By Lisa Fields
If you are committed to breastfeeding well beyond the typical 6 or 12 months, you may one day find yourself ready to have another baby, even though you are not done breastfeeding your first yet.
You may wonder if getting pregnant means that you will have to stop nursing when you and your child are not ready to give it up; and if you choose to continue producing breast milk for your older child, will that deprive your growing baby of any essential nutrients?
Fortunately, if you are a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy, it is safe to continue breastfeeding while you are expecting. Research has shown that women in developed nations who breastfeed while they are pregnant are not at greater risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery or low-birthweight babies.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead and you eat healthily and hydrate properly, you can continue to breastfeed throughout your pregnancy without incident. You may even choose to continue nursing your child once your baby is born. (Nourishing children of different ages is known as tandem breastfeeding.)
If you are interested in maintaining your breastfeeding routine with your child while there is another baby on the way, here is what to do:
Talk to your doctor
Before making the decision to continue breastfeeding throughout your pregnancy, check with your OB/GYN. If you have chronic health conditions, you are pregnant with twins, your pregnancy is high-risk or you have a history of certain pregnancy problems, your doctor may tell you that it might be safer to wean your child than to continue breastfeeding.
Some doctors recommend that women with a history of miscarriage or premature delivery should not breastfeed during pregnancy. The concern is that breastfeeding causes nipple stimulation, and nipple stimulation is associated with uterine contractions in certain situations. Although it is very unlikely that breastfeeding could lead to a woman going into labor too early, your doctor may not want to take the chance if you fall into one of these high-risk categories.
Pamper yourself during pregnancy
It can be hard to be indulgent with yourself when you have a fussy baby or an energetic toddler to take care of, but when you are pregnant and breastfeeding, it is important to look after your most basic needs.
If your doctor gives recommendations about eating, drinking and sleeping, it is crucial to follow their advice. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding require you to take in extra calories, stay well-hydrated and get enough rest, so do not cut corners. By taking care of yourself in these ways, you will really be taking care of three people: yourself, your child and your growing baby.
Read your child’s cues
Your child may want to continue breastfeeding throughout your entire pregnancy and beyond. Or he may choose to wean himself while you are pregnant. Natural changes that are taking place in your body may be responsible if your child chooses to stop breastfeeding while you are pregnant.
A few months into your pregnancy, your breasts should start to produce less milk. Around the same time, the flavor of your breast milk may change. Both of these differences may seem unappealing to your child. He may want to stop nursing… or he may not care.
You can determine whether or not a child who is well-established on solid foods truly wants to continue breastfeeding throughout your pregnancy and beyond by using what some experts call a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach. If you try this technique, make breast milk available when your child requests it, but do not offer your breasts at set times throughout the day, as you have done in the past.
Consider your tolerance for pain
The hormones that surge through your body while you are pregnant affect much more than your expanding belly. You may have noticed that your breasts felt tender when you were pregnant the first time. Your breasts and nipples will be affected again during this pregnancy. Some women find that they are too sensitive to continue breastfeeding, and they may try to wean their children when the discomfort becomes too much of a challenge.
If you are determined to continue breastfeeding throughout your pregnancy, either because your child enjoys it or because you had not intended to stop so soon, try modifying your nursing routine to ease discomfort. A new breastfeeding position may help. Nursing for shorter periods of time may be easier to endure. Asking an older child to be gentle when he breastfeeds may be helpful, too.
When your baby is born, if your older child is still breastfeeding, allow your newborn to breastfeed first, especially during the first few days of life when you are producing very little colostrum (the precursor to breast milk). Your older child can get his calories elsewhere, but breast milk is the only food source for a newborn who is exclusively breastfed.
Once your milk comes in, you can alternate who breastfeeds first, always giving priority to a hungry baby who is nursing on demand. If your breasts are engorged, it may help to have your older child breastfeed first to relieve some of the pressure, which should make it easier for your newborn to latch on.
Creating harmony together
You can also nurse both of your children at the same time if you are comfortable with that. Many women find this to be an ideal fit for their families because it includes an older child – who might otherwise feel excluded when the baby nurses frequently – in an intimate activity that he enjoys.
If you try simultaneous breastfeeding and decide that you do not want to continue feeding both of your children at the same time, it is okay to offer your breasts at alternate times to each child.
Finding the right fit
Because breastfeeding can elicit deep emotions, you may need to experiment to figure out a feeding schedule that feels right to you. It is important to know your comfort zone and your limits. If you are able to establish tandem breastfeeding as a positive experience in your mind, you will be more likely to continue to breastfeed both of your children.
Some moms prefer one-on-one time with a newborn to establish a special relationship; they want to offer the family’s newest member the same opportunity that an older child had when he was born. Other moms prefer not to exclude an older child so that he does not feel pushed to the side by the presence of the newborn and grow resentful.
It may take a few days or weeks before you establish a routine that feels right for you and your family, but it is okay to take the time to figure things out. Making sure that you feel positive and comfortable with tandem breastfeeding can help you feel vested in the process ensuring that you continue for as long as you and your children desire.
Ameda strives to present you with accurate and useful breastfeeding information. This article may contain information and ideas that are not necessarily the views of Ameda. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have any questions please contact your healthcare professional.