Is it safe to breastfeed while pregnant? How can you best support your body — and your babies — if you’re breastfeeding during pregnancy? Can you breastfeed a newborn and infant at the same time?
Amanda discussed breastfeeding while pregnant with Patti Quintero, birth doula and founder of Uma Mother, whose focus is on consciousness expansion, education, and community for mothers of all stages. “I got pregnant with my second when I was breastfeeding full-time, so my children are 18 months apart,” Quintero shared about her own breastfeeding experience. “For some people's bodies, it's okay, but I think I definitely felt the depletion.”
For most, breastfeeding while pregnant is completely safe and, for many, it can even be a meaningful, positive experience. Here’s the science behind breastfeeding while pregnant, as well as Quintero’s own expert advice for preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy while breastfeeding.
Can You Breastfeed While Pregnant?
Simply put: yes, you can continue to breastfeed while you’re pregnant. Your body can accommodate both growing the new fetus and nourishing the older baby.
Many wonder if breastfeeding while pregnant is safe for the unborn baby, but studies show that there is no significant difference in the rates of reaching full-term delivery in women who breastfeed while pregnant and those who do not.
Benefits of Breastfeeding While Pregnant
Not only is breastfeeding while pregnant possible, but there are some studies that show it may even be beneficial to both your newborn and infant:
Here are some benefits of breastfeeding while pregnant:
- It may be easier and more convenient for the mother, as you can continue to feed your baby as you did before you were pregnant (and, later, begin to tandem feed both babies at the same time).
- Some studies show higher fat content, energy value, and total protein concentration in milk production during tandem breastfeeding to support the needs of both the newborn and the older child.
- It may promote feelings of bonding and safety for your older child, as gaining a new sibling can be stressful on children.
- It keeps your milk supply at a consistent level and may help to prevent your breasts from becoming engorged once the new baby arrives.
Side Effects of Breastfeeding While Pregnant
“I was pregnant with my son when my daughter was nine months, and I was still nursing her until she was about 13 months,” Quintero says. “So there was a portion of my pregnancy that I was feeding her, and it was fine for me in the beginning. There was tenderness in my breast because of all the hormones from pregnancy, but remarkably, that passed pretty soon, and I didn't have an aversion to feeding her with that sensation. Some people do, though, and you need to honor that.”
If you choose to breastfeed while pregnant, you may notice:
- Sore nipples
- Decreased milk supply
- The color and consistency of breast milk changes (due to adapting to the nutritional needs of the newborn baby)
- Fatigue or feelings of overwhelm
Will Your Body Produce Colostrum if You’re Breastfeeding While Pregnant?
Colostrum is the thick, sticky, nutritionally dense breast milk that the body produces midway through pregnancy, and continues to produce for a few days after birth. It’s full of immune-balancing benefits, provides growth nutrients, and offers digestive support for your baby.
According to Quintero, your body will naturally start to produce colostrum even while breastfeeding an older baby. “My curiosity was, ‘What happens if I'm breastfeeding the whole time, and then I have a baby? Do I produce colostrum, or am I producing more mature milk?,’” Quintero asks. “And the answer from the midwife was that you switch to producing colostrum for the newborn.” She also mentions that colostrum production (particularly the change in taste and texture of your breastmilk) may prompt the older baby to begin to wean. “The body tends to the newborn, so you produce colostrum, and sometimes that colostrum is not appetizing to the older baby,” she explains.
Tips for Breastfeeding While Pregnant
While lactation-pregnancy overlap is not inherently dangerous, you may require extra support to keep your body healthy, nourished, and repleted while your body provides for two babies. “I actually went from being a vegetarian in my first pregnancy to being a meat eater in my second pregnancy, because I felt that I needed the iron and the support,” Quintero shared about her own journey with breastfeeding during pregnancy. “We know that it takes a lot out of you not only being pregnant, but breastfeeding for a long time.”
Here are some beneficial tips for nursing while pregnant:
- Maintain your supply through nutrition. There is a direct link between your own nutrition and the composition of your breast milk, so be sure to keep yourself well-nourished with nutrient-dense foods. Focus on foods containing fatty acids and macronutrients (like nuts and seeds, avocado, and fatty fish), as these show the strongest correlation with breast milk.
- Stay hydrated. Breastfeeding can lead to dehydration, as the production of breast milk requires increased fluid intake, which can decrease overall hydration levels. It’s important to focus on getting enough water and prioritize hydrating foods (like melons, cucumbers, and celery).
- Get enough rest. Like all bodily functions, breastfeeding (and growing a newborn baby!) both require adequate rest. Prioritize getting 8 to 10 hours of deep, restful sleep each night, and take naps as needed.
- Supplement with vitamins. If you want to enhance your nutrition aside from your diet, talk to your health care practitioner about adding supplements for lactation and pregnancy support. Vitamin B, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D are particularly important because the mother’s levels of these vitamins directly affect the levels in her breast milk.
- Increase mineral intake. Expectant mothers’ nutritional demands increase to provide for the growing fetus. Lactation can also deplete maternal mineral reserves, particularly calcium, which may lead to bone density loss in mothers. Supplementing with Calcium and other minerals may help to support bone density.
- Create a strong support team. Assemble the right doctors, midwives, lactation consultants, and other experts so you have someone to call with any questions or go to if something feels off.
How to Wean a Breastfeeding Baby
Once you have both a newborn and an infant, you’ll need to decide whether to tandem feed or to wean the older baby. “Around 13 months, [my daughter] was just done; she didn't really want the breast anymore, and she was eating and moving, and at that point, she kind of weaned herself,” Quintero remembers. “But I know that for some people, it becomes a lot in the beginning — especially to have a baby on you — so you have to do what feels right for you.”
Here are some tips for how to wean a breastfeeding baby before your newborn comes:
- Breast pump. “Sometimes pumping helps so that you can pump and then not have to be nursing,” Quintero says. If you weren’t pregnant, you might wean the baby by switching the baby from breast milk to formula; in this case, however, you’re simply weaning so that you’ll only have one baby to feed once the new baby comes. Pumping is a good option so that you can continue to give your baby breast milk without having to breastfeed for each feeding.
- Start by replacing just one feeding per day. Instead of making the baby quit the breast cold turkey, you might start weaning by replacing one feeding per day with a bottle of breast milk or formula milk. For children 12 months or older, you could also switch to whole cow’s milk. Gradually work your way up to replacing more feedings until the baby is weaned.
- Change the routine. If you typically breastfeed your baby immediately upon waking, have a partner or family member wake the baby instead; if you alway offer a breast at a certain time each day, start to offer a bottle instead. Changing the routine will help to ease into weaning.
- Wean for a few months. Give yourself and your baby a few months to get used to weaning before the new baby comes.
How to Tandem Feed
If you decide not to wean your older nursing child, you can seamlessly transition into tandem nursing once the newborn is born. Tandem nursing is the act of feeding two babies at the same time — in this case, the older baby and your newborn.
If you want to tandem feed your babies, here’s how to prepare:
- Understand that you don’t have to immediately nurse both babies at the same time. You can start tandem feeding by nursing each baby separately, then move on to nursing both at once if you choose.
- Experiment with different positions so you can feel comfortable nursing both babies. Some mothers like to cradle the newborn on one side so that the older nursing child can have space on your lap, but it may take some time to find what works for you.
- If you’re concerned about the newborn getting enough milk or getting the proper nutrients from breast milk, you may want to nurse the newborn first, then allow the older child to nurse once you feel that the newborn is well-nourished.
- Assign one breast to each baby, or switch sides each feeding — there’s no right answer, and your body will naturally adapt to feeding both babies.
What to Know About Breastfeeding While Pregnant
The decision to breastfeed your newborn while pregnant with a second baby is a personal one, and can be a very meaningful, positive experience. Your body will naturally produce the milk both babies require (yes, even the colostrum!), and you can tandem feed both babies at once if you choose to do so. To support your body when you’re breastfeeding, especially while pregnant, it’s important to prioritize rest, nutrition, and hydration, and to supplement further with essential vitamins and minerals like Calcium and Vitamins A, B, and D.
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