Is it safe to continue breastfeeding while pregnant?

Jan Barger, lactation consultant

Absolutely! Millions of women through the ages have breastfed during pregnancy and continued to nurse an older child along with the new baby.

Many mothers have questions about how this works and whether nursing while pregnant could trigger premature labor or take nutrients away from the unborn baby. They may find that healthcare professionals are sometimes quick to recommend weaning — but if so, it’s worth asking why. It’s possible that the doctor or practitioner hasn’t really researched the topic of nursing while pregnant.

There’s a link between nursing and labor contractions, but it’s not worrisome. Oxytocin is the hormone that’s released when your baby suckles; it causes your milk to let down. Oxytocin is also what triggers labor contractions (and is the hormone that’s released during orgasm).

The amount of oxytocin that causes milk to flow is a lot less than the amount of oxytocin that’s needed to cause labor contractions, though, so there’s no need to worry. One exception would be if your healthcare practitioner has put you on “pelvic rest” (no breast play, no intercourse) for preterm labor; if this is the case, then weaning will be necessary.

You don’t need to be concerned about your unborn baby receiving enough nourishment while you’re nursing his older sibling, either. Human bodies are amazing. They can maintain their own health and make milk for a newborn and provide adequate nutrition for his fast-growing sibling. You might be hungrier because of all this work, though — so go ahead and enjoy that peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

That’s not to say you’ll continue nursing without any changes. You may find that your nipples become tender again (like they may have been when you first started nursing). Your milk supply might go down a bit, and the taste of your milk may change (your nursing child will probably be quick to let you know!).

Sometimes an older child will wean himself during mom’s pregnancy; sometimes the mother decides that she’d rather not nurse as her pregnancy progresses or that she wants to wean before the new baby comes. And some moms believe that nursing both siblings will help the children get closer to each other. It’s your decision, so whatever you choose to do — enjoy!

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