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This post in the “Healthy Pregnancy Series” isn’t going to be applicable to everyone — at least not entirely. But I’ve talked to many people lately who are affected by this topic so I wanted to address it. And honestly, some of the suggestions I’ll give will be universal, so even if you’re not breastfeeding, keep reading!
It’s hard enough on your body to be “just” pregnant or “just” breastfeeding. Your body is supporting you and another person! Doing both, however, presents its own set of challenges!
First, and we absolutely must address this, it is not dangerous to continue breastfeeding while pregnant. If you were able to become pregnant naturally, then your body will be able to support doing both. Most women can’t become pregnant while breastfeeding exclusively because their body could not yet handle both. Once your fertility returns though (common once baby starts solids), then you may get pregnant again and your body is okay with that.
You may hear some doctors or nurses tell you that now that you’re pregnant, you must wean, for the sake of your pregnancy. They may feed you all kinds of stories about how breastfeeding will cause contractions, leading to miscarriage or preterm labor, or that your new baby will not get enough nutrients and will be unhealthy…. Just turn away and stop listening. These are all myths! If your body ends up not being able to support both, it will naturally stop producing milk to focus on the baby. Some older children continue to nurse anyway (which can feel really weird and some moms wean their children at this point) for comfort. The oxytocin produced by the nursing relationship (which is the doctors’ reason why it could cause contractions/miscarriage) is not strong enough to actually dialate your cervix, nor cause any problems.
With that said, if you have a history of preterm labor (indicating maybe you are especially sensitive to oxytocin or have other issues), it may be wise to wean by the second trimester, but this will be a rare case. If your doctor has advised you to avoid sex, nipple stimulation, or other behaviors that may cause preterm labor, you will need to wean as well. Again, this is rare.
Now, on to diet. Depending on many things (where you are in your pregnancy, how old your baby is, whether or not you’re exclusively breastfeeding, etc.), you may require anywhere from 200 to upwards of 1000 extra calories per day! That’s a ton! If you are both pregnant and breastfeeding, your caloric requirements go up even more.
This is a situation in which you need the best possible nutrition. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, check out my posts on Pregnancy and Nursing Diet and Diet Revisited for suggestions on what to eat and what an average day might look like. If you’re pregnant and nursing, though, simply eating whole foods may not be enough. You will need to add extra fat to everything, and you will need to get the highest quality food possible, so that the nutrients are most concentrated.
If you are “just” pregnant, you may be able to get away with eating grain-finished beef (for example). Not something I’d recommend, by the way, but if you’re on a budget, it might be okay. If you’re doing both you really need to get 100% grass-fed beef so you can get the maximum nutrients. You may need to skip the salad and go for nuts, cheese, and other higher-calorie snacks; or at least add nuts, beans, and plenty of healthy salad dressing to the salad too. Keep healthy, high-calorie, high-fat, high-nutrient (that means: no donuts!) snacks with you at all times, as well as water, so that you can eat or drink whenever you need to, especially while/after nursing.
Have I harped on diet enough yet? It’s because I really think it’s that important. Diet can affect your baby’s future health forever. Moms who consume poor foods, a lot of soy, or other unhealthy diets can have babies who fertility is forever lower, whose risk of diabetes is raised, whose risk of obesity is raised, etc. etc. This is your baby’s first and most important chance to develop properly. And while those risks aren’t as severe during the breastfeeding relationship (babies can usually mostly recover even if you don’t eat so well), it’s still critical to their early nutrition and developing their tastes and habits). And by the way, when starting them on their own food, please choose healthy, nutrient-dense foods then, too!
Okay, enough on that for now. But I really do think diet is crucial to health!
A mother who is both pregnant and breastfeeding may find that she becomes exhausted more easily. Extra rest, both during the day and at night, is crucial. Try to sit whenever you can. Reading books, snuggling, even watching some TV can be good ways to connect with your older child(ren) when you can’t do much (and no, I don’t recommend having the TV on 24/7, but we live in the real world and sometimes it just helps!). If you want to get out, go to a playground (indoor or out, depending on weather) where your child can play independently and you can watch while seated. Focus on your bond with your children and don’t worry so much about what the house looks like, at least during the very early weeks and the end weeks.
As for your home, what can you do about that? I highly recommend trying to re-organize your life so that you just don’t have so much “stuff” to deal with. Try to get chores done in 10 – 15 minute “spurts” with rest in between. Enlist the help of any older children and/or your spouse (I realize this isn’t always an option, if your spouse works long hours or travels, or if your children are quite young — Bekah was only 10 months when I got pregnant again!) to do what must be done. Do chores while sitting — you can fold a basket of laundry while resting on the couch! Make a list of “must do” chores, then go over it again — do you really have to do everything on that list? I recommend dishes, laundry, and preparing meals to be must do chores. The rest (cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, weeding the garden, etc.) are “should do” chores, but they’ll wait until you have more energy or someone can help you. They will. This is a temporary season of life and you need to spend your time resting while you can. You are growing two people right now!
Morning sickness. I wrote about this before, but breastfeeding while pregnant may present unique challenges. There is the possibility that breastfeeding will lessen or eliminate your morning sickness. There is also the possibility that it will make it worse (sorry). Some women find that their worst nausea is when they experience the let-down sensation while nursing. This can make it…a bit tricky, to set the happily nursing baby down with milk now spraying everywhere and run for the bathroom (while confused baby screams). In case you’re wondering, this did NOT happen to me and I experienced much less morning sickness while breastfeeding than I did the first time around. But I also had a boy instead of a girl and didn’t eat processed foods anymore, so…who knows. I want you to be prepared, though. It may help to start sucking on a lemon or ginger candy or do something else that helps your morning sickness before nursing though…just in case.
You may lose your milk supply during pregnancy. I say may because about 30% of women never lose their milk. Others lose it anywhere from “right away” (4 – 5 weeks) to around 20 weeks. Some swear that by 6 weeks it’s gone…others by 8…still others by the end of the first trimester…and so on. Every woman is different. Keeping a very good diet will help you to maintain your supply, but you still may not keep it. Your supply will drop somewhat even if you do everything “right” and are one of the ones who keeps milk until the end.
If your child is older, he or she may tell you “milk all gone” when they go to nurse. The taste may also change, in a similar way to do how it does during natural weaning. As the pregnancy progresses, the milk will change more and more over to colostrum. Unfortunately, this colostrum isn’t the same as the “liquid gold” that your baby received in his/her early days. This colostrum is clear and is more of a pre-milk than anything else. It only means your body is getting ready to produce “real” colostrum and “real” milk again. When your new baby is born and your hormones go through the rapid change following the birth, your colostrum will turn yellow-gold colored.
When your milk does diminish or even disappear, you may feel strange sensations when your child tries to nurse. Some moms have described it like a crazy itchiness that won’t go away. Some moms also get very sensitive again, and nursing becomes painful. Limiting your child’s nursing sessions (if old enough) can help with this. Some women feel an overwhelming desire to wean; and this is okay. Others don’t care either way and are fine with continuing (this was me).
If you choose to nurse during pregnancy, you may also be nursing two once your new baby is born. This is called tandem nursing. I’ve posted on this before, although at the time I’d been tandem nursing for only a few months (while now I’ve been doing it over 13 months). Tandem nursing isn’t common (at least in the U.S.) but can be a wonderful way to maintain the bond with the older child when the new baby comes.
What questions do you have about nursing while pregnant?
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