Ask Dr. Sears: Nursing During Pregnancy
By William Sears, M.d.
Q I’m newly pregnant and still nursing our 18-month-old. Is it okay to continue breastfeeding through my pregnancy?
A Mothers were once cautioned against breastfeeding during pregnancy because it stimulates the secretion of oxytocin, the hormone that can also cause contractions of the uterus. It was feared that these contractions could cause a miscarriage. Yet new insights show that the uterus is not sensitive to the hormone until around the 24th week of pregnancy. So, unless you have an obstetrical condition that might place you at risk for miscarriage – your obstetrician will tell you if you do – you can safely breastfeed during the first half of your pregnancy. If you have a history of miscarriage or you’re noticing strong contractions while you nurse, it’s wise to stop.
Eventually, your body will tell you when it’s time to wean. Sometime during the second trimester, pregnancy hormones will overrule your milk-making hormones – your milk will change to colostrum, your milk supply will decrease, and the milk will likely develop a salty, less pleasant taste, which may encourage your toddler to want to wean. Your nipples will also become tender during pregnancy, making nursing uncomfortable. Finally, you could find that a growing belly makes for awkward nursing with a squirming toddler. Listen to your body’s signals about when is the right time to wean. If you’re beginning to feel increasingly drained – physically, emotionally, and perhaps nutritionally – then it’s time to find other ways to feed and nurture your first-born. While many toddlers wean halfway through the pregnancy because of the change in milk, some actually increase their demands on Mom because they sense that she’s different somehow. It’s natural for you to be tuning in to your changing body and the baby growing inside and to sometimes subconsciously tune out your toddler. But while these feelings are normal, your toddler may still sense them and feel that you’re different, in turn becoming more clingy and demanding. Some nursing toddlers between 2 and 3 years of age are even smart enough to be aware of what’s happening with Mom’s milk and what’s going to happen after baby is born. During Martha’s fifth pregnancy, our 3-year-old Hayden, said, “Mommy, I don’t like your milk anymore. I’ll wait until after the baby comes, when it’s good again.” Taking frequent naps together and easing your child into accepting more care from Dad can help ease this transition.
During pregnancy your need for rest and your preborn baby’s need for good nutrition takes priority over your toddler’s desire to breastfeed. This may be a difficult decision to make, but remember that nursing means more than just breastfeeding – it’s all about comforting your child. So that’s where extra hugs from you, “nursing” from your husband (especially at night), and lots of time with you both can be especially important.