Baby Weaning

What You Need to Know About Breastfeeding During Pregnancy

Breastfeeding While Pregnant

If you are pregnant with your second (or third or fourth) or are considering becoming pregnant, you may be wondering about the safety of continuing to breastfeed your baby or toddler throughout your pregnancy. There’s a lot of misinformation about the risks associated with breastfeeding during pregnancy and we want you to have the necessary information to make an informed decision for you, your child and your baby-to-be. Here are the most commonly asked questions about breastfeeding during pregnancy. 

Is it safe for my baby-to-be?

In most normal, healthy pregnancies there is no risk to your unborn baby if you choose to continue breastfeeding your toddler (or baby). A common misconception is that breastfeeding during pregnancy will lead to preterm labor or miscarriage. In actuality, the uterine contractions caused by the release of the hormone oxytocin from breastfeeding are quite mild and no different than the contractions you might experience following sexual intercourse. If you have not been placed on pelvic rest and have a normal, healthy pregnancy, there is no reason why you cannot continue to safely breastfeed as there should be no harm to your developing fetus.

Under what circumstances is it not safe to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy?

It may be advisable to wean your current nursling if you have a high-risk pregnancy for any of the following reasons:

  • You are carrying multiples
  • You have a history of, or are at risk for, preterm labor
  • You have bleeding or pain in your uterus
  • You have been placed on pelvic rest
  • You have been identified as high-risk for any other reason that may make breastfeeding dangerous for you or your developing baby

These reasons alone do not mean you must stop breastfeeding at once but it is important that you discuss it with your healthcare provider who may advise that weaning is the safest option for you and your baby.

Are there any risks to my current nursling if I continue to breastfeed during pregnancy?

Fortunately, the amount of pregnancy hormones released into your milk is minimal and pose no risk to your current breastfeeding child. You toddler may find that you milk supply begins to decrease by the fourth or fifth month of your pregnancy or that the taste of the milk begins to change. Because of this, some toddlers and babies who are nursing while mom is pregnant will naturally self-wean. It is important to ensure that your current nursling is receiving adequate nutrition once you experience a drop in your milk supply. Particularly if your baby is under six months and has not begun eating solids or if they are over six months and breastmilk is still their primary source of nutrition, you will want to make sure they are receiving sufficient daily caloric intake.

What will breastfeeding while pregnant be like for me?

While many women go on to successfully breastfeed their baby or toddler through subsequent pregnancies and beyond, there can be some discomfort due to your rising pregnancy hormones. Up to 75 percent of women report having sore nipples during pregnancy which can consequently make breastfeeding painful at times. Some women also report feeling some nausea when their milk lets down but keeping light snacks on hand while nursing can help prevent this discomfort. In addition to making sure your nursling is getting adequate nutrition, it is vital to make sure you are also getting plenty of nutritive calories per day. During the second trimester of pregnancy, the average woman needs to consume an additional 350 calories per day. By the third trimester, it is recommended that you consume an additional 450 calories per day. When you are breastfeeding during pregnancy, in addition to those extra calories, you need to add an additional 500 calories per day for a nursing baby over six months and an additional 650 calories for a nursling under six months of age. A nutritious diet is important during any pregnancy but even more imperative while also breastfeeding your baby or toddler. Aside from a healthy diet, you’ll want to make sure you drink plenty of water and get as much rest as possible. Try laying on your side to nurse your toddler for naps and you may even be able to catch a few zzz’s yourself.

Deciding whether or not to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy is a personal decision that you should make based on your own comfort level and your toddler’s current nursing habits and physical and emotional needs. It also doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision and you can decide to cut back the number of nursing sessions per day or to limit the amount of time your toddler spends at the breast during each feeding. This may be a good option if you want to continue nursing but are experiencing any discomfort such as sore nipples or nausea.

For questions about breastfeeding during pregnancy, prenatal care, natural birth, and other women’s services, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife or for a tour of our Birth Center. We are here to help you make decisions that work for you and your baby.

What to Expect from Your First Postpartum Period

Photo by Piotr Marcinski/iStock / Getty Images

One of the many great perks of pregnancy is that you get a minimum of nine months sans menstrual cycle. No pads, tampons, monthly cramping or moodiness (okay, so those last two can happen in pregnancy too). At some point however, after your little one is born and your hormones settle back into a rhythm, your monthly visitor shall return. Many women wonder when this will happen and if it will be the same, worse or better than their pre-pregnancy periods. Here’s all you need to know about your first postpartum period and the factors that may impact how long it stays away.

If you are not breastfeeding your baby, you can anticipate the return of your cycle sometime around two months postpartum. There is a wide range of normal for that first postpartum period that can range from light to heavy, more or less cramping than you previously had, small blood clots and a consistent or inconsistent flow. Your period may be totally different than your pre-pregnancy period or exactly the same and it can differ after each child birth, as well. Whether breastfeeding or not, if your period returns soon after your delivery, avoid using tampons while your body is healing.

Breastfeeding your baby can be a game changer in the return of your menstrual cycle and fertility. Breastfeeding releases the hormone prolactin into the body which is necessary to produce breastmilk but consequently suppresses your reproductive hormones. The effect that breastfeeding has on the body will vary from woman to woman with some getting their cycle back a few months postpartum and others needing to ween entirely before their period returns. For women who practice ecological breastfeeding and natural child spacing, the average return of menses is 14.6 months.

Because breastfeeding suppresses fertility hormones and the return of your menstrual cycle, it can be used as a form of birth control for the first six months of baby’s life and possibly beyond. Learn more about maximizing your period of infertility following your baby’s birth and how to use breastfeeding as an effective means of contraception.

Although you can get pregnant before your first period because ovulation may occur, the chances are slim—about 6 percent. Because of this, some women who are eager to grow their family start to feel concerned about when their period will return. If you are breastfeeding around the clock and your body is continuously releasing prolactin and suppressing fertility hormones, it may begin to feel like your fertility will never return. If you are concerned about the return of your fertility because of age or your child spacing plans, there are usually ways to continue breastfeeding and still get your period back. Here are a few tips if your baby is over six months of age and you are concerned that breastfeeding is suppressing your cycle:

  • Start introducing solids: Once your baby is eating more solids, he may not need to nurse as often. Learn more about starting solids with baby.
  • Try cutting out a session and offering a bottle: Sometimes making abrupt changes to your pattern of breastfeeding can bring back your cycle.
  • Work on night weening: Research suggests that reducing time spent suckling at the breast between the hours of 12 and 6 AM may be most effective for bringing back fertility.
  • Be patient. Lactational amenorrhea may be your body’s way of telling you that it’s not ready for the next pregnancy yet and your child’s nursing habits may be indicating the same. In MOST cases, your period and fertility will return eventually despite continuing to breastfeed.

You may feel as though you have PMS symptoms for months preceding the return of your period as your body gears up for ovulation. It’s not uncommon to have some cramping, cervical mucus and other menstrual cycle indicators well before you get your actual period. Then once your cycle returns, it may take a few months for it to regulate back to a reliable schedule (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Although most women will begin to ovulate after their first period, it’s not uncommon to have one or more anovulatory cycle before returning to full fertility.

Whether you are welcoming the extended vacation from your monthly visitor or are anxious for its return, your period will return when your body is ready. If you have not had your first period due to breastfeeding and have concerns about the return of your fertility, talk to your midwife or OB to come up with a plan that works for you and your baby to aid in the return of your cycle. For questions about pregnancy, natural birth or your postpartum period, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.

What is Baby-Led Weaning?

Baby-led Weaning

If you have a baby who is nearing the age of starting solids, you’ve probably had conversations with other moms about various approaches to introducing baby’s first foods. While rice cereal and purees may be the go-to options often recommended by pediatricians, more and more moms are choosing to bypass the mush and head straight to finger foods. This approach is called baby-led weaning.

Benefits:

Baby-led weaning, a term coined by British public health nurse Gill Rapley, has become a popular method of introducing solids that allows baby to learn to self-feed, self-regulate and explore different tastes and textures. Supporters of baby-led weaning identify a host of benefits with the practice including:

  • Allowing baby to eat when he is hungry versus spoon feeding 
  • Developing the ability to self-regulate and stop eating when full
  • Exposure to a wide array of tastes and textures which may ultimately lead to a child who is more apt to eat a variety of healthy and different foods
  • Development of hand-eye coordination, the pincer grasp and manual dexterity
  • Possible reduced risk of the development of allergies due to introduction to a variety of foods
  • Reduced risk of being overweight due to the ability to stop when they are full and not overeat
  • Learning to mash and chew which ultimately aids in the digestive process
  • Baby eats what the rest of the family eats. There’s no need to prepare separate purees; just offer baby some of what you are having.
  • Continuing the practice of feeding on demand like with breastfeeding by now allowing baby to choose what and how much he puts in his mouth
  • Teaching baby to enjoy healthy foods.

Is My Baby Ready For BLW?

While some pediatricians give the OK to begin solids as early as 4 months of age, it is not recommended that you start baby-led weaning until your baby is 6 months old. By 6 months of age, baby’s intestines have developed enough to digest solid foods. Your baby should also be able to sit unassisted and grab objects with their hands. And similar to beginning any solids regimen, your baby should have dropped the tongue thrust reflex which causes them to push foreign objects out of their mouth. When in doubt, check with your pediatrician to see if she feels baby-led weaning will be a good option for your child.

What Are Good Foods for BLW?

Any food that is nutritious, can be served in fistful size portions and can be easily mashed with the gums is appropriate for baby-led weaning. Just a few of these include:

  • Banana
  • Avocados
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Steamed carrots 
  • Steamed green beans
  • Boiled chicken and beef
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Eggs
  • Grilled fish
  • Pasteurized cheese
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Pears
  • Peaches 
  • Mangos

How to Get Started:

Getting started with baby-led weaning is easy as you will often be feeding your baby nutritious foods that you already have in your home. Here are some tips for a successful experience:

  • Cut food into thick, fistful length strips that baby can hold on to and eat from the top down
  • Start by offering just one or two foods on baby’s tray
  • Have baby eat at the same time as the rest of your family so that they can mimic your behavior
  • Allow baby to try foods of different tastes and textures. You can even add spices but adding salt and sugar is not necessary or advisable.
  • Encourage baby to explore the food through touch, taste and smell and allow him to have fun with the process
  • Show baby how to guide the food to his mouth but let him be in control of what he chooses to eat
  • If baby seems uninterested in eating the foods offered, stop and try again another day
  • If your baby shows interest in something you are eating and it’s a safe food for his age, offer him a taste
  • Continue to offer breastmilk or formula as often as you did prior to beginning solids. Your baby will eventually begin eating more real food and consuming less milk as he gets older.
  • Make sure baby has on a big, waterproof bib. Baby-led weaning is messy!

Safety and Precautions with BLW:

A common concern when considering baby-led weaning is, ‘Won’t they choke?’ While gagging is not uncommon when introducing solid foods, choking can be avoided by steering clear of hazardous foods such as nuts, apples with skin, popcorn, grapes, cherries and other small round foods and fruits. It is important to know the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is a natural mechanism that allows food to be moved from the throat forward by coughing and actually prevents baby from choking. Choking, however, is when an object or food becomes lodged in the throat or windpipe rendering the child unable to breathe or speak.

In addition to offering safe food options to your baby, always make sure he is supervised and sitting in an upright position when trying baby-led weaning. Also, always monitor your baby for any allergic reactions following the introduction of new foods. Educating yourself and your baby’s caregivers on safe baby-led weaning will help prevent instances of choking and increase the likelihood of a having positive experience with food for your little one. 

Baby-led weaning offers a different and fun approach to solids for you and baby that may increase the likelihood of raising an adventurous and healthy eater. It can be done exclusively or in unison with offering more traditional first foods like purees and cereals to see which method works best for your baby. As with mosst aspects of parenting, the most important thing is to find what works best for your family and follow that path. As long as your baby is receiving vital nutrients from breastmilk or formula and you have begun the process of introducing solids by 6 to 8 months, you are on the right track. For questions about infant nutrition or for any and all topics related to natural birth, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.