What to Expect if You're Pregnant While Breastfeeding

Updated October 5, 2022
Young mother breastfeeding in the nature

Breastfeeding decreases a woman's fertility. In fact, many parents lean on it as a means to avoid pregnancy. But you can still get pregnant while breastfeeding. In fact the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that using postpartum birth control can help you to plan your family and avoid an unintended pregnancy.

If you do get pregnant while breastfeeding, some mothers worry about continuing to breastfeed. But if you discover you are expecting while you're still nursing your newest babe, you don't necessarily have to stop.

Can You Breastfeed While Pregnant?

In general, yes, you can breastfeed while pregnant safely. Old wives' tales regarding breastfeeding during pregnancy leading to malnutrition and miscarriage are typically untrue.

But some moms still worry, asking 'Will my baby get enough nutrients?', 'Will my toddler get enough milk?' or 'Will it cause a miscarriage?' These concerns could fill any expectant parent with anxiety.

La Leche League International vehemently encourages newly pregnant people to continue nursing their older babies. Studies are lacking in this subject, so some obstetricians might want to exert caution, depending on your personal history. When deciding whether or no to continue breastfeeding while pregnant, be especially careful and discuss individual medical issues with your doctor.

Pregancy Risks

A lot of expectant parents feel anxiety over the viability of a pregnancy. Different people in your life may express strong opinions about breastfeeding while pregnant. Some have suggested that nursing during this time can cause miscarriage or low birth weight.

However, the medical community does not have much research to rely on in this area, so your doctor will work closely with you to make a plan based on your own medical history as well as current pregnancy factors that might pose extra risk:

  • Expecting multiples
  • History of miscarriage
  • History of premature labor
  • Maternal malnutrition

If you any of these apply to you, the risks for the fetus might outweigh the benefits for the breastfeeding child, and your doctor may recommend weaning.

Maternal Nutrition

When pregnant while breastfeeding, you will have to take particularly good care of your body. According to the CDC, a pregnant person needs to consume an additional 330-400 calories per day. Your caloric requirements during pregnancy increase with each trimester, from 1800-2400 calories per day.

These numbers can vary depending on your body mass index (BMI), so talk over your calorie goals with your doctor. Diet is especially important as adequate nutrition and calorie content are crucial to a healthy mom and baby. Newborns of lactating mothers show no difference in birth weight, so if keep your caloric intake up, your toddler and baby will get what they need.

Symptoms When Nursing While Pregnant

Breastfeeding and pregnancy: two circumstances that come with a laundry list of uncomfortable symptoms all on their own. Now you wonder what joys await you as you begin to experience both at the same time. Well, here's what you can expect.

Nipple Pain While Breastfeeding and Pregnant

One of the first symptoms of pregnancy while breastfeeding is sore nipples. Tender and swollen breasts normally occur during pregnancy. When a mom is nursing at the time of conception, this translates into a sudden change in the breast leading to increased sensitivity of the nipple.

This transformation causes the nipple to become extra sore and irritated while nursing, triggering pain and discomfort for many. While the only cure for sore nipples is weaning, if a mom wants to continue nursing, the soreness will gradually lessen as the pregnancy progresses.

For sore or cracked nipples, you could try using lanolin cream after every feeding. If this does not provide enough relief, Tylenol is considered a safe pain reliever while breastfeeding, according to ACOG. You can talk to your doctor about the best pain management options for you.

Decrease in Milk Supply

Pregnancy can cause a lactating woman's milk supply to decrease, usually peaking at 4-5 months of gestation. This is due to an influx of hormones supporting the new pregnancy. The drop in supply is especially significant with an older toddler who nurses less and eats solid foods. On the other hand, if your baby is under six months, your doctor will likely want to monitor their weight closely to be sure they are getting enough milk.

Up to the age of one year, a baby nursed by a pregnant mom may need supplementary formula if the breast milk supply drops too low. Discuss the pregnancy with your pediatrician, and they will help you with next steps to make sure your baby has what they need.

Consistency of Breast Milk Changes

Breast milk does not only change in its supply; the consistency will also adjust. The taste transforms as the milk takes on a colostrum-like composition. The breast milk will appear different in appearance, sometimes more watery and less white. These variations do not affect the nutritional value of the milk, but sometimes cause the baby to wean due to the different taste and texture.

Some parents worry that their toddler will steal all the milk meant for the new baby, but rest assured, this is not the case. Your body will continue to make the colostrum your newborn needs and will adjust its supply based on demand.

Uterine Contractions During Nursing

The hormone oxytocin, employed by the lactating body to produce milk let down, is the same hormone that promotes labor. For a breastfeeding pregnant woman, this can initiate uterine contractions during nursing. These contractions only occur after the first trimester and do not lead to miscarriage.

Known as Braxton-Hicks or false labor, these types of contractions do not cause labor in a normal pregnancy. True, while in the hospital, oxytocin (or pitocin) is the primary drug of choice to start labor. However, the oxytocin used in a hospital setting is given at a much higher dose than your body naturally makes during a breastfeeding session.

Difficult Nursing Positions

Pregnancy instigates many physical changes that impact a mother's ability to nurse comfortably. At first, it might be sore nipples and later the enlarged abdomen. As the uterus grows, finding a comfortable nursing position can get more challenging. You can try a modified football hold or side-lying position. Even given these potential discomforts, a healthy determined lactating mom can continue to breastfeed while pregnant if she desires.

Weaning Your Baby From Breastfeeding While Pregnant

In most cases, weaning is up to the newly pregnant mother to determine. If a doctor requires it due to potential complications or the baby refuses the milk, however, then an immediate weaning may occur without mom's choice. Weaning while pregnant can go more smoothly, as the milk supply and taste change, naturally encouraging a baby to resist the breast.

If possible, wean gradually to lessen any discomforts and break the cycle of nursing for the baby. Take into consideration the timing of weaning, avoiding the double whammy of weaning upon the pending arrival of a new sibling. Ideally, weaning should occur a few months before birth or a few months after.

After Baby Arrives

Once the pregnancy is over and your baby is born, your milk supply will dramatically increase. Breastfeeding while pregnant does not adversely affect the quality or quantity of milk for the newborn. If nursing continued throughout the entire pregnancy, once the baby is born and two children are nursing, it is known as tandem nursing. Many women are successful with this technique with support and information found through the La Leche League.

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What to Expect if You're Pregnant While Breastfeeding