Breastfeeding a child while pregnant

Can I breastfeed my child while I am pregnant?

Mothers can continue to breastfeed while pregnant, but they will need to make sure their current child is getting enough nourishment as their milk supply may decrease. Children may breastfeed less often if their mothers are pregnant or for shorter times or they may stop breastfeeding temporarily or even permanently. There are many benefits of breastfeeding while pregnant, and in most situations, it does not appear to affect how babies are born. Mothers should ensure they are (a) gaining enough weight, (b) are well nourished, (c) not at risk of early labour, and (d) do not have any unexplained vaginal bleeding. Ideally, mothers discuss this choice with their health-care providers. 

A) Changes in breast milk with pregnancy

Breastfeeding during pregnancy has been reported in nearly 9% of mothers in one study from Jordan (Yalçın 2021).

A mother who is breastfeeding a child and becomes pregnant may experience a decrease in her milk supply, causing her child to grow poorly. Such children will need to be supplemented with an appropriate type of milk. Solid foods, which are usually started around six months, can provide additional calories. 

We have found poor growth is more likely to occur if the child is under one year of age and especially if the child is under six months of age. 

B) Breastfeeding while pregnant

One study of 503 women showed that about 70% of children weaned during pregnancy (Newton 1979).

During your pregnancy, your child may:

  • Continue with the same breastfeeding pattern as before the pregnancy.
  • Breastfeed less often or for shorter times as there is less milk in the breast.
  • Breastfeed more often or for longer times trying to get more milk.
  • Be less contented at the breast.
  • Temporarily stop breastfeeding and resume after the baby is born.
  • Stop breastfeeding permanently.

If you are comfortable breastfeeding while pregnant, just follow your child’s request to breastfeed and monitor your child's growth.

Sore nipples and areolas are very common during the first trimester and can be a reason for weaning (Newton 1979). However, the pain settles as the pregnancy progresses.

You and your child may need to adjust breastfeeding holds and positioning as your tummy grows.

C) Benefits of breastfeeding while pregnant

Breastfeeding while pregnant has many benefits. It may:

  • Keep your child healthier (Bøhler 1996).
  • Help calm your child during stressful times.
  • Give you a few minutes to rest while the child breastfeeds.
  • Reduce the risk of nipple pain and damage with the next baby, since the child keeps the nipple used to breastfeeding.
  • Decrease the risk of engorgement as the older child can help the baby keep excess milk from accumulating.
  • Allow you to continue to breastfeed your child once the new baby is born. This is also known as tandem breastfeeding.
  • Help your child adjust to the new baby.

D) Risks to the unborn baby

Many cultures discourage mothers from breastfeeding while pregnant (Madarshahian 2012). This is a long-standing attitude and was even described roughly 2000 years ago, during the Roman Empire (Temkin 1991).

Several studies have found no evidence indicating that breastfeeding by mothers who are well-nourished increases the risk of (Cetin 2014; López-Fernández 2017):

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Babies being born too small for their age

One survey found that the rate of miscarriage increased if the mother was exclusively breastfeeding but not if the child was also receiving other foods (Molitoris 2019).

You can consider breastfeeding while pregnant as long as:

  • You are gaining enough weight and you are well nourished (Shaaban 2015).
  • You do not have any unexplained vaginal bleeding.
  • You have not had a previous premature birth.
  • There is no risk of premature labour such as with a twin pregnancy (Cetin 2014).
  • Breastfeeding is not causing premature contractions.
  • Your new baby is growing well in the uterus.

Please discuss the decision to breastfeed while pregnant with your health-care providers.

References

Bøhler E, Bergström S. Child growth during weaning depends on whether mother is pregnant again. J Trop Pediatr 1996; 42(104)
 
Cetin I, Assandro P, Massari M, et al.; Working Group on Breastfeeding, Italian Society of Perinatal Medicine and Task Force on Breastfeeding, Ministry of Health, Italy. Breastfeeding during pregnancy: position paper of the Italian Society of Perinatal Medicine and the Task Force on Breastfeeding, Ministry of Health, Italy. J Hum Lact. 2014 Feb;30(1):20-7
 
López-Fernández G, Barrios M, Goberna-Tricas J, et al. Breastfeeding during pregnancy: A systematic review. Women Birth. 2017 Dec;30(6):e292-e300
 
Madarshahian F, Hassanabadi M. A comparative study of breastfeeding during pregnancy: impact on maternal and newborn outcomes. J Nurs Res. 2012 Mar;20(1):74-80
 
Molitoris J. Breast-feeding During Pregnancy and the Risk of Miscarriage. Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2019 Sep 16
 
Newton N, Theotokatos M. Breastfeeding during pregnancy in 503 women: does a psychobiological weaning mechanism exist in humans? In: Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress on Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. London, UK: Academic Press; 1979:845-849
 
Shaaban OM, Abbas AM, Abdel Hafiz HA, et al. Effect of pregnancy-lactation overlap on the current pregnancy outcome in women with substandard nutrition: a prospective cohort study. Facts Views Vis Obgyn. 2015 Dec 28;7(4):213-221
 
Temkin O. Soranus' Gynecology. Baltimore, MA: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 1991

Yalçın SS, Demirtaş MS, Yalçın S. Breastfeeding While Pregnant: A Country-Wide Population Study. Breastfeed Med. 2021 May 31