Nursing in pregnancy and beyond can be, in the words of Hilary Flower, author of a book on the topic, “an adventure.”*
It’s also something that may draw the concern or disapproval of health care providers. This in spite of the fact that the policy of the American Academy of Family Physicians, states that “breastfeeding during a subsequent pregnancy is not unusual. If the pregnancy is normal and the mother is healthy, breastfeeding during pregnancy is the mother’s decision.”
Unfortunately, moms who do make the decision to tandem nurse may hear:
“It will bring on early labor.” The uterine contractions that occur with breastfeeding are caused by the release of oxytocin – the same as occurs during sex. As a result, Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple advises that “unless the couple has been asked to avoid sexual relations during a high-risk pregnancy, due to concerns about potential preterm labor, breastfeeding should not be contraindicated.”
In one study, 53 of 57 women who breastfed during pregnancy reported no breastfeeding-related contractions, and the four who did report contractions went on to deliver healthy, full term babies. Another recent study, which noted the “widespread cultural vilification” of breastfeeding during pregnancy, found no differences in gestational age of babies born to moms who breastfeed during pregnancy. Oh, and moms who are being judged for tandem nursing should take heart that Gossip Girl actress Kelly Rutherford spoke openly about tandem nursing and hopefully more celebrities will follow suit, helping to pave the way for cultural normalization. (Read Kelly’s empowering story here)
What about miscarriage? Another recent study comparing low risk mothers who were breastfeeding during pregnancy and those who were not found no difference in the risk of miscarriage.
When I spoke with Hilary Flower (author of Adventures in Tandem Nursing) about this issue, she said that in researching her book she spoke with a leading miscarriage expert in Europe, who was “befuddled by even being asked about breastfeeding during pregnancy as a concern.” Hilary also provides a biological explanation for why studies have not found an association between breastfeeding in pregnancy and early labor.
“It will cause your new baby to be too small at birth.” Several studies (from the U.S., Guatemala, Peru, and Iran) have shown no differences in birth weight of babies born to moms who were nursing during pregnancy.
“It’ll be too hard on your body and you won’t be able to maintain your nutrition.” While studies from developing countries in which mothers are often malnourished have shown that mothers who nurse during pregnancy had lower fat stores, this is not generally a problem in the U.S., where access to food and supplements (if necessary) is far better. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple states that ‘eat to hunger,” “drink to thirst,” and expect to be even hungrier than in a pregnancy with no breastfeeding, is generally sufficient advice.”
It’s also worth noting that older children tend not to be wholly dependent on breastfeeding for their caloric intake, since they’re very likely to be eating solid foods. And they often don’t nurse through an entire pregnancy, as the decline in milk production during the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy leads some children to wean.
“Your newborn won’t get the colostrum.”
This concern arises from a misunderstanding about how lactation works. Colostrum is not stored in a breast pantry and cannot “run out.” Like mature milk, you make it on the spot. So the more a baby nurses, the more colostrum you will produce. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple notes, “no matter how long or how often [the child] breastfeeds, colostrum will still be available after birth for the newborn.”
“It will deprive your newborn of enough milk.”
One study from Peru found that infants had lower weight gain and growth when their mothers had breastfed in pregnancy. But this result is difficult to generalize to a developed country context. There appear to be no studies of newborn milk intake and growth in a developed country, so it’s unclear that this is a problem.
Did you breastfeed during pregnancy? Did you tandem nurse once your new baby was born? Did you get good advice and care from your providers, or did you hear any of the above statements?
*While nursing multiples (twins, triplets and more) is also considered tandem nursing, we address Booby Traps related to multiples in a separate post.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons