Breastfeeding while pregnant

Can I breastfeed whilst pregnant?

For some reason, a lot of people believe that it is impossible to become pregnant if you are still breastfeeding, but this isn’t true. 

What we do know is that the hormones involved in lactation can suppress ovulation, which means that these hormones may suppress the release of an egg.

Therefore, if you are breastfeeding your baby around the clock, which is typical in the first few weeks and months, then it’s very unlikely to get pregnant during that time.

However, something as simple as a missed feed, or even if your baby happens to sleep a little longer between feeds, regular feeding may become disrupted, and this means it is still possible to get pregnant.

If you have discovered that you are pregnant while you are still breastfeeding your baby or your toddler, you may be surprised to learn that it is entirely possible to breastfeed both, if that is what you wish to do, so it’s great to know that there IS flexibility, and you CAN make that choice to carry on feeding your baby or toddler while you’re pregnant. 

You may, of course, decide to stop breastfeeding during your pregnancy, and gradually wean your toddler from the breast.

If you do carry on feeding your baby or toddler while you are pregnant, your milk will still provide an excellent source of nutrition and antibodies.

Some mothers have concerns that if they carry on breastfeeding while pregnant, this could bring about a miscarriage, but a recent review of the literature doesn’t appear to support these fears, in healthy pregnancies.

If, however, your pregnancy is more complicated – maybe you’ve had some extra bleeding, or there’s a risk of preterm labor, then it’s vital to work alongside your obstetrician and your midwifery service.

They may encourage you to stop breastfeeding or perhaps to wean partially, or to carry on breastfeeding while working closely with your healthcare provider. 

If you are having a healthy pregnancy and you want to carry on breastfeeding, you may be wondering what to expect over the coming weeks. 

One of the first things that a lot of pregnant women experience is nausea (which many pregnant women experience in the early weeks of pregnancy), but this can be exacerbated because of all the extra hormones associated with breastfeeding.

It isn’t true for everybody, but certainly, some women have found that. Frequent small snacks can help a lot!

You may also find that you feel very hungry.

Most pregnant women feel hungry, but if you try to imagine the nutritional requirements needed for yourself, your unborn baby, AND your baby or your toddler who you are breastfeeding, this is a huge amount of calories! 

I would encourage you to eat well and keep up your calorie intake so that you will be well-nourished, and your body will be able to provide all the calories needed for all concerned.

It is also important for all pregnant women to take a supplement of vitamin D and folic acid while pregnant. 

The main aim is to gain as much weight as you would have done had you not been breastfeeding.

If you do feel that you are particularly undernourished or you have a medical condition, then it’s essential to seek out a dietitian’s help so that you can make sure you receive all the nutrients that you need.

Another thing that you might notice when you’re pregnant and breastfeeding is that your nipples become highly sensitive.

For many pregnant women, this can be a very negative thing.

You may feel unduly irritated, and some breastfeeding women decide to give up breastfeeding at this stage.

If this describes you at the moment, it’s important to understand that this irritation and sensitivity are due to hormonal changes, and is temporary.

To deal with this, you may wish to limit some of the feeds, and always ensure that you get a good latch.

It may be necessary to distract your toddler where possible, offering snacks and other distractions, and where possible, try to get as much help and support as you can from your family and friends.

Around the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy, you may notice a decrease in your milk supply, which is perfectly normal as your body prepares for feeding your new baby.

If you are feeding a toddler, a reduction in milk supply isn’t usually a problem, as they are generally only taking small amounts of milk at the breast.

However, if you become pregnant while you still have a baby, it is crucial to monitor your baby’s weight because even extra pumping will not necessarily increase the supply.

In some situations it may be necessary to give breastmilk supplements temporarily alongside breastfeeding.

I mentioned earlier the general nipple sensitivity that you can get while breastfeeding when pregnant.

If your milk supply has dropped a little bit, your toddler or baby may struggle to latch or change the latch because of the decreased supply and this may also cause extra soreness. 

Look at the information relating to positioning and ways to manage sore nipples too, and bear in mind that the decreased milk supply is your body preparing for your new baby.

Once again, your body is producing colostrum (the lower-volume sticky milk which is packed full of antibodies).

This milk has a laxative effect, and you might find that your baby or toddler has much softer and looser stools because of that – this isn’t harmful, so it isn’t a problem.

A lot of women report that their toddler self-weaned as their milk supply dropped.

This happens because the volume of milk reduces, and the taste of the milk changes too. Sometimes toddlers become frustrated with the lack of volume also.

However, some do not wean and are happy to carry on breastfeeding and receive the colostrum! 

Once your baby is born, the colostrum will still be produced for the first two or three days until the volume of milk starts to increase, as it would with your first baby.

You can decide at this point whether you want to carry on breastfeeding your older child. It’s really only you who can make that choice. 

Regarding breastfeeding, while being pregnant, there is great flexibility.

You may decide to allow both toddler and baby to feed alongside each other for weeks or months, or you may choose to wean your older child from the breast gently.

I also have known situations where the older child came back to the breast at a later date. 

Nothing is set in stone, and you can make the choice that suits your situation and your body best.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022

References

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