Having one baby is a big adjustment, but having a second when you’re still nursing your first can feel overwhelming. Between preparing for a future of older-siblinghood and figuring out where to find floor-space for a crib, you might wonder whether it’s time to think about weaning the older-sibling-to-be. If you decide that’s the right choice for your family and your body, it certainly can be, but it’s also often possible to keep nursing through pregnancy, and even after your new baby is born, which is called tandem nursing.
When is it safe to breastfeed through pregnancy?
In most pregnancies, there’s no reason you can’t continue breastfeeding as long as you’re eating a wide variety of healthy foods, getting enough energy to support yourself, your nursling, and your fetus while staying well-hydrated. However, in cases where you have a history of preterm birth, or are otherwise at risk for preterm delivery, your healthcare provider might recommend weaning away from breastfeeding during pregnancy, since breastfeeding releases oxytocin, a hormone that can cause contractions. Most of the time, even a history of preterm labor doesn’t mean there’s anything to worry about, but it’s still important to keep in close touch with your doctor about whether it’s the right time to be breastfeeding.
The fact that breastfeeding can trigger contractions mostly only becomes a consideration after the first trimester, so even if you have a history of preterm delivery, you can take a little time to wean slowly, and to go to a healthcare provider and confirm your pregnancy before making a decision.
Why else might breastfeeding end during pregnancy?
Even if you want to keep breastfeeding during pregnancy, and your healthcare provider agrees that it’s a safe and healthy choice for your family, there are other reasons why breastfeeding might end during pregnancy. For one thing, during pregnancy, breastfeeding just isn’t all that comfortable. Especially in the first and second trimesters, nipple soreness and breast tenderness can make breastfeeding extremely uncomfortable, though many women who do continue breastfeeding report that the painful feeding subsides later in pregnancy. Beyond that, the fatigue that can come with pregnancy can leave not much energy left over for breastfeeding.
Beyond that, there’s always the possibility that your baby will wean themselves as your pregnancy goes on, too. At a certain point, mid-way through the second trimester, breast milk starts to change to prepare to nourish a newborn, and to produce the colostrum that will be your new baby’s first meal. This milk will still be perfectly healthy for your older baby, but as it changes, the flavor may shift a little, and your child may become less interested in nursing. Around the same time, your body may start producing a bit less milk. This may not be a problem if you have an older baby or toddler, but for young children, this drop in milk may make it necessary to supplement with formula until after your new baby is born.
If you do continue to breastfeed throughout pregnancy, it’s also possible to keep breastfeeding your older child after you give birth to your newborn. It may not seem practical, especially if you experience a significant drop in milk during pregnancy, but after giving birth, the body can more easily regulate to meet the new demand. Tandem nursing does take more energy than just nursing one child, but many families find that it can be a great way to ease the transition of bringing a new baby into the family when the older child isn’t so old at all!
Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso. “Is it safe to continue breast-feeding if I’m pregnant with another child?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, April 28 2015. Web.
“I’m Pregnant and Still Nursing My Toddler–Must I Wean Now?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, January 9 2016. Web.
“Nursing During Pregnancy.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
- “Nursing Through Pregnancy and Beyond: Is It Really Possible?” New Beginnings. 24(5): 230-233. Web. September-October 2007.