Do I Have to Wean if I'm Pregnant?
Congratulations - you’ve got another little one on the way. But wait - aren’t you still breastfeeding? What now? Take a deep breath and don’t panic. We’ve got answers to your most pressing questions.
Is it safe to keep breastfeeding during pregnancy?
In general, it is safe to breastfeed throughout pregnancy. There are some situations, however, where weaning your child is in the best interest of your newest family member in utero. If your doctor has labeled your pregnancy high-risk, you are pregnant with multiples, you have any bleeding or abdominal pain, or you have been advised to avoid sex, then you may need to wean your nursling.
If, on the other hand, you are having a normal, healthy pregnancy, you can continue to breastfeed if you want. In early pregnancy, you may have some breast tenderness that can make breastfeeding uncomfortable. And if you’re fatigued, you may feel like breastfeeding is just sucking any remaining energy from you. Sometimes nursing will make you feel nauseous or you might just feel agitated. If you can manage those symptoms, then you may be able to continue nursing if you want. Try different positions, including lying down, and practice relaxation exercises while feeding if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
One of the biggest worries many moms have is whether the oxytocin released by breastfeeding will cause early labor.
While oxytocin does cause uterine contractions, these are usually mild and unlikely to be strong enough to open the cervix. If you have any risk factors - like a history of miscarriage, preterm labor or preterm birth - you may want to discuss with your healthcare provider whether or not you can safely continue breastfeeding or if weaning is the best course for a healthy pregnancy. Here's a link to a new study on Breastfeeding and Miscarriage.
What if I want to wean?
Sometimes breastfeeding is difficult during pregnancy. If you’re experiencing morning sickness, if you are losing weight, if you are moody or feeling touched out, or if you simply don’t want to breastfeed any more, then you’ll want to start the process of gently weaning your nursing child. A gradual weaning is always preferable to quitting ‘cold-turkey’ though occasionally that may be needed. A baby younger than age one will still need formula or pumped milk by bottle.
Weaning strategies will depend on the age of your child. A younger baby may not have the cognitive ability to understand some of these strategies. But for a toddler or preschooler, these steps might help:
Don’t offer / don’t refuse
Provide a distraction
Postpone the feeding by a few minutes more each day
Set time limits on nursing sessions
Cuddle more at non-feeding times
Have others help at normal feeding times
Often naptime and nighttime weaning is the hardest - those are usually the last nursing sessions to be eliminated.
What if you’re wanting to wean but your child isn’t ready? Often this will show up in your child’s behavior - they may regress in areas such as toilet learning. They may have more tantrums and night waking, and may be more clingy. If possible, slow the weaning process down a bit. Consider a weaning party or present - something for your little one to look forward to as they nurse less often. And give yourself and your little one some grace - it’s okay to change your mind about weaning, and it’s perfectly normal for you and your child to be sad about losing that connection.
What if I don’t want to wean - will I make enough milk for two after the baby is born?
Be sure you’re getting enough to eat each day - don’t forget that your not only making milk but growing a baby, too. So your calorie needs may be increased. Be sure you are staying hydrated and getting enough rest.
Around the 4th or 5th month of pregnancy, your body will start to change back to newborn mode and the milk will change to a weaning milk and eventually colostrum, and your milk supply will decrease. This change is guided by pregnancy hormones, and pumping or nursing more often won’t help to increase it. Your breastfeeding child may not like the flavor of this milk, or might get frustrated with the smaller quantity.
When your new baby arrives, the colostrum will be available, and two to five days later your milk will ‘come in,’ just like if an older baby wasn’t nursing. One great side benefit is that you may be nursing so often - and your older nursling may be so efficient - that you don’t experience any painful engorgement.
There is no need to use one side for the newborn baby and one for your older child. Additionally, it’s not necessary to always nurse the baby first. Your milk supply will still be based on milk removal - the more milk that is removed, the more milk you will make. And with two nurslings, your body will adjust with a larger supply (much like a mother of twins).
What if my weaned child wants to breastfeed again when they see the new baby nursing?
It’s not unusual for a child who weaned while you were pregnant to want to nurse again when they see their new sibling cuddled in your arms and feeding. Some moms are open to allowing breastfeeding to begin again while other moms are adamant that weaning is final. Some moms find that they offer to allow their toddlers or preschoolers to nurse again only to find the child has forgotten how. Go with your gut and what works best for your own family.
How do other women manage?
It can be difficult to know how often women tandem breastfeed or nurse during pregnancy because many women keep it hidden for fear of criticism from friends, family or healthcare providers. In one study, 61% of women breastfeed throughout pregnancy, and more than one third breastfed both children when baby arrived. So you’re surely not alone whether you decide to breastfeed through pregnancy or wean your older child.
You may be able to find online support forums and groups for tandem nursing mamas. Or you might enjoy reading Hilary Flower’s book Adventures in Tandem Nursing - it is full of information, tips and tricks interspersed with mom’s stories.
If you have more specific questions and would like expert advice from an IBCLC, for your individual breastfeeding questions, schedule a Virtual Consultation.
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Flower, H. (2003). Adventures In Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy And Beyond, La Leche League International.
LLLGB. (2016). Pregnant and Breastfeeding? https://www.laleche.org.uk/pregnant-and-breastfeeding/
Mohrbacher, N. (2010). Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple. Hale Publishing.