Is it Safe to Continue Breastfeeding While Pregnant?
Some Benefits for Nursing During Pregnancy and Tandem Nursing
There are plenty of reasons to continue nursing a toddler throughout the pregnancy and for tandem nursing (nursing an older child while nursing a baby) after the baby is born:
- It allows the older child to bond with Mum without taxing Mum too much (it’s definitely a lot less tiring to lie in bed and cuddle a toddler than to chase him around the house and play whatever games he fancies)
- It helps the older child to better transition the new arrival of a baby - being able to continue nursing helps him feel secure in his relationship with Mum rather than feeling that he has been displaced by the new baby which may cause resentment towards the baby
The Concerns About Nursing During Pregnancy and Tandem Nursing
Some of the concerns that have been raised about continued nursing during the pregnancy:
- the risk that the uterine contractions might lead to premature labour
- the risk of affecting Mum's health if her body is tasked with producing breastmilk as well as nurturing the baby in her womb
- the risk that it may affect the baby's development through lack of nutrients, etc.
And the more ridiculous concern:
- whether breastmilk during pregnancy is still safe for the older child to take
Concerns with tandem nursing:
- will the baby have enough milk to drink if the older child is also nursing?
Uterine Contractions and Premature Labour
“Although uterine contractions are experienced during breastfeeding, they are a normal part of pregnancy. Similar contractions often occur during sexual intercourse, which many couples continue throughout pregnancy.”
During pregnancy, several things need to be noted:
- there is less oxytocin produced during nipple stimulation
- the uterus does not respond to oxytocin the way it does when the mother is at term
- a lack of oxytocin receptor sites (uterine cells that detect the presence of oxytocin) in the uterus up until 38 weeks of pregnancy
- lack of special proteins which “down regulate” the uterus so it remains insensitive even when there are a lot of oxytocin receptor sites present
So the uterus is very well protected during pregnancy and guards well against oxytocin that may be released during nursing.
What about miscarriage and preterm labor risks?
“A recent review of research on the pregnant uterus reveals that there is actually no theoretical basis for the common concern that breastfeeding can lead to miscarriage or preterm labor in healthy pregnancies. Instead the uterus has many safeguards preventing a strong reaction to the oxytocin that breastfeeding releases.”
Lesley Regan, PhD, MD, who is the head of the Miscarriage Clinic at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, finds it surprising to hear issues related to miscarriage to be reasons for weaning. “Once a pregnancy is clinically detectable, breastfeeding should pose no added risk of pregnancy loss. There isn’t any data suggesting a link between breastfeeding and miscarriage, and I see no plausible reason for there to be a link.”
While this may be a concern for a mother in a developing nation, it is rarely the case in developed nations. Unless a mother's diet is severely undernourished, there is little likelihood of any risk to her health.
Some healthcare providers may recommend prenatal vitamins, however, more than one a day is unwise. It is best to speak to your O&G for advice.
Incidences where a mother may require additional supplements may be in the situation where the mother has special dietary requirements, e.g. dairy-free, vegans, anemic, unable to consume sufficient calories.
Hilary Flower states in "Adventures in Tandem Nursing" that it is not necessarily true that a mother's body gives first to the foetus, then to the nursing child, and finally to her own reserves. We don't really have any information on what happens in the event of nutrient shortage - we don't know how the nutrients are divided between the placenta and human milk production. To assume that the foetus and the child comes first suggests that a mother's own body's stores will be depleted to support the foetus and the child to her own detriment when there is really no evidence of this in a mother who is well-nourished.
In short, as long as a mother eats well, listens to her body's hunger and thirst signals, and observes that she is gaining the recommended pregnancy weight, she is unlikely to have any issues with her health while nursing during pregnancy.
Although there is currently no study on this topic, the general data collected from mothers who had continued nursing during their pregnancies suggests that babies' development are not affected (unless a mother is severely undernourished - which would also be the case regardless of whether the mother is nursing or not). The survey of mothers breastfeeding during pregnancy recorded healthy birth weights.
Again, as long as the mother is eating enough calories from a varied diet and is gaining weight within the recommended weight range, it is believed she is capable of providing for herself, her nursing child and the foetus.
Is Pregnant Breastmilk Safe for a Toddler to Drink?
We offer cow’s milk to our children and drink it ourselves without a second thought, regardless of the fact that humans are the only species on the planet that drink the milk of another animal. The idea that we should question whether it is safe for a toddler to continue drinking breastmilk is almost laughable. If it isn’t safe for a toddler to continue drinking breastmilk, then surely it certainly isn’t safe for us to drink cow’s milk (or goat’s milk, or whatever milk it is from whichever animal that produces it).
Will There be Enough Milk for the Baby?
The only time when it is important to ensure the newborn gets first dibs is during the first few days when the milk is still colostrum. Because colostrum is rich in antibodies and serves to prepare the newborn's gut for digestion, it is important the the baby gets an adequate supply of this limited substance.
Generally, most nursing mothers find they have ample milk supply to
provide for both baby and older child and that coordinating to ensure
that the baby suckles first is usually unnecessary. If, however, you
find that your milk supply is insufficient, then a little coordination
might be required to ensure the baby suckles first. Sometimes you may even find that you might have to nurse the older child first or the milk pressure from a let down might be too high for the baby.
Personally, when I was nursing my first child, I found I had so much milk, I would deliberate wake him up to nurse because my breasts were too full. If that were the case previously, I think I will be only too glad to have a toddler to relieve the pressure of full breasts when the baby doesn't want to nurse.
Is it Safe to Nurse During Pregnancy?
KellyMom has always been a great source of information for nursing mothers, and this is what they have to say about the safety of nursing during pregnancy:
“Is it safe to nurse during pregnancy?
Yes, in most cases. At this time no medical study has been done on the safety of breastfeeding during pregnancy so it is impossible to list any definitive contraindications. If you are having a complicated pregnancy, such as lost weight, bleeding, or signs of preterm labor, you should problem-solve your individual situation with your caregiver.”
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