Monday, March 1, 2010

Please Research: Nursing During Pregnancy

I've mentioned in some of my previous posts that I am still nursing Bug, even though I am pregnant. Breastfeeding during pregnancy is often misunderstood and even taboo! I think some of the reasons that people are so uncomfortable with nursing during pregnancy, is because most women don't nurse very long in the first place! And nursing itself is a much debated topic in Western culture!

Then, when you add pregnancy to it, people think that the mother is being irresponsible. What if it causes the mother to miscarry? Or what if the baby isn't getting the nutrients to grow properly? There is plenty of research and information out there to show that breastfeeding during pregnancy is NOT dangerous to the unborn child. There are some circumstances where it may be advised to wean an older child (i.e., if the mother has a history of miscarriage) but weaning is rarely necessary.

When a woman is breastfeeding in a pattern often called "ecological breastfeeding", she is nursing her child as often at the child wants. This often means that a baby sleeps next to a mother and nurses frequently at night, as well as nursing frequently during the day. The stimulation of the nipple during frequent breastfeeding causes the body to produce hormones that remind the mom's body that "there is a baby here that still needs milk and a lot of attention". This means that the mom keep producing milk (as much as the baby needs) and often prevents the mother from returning to fertility, so she won't have to worry about taking care of another baby when she already has one that still needs a lot of attention. When the child gets older, he may start eating more solid foods, and start nursing less (less may be one less feeding, or even suddenly cutting out several feeding). This decrease in nipple stimulation tells the body, "Oh, I don't have to make as much milk and the baby that was so demanding before doesn't need as much attention anymore". Then, the body returns to fertility, and the mother is able to get pregnant again. But the main thing here is, the child doesn't have to wean completely for this to happen. There isn't really a known threshold, either. I think it has a lot to do with what the mother's body can handle. For myself, I didn't return to fertility until Bug was about 18 months old. Some women become fertile again much sooner (even while ecologically breastfeeding) and some take much longer.

Shortly after returning to fertility, I became pregnant. Bug was still nursing, and I didn't make him stop. Bug's nursing pattern had definitely changed from when he was a newborn, but I still feel like he was nursing pretty frequently. And he kept it up for a while at the beginning of my pregnancy, even though it was uncomfortable for me. An early pregnancy symptom is tenderness of the breasts, and that often makes nursing uncomfortable for pregnant mothers. It definitely was difficult for me, but I stuck it out and continued to let Bug nurse, because it is so comforting to him. I would like to report, however, that the discomfort of nursing has gone away.

A couple weeks ago, I realized that my milk supply had decreased to almost nothing. I noticed Bug would get frustrated as soon as he latched on, because nothing was coming out! I tried hand expressing, and only got a small, pin-head sized drop of thick, creamy, and sticky colostrum. Bug still nurses occasionally, but it is obviously only for comfort and to be close to his mommy!

When I began nursing, I told myself that I wanted to nurse to at least a year. Sometime within that first year, I knew that I wanted to nurse for as long as Bug wanted to nurse (child-led weaning). It helped me continue nursing, even when it was difficult. And, even know, I am still nursing Bug, even though he isn't getting much or anything at all! There have been times when I have refused to let Bug nurse (so I guess I don't technically qualify as practicing child-led weaning). But, mostly, Bug has become more interested in other foods and other comfort measures on his own. I (usually) enjoy nursing Bug. It is a beautiful and tender relationship that I have with him. I am sure it will be bittersweet when I realize that Bug has nursed for the last time. But until then, I will confidently nurse him...even though I'm pregnant!


TopHat said...

I don't think my colostrum has come in yet- I still get white milk on the tips of my nipples if Margaret unlatches mid-suck. My supply has gone down, but not completely, and Margaret still insists on nursing multiple times a day.

Sara, Nick, and kids said...

yeah it is definately a bittersweet feeling. i remember i didn't know andrew's last nursing session was going to be his last. we left andrew with my husband's parents while lilly had her surgery and didn't see him for 3 days. over those 3 days i realized to myself, "what better way to wean andrew than to have him away for a few nights?" so that was it. after we got back from the hospital he still wanted it a little bit, but he was over it in just a few short days. definately bittersweet though. he seems so grown up now.

Lara said...

Good info. I think nursing in general is very misunderstood, which is sad. I always did child-led weaning, too, and it surprised me how very different each of my children were. Especially my last, who weaned herself before a year, but she always had trouble with her latch, so that may be why.

Terresa said...

I say keep on nursing, if it's working out still for both of you.

A few of my dear home birthing friends nursed through a few of their pregnancies, with no ill effects whatsoever. The worst of it was probably other people's clueless/misguided comments.

Power to the nursing mama! (that's you!)

Stacy said...

Good for you. I nursed for a few months into my second pregnancy, and my daughter's weaning was gentle and peaceful when my milk supply dropped and she decided that she was no longer interested.

I have a feeling I may be nursing through pregnancy again if I manage to get pregnant in the next little while. I can't imagine my toddler giving up nursing for anything!