Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Welcoming a new baby is always an exciting time for any mother. If you’ve already been blessed with your first child, than your excitement is doubled by giving your “big kid” a little brother or sister. You are quickly back in the flurry of cute clothes, ultrasounds, OB visits, and baby showers. For some moms, though, there comes some logistical planning with a new addition, especially if you are still nursing your last baby. You may not want to stop nursing, and that’s ok!
We all know that breastfeeding provides nutrients geared explicitly towards your baby as well as boosting the immune system and helping with growth and development. It can also lower the mother’s risk of developing breast cancer.
First, though, let’s talk about numbers. The CDC keeps yearly statistics on the number of births, intervals between childbirth, and the average stats on breastfeeding babies and mums. In 2018 there were 3,791,712 babies born in the United States, which is 59.1 births per every 1,000 women (ages 15-44). The CDC also found that 57.6% of babies were breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives, while 35.9% went on to be breastfed through age 12 months. Now, let’s layer on the average intervals between pregnancies (also helpfully record by the CDC!). Approximately 29.6% of pregnancies happened within 18 months of the mother’s last pregnancy, 49.7% occurred between 18 to 59 months after the mother’s last pregnancy, and 20.7% occurred over 5 years after the mother’s last pregnancy.
Let’s do some quick math:
If we took the CDC’s numbers, then an approximate 1.3 million babies in 2018 were being breastfed by mothers. If we keep following the CDC’s approximate numbers we can generously assert that around one-third of these babies were born within 18 months of their older sibling and these mother’s likely breastfed their older child while they were pregnant. La Leche League’s polls of their members put the median age of weaning at 2.5 years.
Now that we’ve talked about how commonplace breastfeeding during subsequent pregnancy actually, maybe let’s discuss the misconceptions of the risk factors. To date, there have been four medical studies that aim to research the safety of breastfeeding while pregnant with another child. We are going to reference two here, but it is important to note that there has been little to no evidence linking breastfeeding while pregnant with pregnancy complications.
Two researchers did a study on 320 Iranian women in 2012. Of these 320 women, 80 tandem breastfed through overlapping pregnancies and 320 had already weaned by three months before their most recent pregnancy. All of the women had healthy, low-risk pregnancies, and in the overlap group was nursing a minimum of three to five times a day for at least thirty days of their subsequent pregnancy. The researchers studied these mothers through their deliveries. They found that there were no significant differences in rates of infection, hypertension, bleeding, early labor or birth weight. In fact, the study declared no evidence that breastfeeding while pregnant had any negative impact on the growing fetus. (Madarshahian & Hassanabadi, 2012)
In 2014 another researcher undertook a similar study of 165 Turkish women that were breastfeeding a previous child. That study also found no difference in infection, hypertension, preterm labor or birth complications. This study too declared that no evidence was found linking breastfeeding while pregnant to any complications or early labor. (Ayrim, 2014)
One thing we did learn from these studies, though is how important it is to practice excellent self-care, especially if you are still nursing while pregnant. You can quickly burn up to 500 calories per day from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding moms may also get more sleep than formula feeding moms! So make sure you are keeping your energy up with great healthy snacks that are high in protein and good fats. Trail mix, cheese cubes, apples with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt with granola all make for excellent and hearty snacks that can help replace lost calories. Be sure to keep up your water intake to prevent dehydration. It has been found that breastfeeding mothers don’t need any more water than non-pregnant women. Still, hydration is essential to full-body health.
You might think that continuing to breastfeed throughout the pregnancy will deprive your unborn baby of necessary nutrient but there is no evidence that breastfeeding has a negative effect on the fetus in the uterus. Some moms worry that the hormone oxytocin which is released by nipple stimulation while breastfeeding, could trigger early labor. However, studies show that there is no connection between miscarriage and breastfeeding in a normal pregnancy. The uterus becomes more sensitive to oxytocin as approaching labor.
If you are concerned about breastfeeding while pregnant, a lactation counselor can be a great educational resource for you. A qualified counselor can explain the science behind breastfeeding while pregnant as well as give tips and resources for mothers who want to continue tandem breastfeeding after they deliver the new baby. A lactation counselor will also be able to help you compile a list of questions for your obstetrician should it be necessary. Join our Facebook group today to chat with other moms like you, and get all your breastfeeding questions answered!
Ayrim, A. (2014). Breastfeeding throughout pregnancy in Turkish women. Breastfeeding Medicine, 9(3), 157–160.
Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Tandem Nursing. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/breastfeeding-pregnancy-tandem-nursing/
Copen, C., Thomas, M., & Kirmeyer, S. (2015). Interpregnancy Intervals in the United States: Data From the Birth Certificate and the National Survey of Family Growth. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(3). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_03.pdf
Madarshahian, F., & Hassanabadi, M. (2012). A Comparative Study of Breastfeeding During Pregnancy: Impact on Maternal and Newborn Outcomes. Journal of Nursing Research, 20(1), 74–80. doi: 10.1097/JNR.0b013e31824777c1