Seeing a positive pregnancy test always means a rush of emotions as well as changes. For nursing moms, the emotions can be conflicting ones – how do I know if my infant or toddler is or isn’t ready to wean? How do I know if I’m ready for them to wean? What will it be like to continue breastfeeding while pregnant? Many mothers find the experience of breastfeeding while pregnant to be a rewarding one albeit with its own unique learning curves and challenges.
A common myth about breastfeeding is that it works as a natural form of birth control, but as many mothers can attest, this isn’t entirely true. Exclusive breastfeeding (feeding on-demand, including throughout the night, only at the breast) is associated with delayed ovulation and therefore natural pregnancy prevention, according to lactation researchers. However, this isn’t synonymous with birth control. Especially as you introduce solid foods, as your child spends less time at the breast, or begins sleeping through the night, your hormones will typically begin to shift into increased fertility. (For some mothers, even exclusive breastfeeding does not delay ovulation or the return of a menstrual cycle for much time at all. Other women do find that they need to decrease or eliminate breastfeeding entirely to become pregnant again.) The implications of this are: 1) Getting pregnant again and nursing your child are not necessarily mutually exclusive; and 2) Mothers who wish to delay or avoid a new pregnancy while breastfeeding should be aware that they may still be able to ovulate and get pregnant regardless of their child’s nursing habits.
If you choose to breastfeed while pregnant, here are some ways to nourish yourself while your body nourishes two (or more!) little ones.
Know you aren’t alone
While statistics are hard to gather (since many mothers don’t openly discuss that they breastfed while pregnant), it’s actually much more common than you might think. Breastfeeding while pregnant isn’t for everyone and if you have concerns – such as being at risk for pre-term labor or having a history of miscarriages – then you should consult your care provider before proceeding. For most healthy women though, breastfeeding while pregnant has been shown to be safe for the mother as well as the children involved.
Practice deep breaths
Breast and nipple tenderness is a very common pregnancy symptom for many women. It may have even been the first symptom you noticed before confirming your pregnancy. Such tenderness can make breastfeeding uncomfortable, or even painful, especially when your child latches. This hurdle doesn’t have to end your breastfeeding relationship. Take slow, deep breaths and imagine that you are exhaling the discomfort you are feeling. Distract yourself with music or meditation. Soon the surge of good hormones from nursing will kick in and help relieve the discomfort.
Look to a postpartum doula or lactation educator/counselor for support
Though you may be well past the postpartum period, breastfeeding while pregnant will mean navigating new territory, so someone who can support you physically, emotionally and by providing information can really help your experience be a positive one. For example, a lactation specialist can be especially helpful if the child you’re nursing is still exclusively or mostly breastfed; if your supply does drop during pregnancy, as it does for many (but not all) women, then you may appreciate having a professional advise you and keep an eye on your baby’s weight gain.
Getting good sleep, or at least rest, is key
Parenting an infant or toddler is hard, round-the-clock work to be sure. However, breastfeeding while pregnant can quite literally leave you feeling drained if you don’t take the time to care for yourself. The old adage to “rest when baby rests” is especially true for you now. Whenever feasible, you should try to take a nap while your child naps. If extra sleep is elusive, you can aim for moments of rest throughout the day to recharge your batteries. Incorporate quiet play into your child’s daily routine; even something as simple as a few plastic bowls filled with dry oats (it will only take minutes to sweep up later, I promise) can occupy a young child on the kitchen floor for a blissful fifteen minutes while you put your feet up and have a glass of water.
Eat well, including plenty of healthy fats
While you don’t need to go on any special diet to breastfeed while pregnant, getting in the appropriate number of calories, especially healthy fats, can take some planning. The first trimester, during which many mothers find themselves battling nausea and food aversions, can be tricky. If the only food that you can stomach is fruit, for example, try adding a tablespoon of coconut oil (for healthy fats) and a spoonful of chia seeds (more Omega-3 fats, plus protein and fiber) into a smoothie. The benefits of eating healthy fats while pregnant and breastfeeding extend to both you and your children: these fats provide energy for mom while serving as carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins that are essential to the growth and development of the baby in your uterus as well as the one in your arms.
Choosing whether or not to breastfeed during pregnancy is a very personal decision. You know your child and your body better than anyone, so trust yourself to make the best choice for your family.
Share your thoughts on breastfeeding during pregnancy in the comments. Not pregnant yet? Pin this article for future reference!
Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer
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