Many women who are breastfeeding and find themselves pregnant again are often told by friends, family members, and even their physicians that they need to wean right away. The supposed risks of breastfeeding while pregnant include an increased risk of miscarriage and preterm labor, that the growing fetus will be starved of essential nutrients, and that the mother won’t be able to remain healthy enough during her pregnancy if she continues to nurse.
The good news? All of these are false!
This is welcome information for many mothers who are nursing and pregnant. This is even more important when the babies they are nursing are less than a year old, when we know breast milk is especially important to their development (and early weaning can deprive them of so many important nutrients and substances).
Even babies who are nursing past a year of age can benefit nutritionally and emotionally from extended breastfeeding, and so forcing early weaning because of a new pregnancy can be very traumatic for both mother and baby. Therefore, it can be helpful to know that pregnancy and breastfeeding can coexist safely.
Women who nurse during pregnancy may notice a few changes. Their nipples may be more sensitive or sore, which may lead to decreased nursing frequency at the request of the mother or the need for position adjustments. Milk supply is often somewhat decreased, usually around the second trimester. This may lead to weaning as well, but not all babies wean because of this change in supply.
When a breastfeeding mother does deliver, her milk composition changes to resemble that of colostrum again. Knowing this can help reassure her that the milk her newborn is receiving is exactly what is needed at that time.
Nursing during pregnancy can often lead to tandem nursing, or when two babies (or a baby and toddler) both continue to nurse. This practice is quite normal in cultures outside the United States and can actually help an older sibling adjust to and bond with their new brother or sister!
Some women who are pregnant and breastfeeding do desire to wean, given the discomfort or the fatigue associated with pregnancy. If at any time she begins to resent nursing, a plan for gentle weaning (or decreasing nursing frequency) should be put into place. Discussing this with a lactation consultant can help make this transition happen more smoothly.
While we know that breastfeeding does not increase the chance for miscarriage or preterm labor in routine pregnancies, many providers will still recommend weaning in high-risk pregnancies, such as women with a history of preterm labor, those carrying twins, or having a placenta previa. If you fall in this category, be sure to discuss it with your doctor or midwife.
Reviewed by Sara Connolly, March 2020
- Breastfeeding during pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of preterm labor or miscarriage.
- When a breastfeeding mother does deliver, her milk reverts back to colostrum.
- Sore nipples and decreased milk supply are common in women who nurse during pregnancy.
- If you have a high-risk pregnancy, your provider may recommend you wean.