire to help other moms. Breastfeeding isn’t easy for a lot of women in the beginning, but while a new mom might think she is alone in her struggle, her problems are most likely not unique — many women before her have encountered the same challenges. I want new mothers to know that there are many resources and free help available and that they can look to me to be their cheerleader if they don’t have anyone else to support them.

Dagmar breastfeeding toddler

After my wonderful experience with breastfeeding, I want as many other moms as possible to experience that special bond with their babies and the pride they will feel about being able to give their children the perfect nourishment and comfort. I believe most women can nurse their children with the right support, and I don’t want inaccurate information, societal and work-related pressures, or inadequate resources to be the reason why they never try it or stop to breastfeed. I don’t expect other women to breastfeed for as long as I have — I just want them to understand that every day they breastfeed is a gift not only to their children’s but their own health.

Making it through those challenging first weeks has been so worth it, and there have been countless situations in the last three years when I was glad that I am breastfeeding my son. Thanks to co-sleeping and never having to prepare a bottle, I have slept just fine since my son was an infant. I have a very healthy child with a hearty immune system, due in large part to exclusively breastfeeding my son for nine months. When flying overseas with him, he was contently nursing in his Maya wrap and people were astounded about how quiet he was. When he doesn’t want to eat his vegetables, I don’t have to worry about his nutrition because I know he gets everything he needs from breast milk. One more welcomed side effect: the added pregnancy weight came off by itself — breastfeeding is pure bliss!

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the finalists and by the rest of the entrants. Forty-four bloggers reached out to inspire on the topics of cloth diapers, babywearing, breastfeeding, and natural parenting.

Blog to Inspire: Mama Milk Dance

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This following post was an entry in our Blog to Inspire contest. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Blog to Inspire entrant Code Name: Mama is Dionna Ford, a lawyer turned work at home mama to an amazing son. She’s also one of those crunchy liberals her parents warned her about. She and her husband practice natural parenting and try to live consciously.

Code Name Mama nursing toddler

A member of an online community forum recently asked: “Do you think toddlers are too old to nurse?” What followed was a variety of disapproving comments regarding breastfeeding in general and “extended” (better known as “full term”) breastfeeding in particular.

I joined the community in order to educate the ill-informed and defend those champions of lactation – the mamas who give their babies breastmilk beyond one year. I dug up some research on breastfeeding past infancy; found links and statistics; and attempted to write something coherent. (It’s hard to be coherent, though, when my almost two year old often climbs onto my lap, dives for my nursing tank top, and does scissor kicks somewhere between my body and the keyboard.) Below is an expanded version of what I posted in response.


Health Benefits to Children and Mothers

In addition to the myriad health benefits to mother and child from breastfeeding for even a short time period (1), there are even more health benefits when mothers continue breastfeeding beyond one year. Here are only a few examples of the benefits to children and mothers, all established by credible research:

  • “Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers.” (2)
  • “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation. In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process.” (3)
  • There is “a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk.” (4)
  • Breastfeeding beyond one year “can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer by about one-third.” (5)
  • “[T]he longer a woman breastfeeds, the less likely she is to get endometrial cancer.” (6)


Breastfeeding Toddlers is Normal

Much of the criticism toward extended breastfeeding has nothing to do with health and everything to do with cultural biases. Many disagree with nursing a toddler who “can ask for it (or who have teeth),” or “when it’s just used as a comfort.”

Such comments reveal the writers’ own discomfort; they are not grounded in fact. Disapproval based on comfort level is not a logical basis for discouraging mothers from breastfeeding for any length of time.

Mothers have historically nursed into toddlerhood. In fact “the median age of weaning throughout the world is between ages three and five [years].” (7) Because breastfeeding is “a heavily culturized activity, it is” influenced by the current beliefs and attitudes regarding “infant health and nutrition, . . . the nature of human infancy and the proper relationships between mother and child, and between mother and father.” (8)

Those who condemn nursing a child who is “old enough to ask for it” operate under the illusion that the breast’s primary purpose is sexual. Most people wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at giving a toddler a bottle (which is a breast substitute), or at hugging or cuddling a toddler; why should breastfeeding be different? All are forms of affection. A toddler does not see a breast as sexual, nor should anyone who happens to view the nursing relationship.

The argument that breastfeeding should be discontinued after it is “more comfort than nutrition” is similarly misguided. Aside from the established health benefits of nursing a toddler, it makes no sense to take away a food source just because it does not meet every nutritional need.

“We don’t say that children should stop eating bananas once bananas are no longer a significant part of their diet. Bananas eaten once in a while are as nutritious as bananas eaten three times a day. In fact, you might even consider the rarely eaten banana to be more important nutritionally. Why do we not see that the same is true of human milk?” (9)


Nursing My Own Toddler

In responding to the forum query and in writing this post, I examined my own reasons for continuing to nurse my son.

Nothing can soothe my toddler’s bumped head or broken heart more effectively than breastfeeding. Nursing provides Kieran security and comfort when he is feeling sad, unsure or overwhelmed. And, quite simply, we both enjoy our nursing relationship.

If I hadn’t nursed beyond one year, I would have never been able to enjoy Kieran’s impish grin before his inevitable toddler nursing gymnastics; the request for “mama milk dance!” as we swept across our living room dance floor; or waking up to his big blue eyes locked onto mine as he hugged my chest and sleepily murmured “love mama milk.”

These tender moments are memories I would never trade, and Kieran’s comfort and happiness far outweigh any possible criticism about extended breastfeeding.

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(1) See “101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child,” http://www.promom.org/101/ (and citations therein) for some of the significant health benefits to children and mothers from even a few months of breastfeeding.
(2) “Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet” (citing Gulick, E. The Effects of Breastfeeding on Toddler Health, Ped Nursing 1986 Jan-Feb;12(1):51-4)
(3) Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citing Goldman AS. et al., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During Weaning, Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman, A., Goldblum R.M., Garza C., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During the Second Year of Lactation, Acta Paediatr Scand 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Hamosh M, Dewey, Garza C, et al: Nutrition During Lactation. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1991, pp. 133-140)
Toddlers who nurse also have fewer allergies, are smarter, and are well-adjusted socially. (see Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet and related citations)
(4) Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citations available at http://www.kellymom.com/bf/bfextended/ebf-refs.html#BreastCancer1)
(5) 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child, (citing Hartage et al, “Rates and risks of ovarian cancer in subgroups of white women in the United States.” Obstet Gynecol 1994 Nov; 84(5): 760-764; Rosenblatt KA, Thomas DB, “Lactation and the risk of Epithelial ovarian cancer”. Int J Epidemiol. 1993;22:192-197; Gwinn ML, “Pregnancy, breastfeeding and oral contraceptives and the risk of Epithelial ovarian cancer.” J. Clin. Epidemiol. 1990; 43:559-568)
(6) 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child (citing Rosenblatt, KA et al “Prolonged lactation and endometrial cancer” Int. J. Epidemiol. 1995; 24:499-503)
(7) “Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: Exploring Benefits, Cultural Influences, and More,”
http://www.llli.org/NB/NBSepOct07p196.html (citing Huggins, K. The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning, Boston, MA: Harvard Common Press, 2007)
(8) Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: Exploring Benefits, Cultural Influences, and More (quoting Dettwyler, K.A. “A Time to Wean” in Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives, Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995)
(9) “Comfort Versus Nutrition,” http://www.breastfeeding.org.sg/comfort-versus-nutrition-by-kathryn-orlinsky.html

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the finalists and by the rest of the entrants. Forty-four bloggers reached out to inspire on the topics of cloth diapers, babywearing, breastfeeding, and natural parenting.