Will pregnancy cause my child to wean prematurely?

August 4, 2011. Posted in: BF FAQ: Tandem,Breastfeeding & pregnancy

I’m committed to child-led weaning, and am worried that my child will be forced to wean prematurely due to my pregnancy.

For moms who want to avoid weaning during pregnancy, there are a number of possible outcomes:

  1. Some children wean on their own natural timetables, where the time for weaning just coincidentally falls during pregnancy.
  2. Some children will wean during a pregnancy due to the drop in supply that occurs during the second half of the pregnancy or because the flavor of the milk changes.
  3. Other children continue to nurse in spite of the changes.
  4. Mom may decide to encourage decreased nursing or weaning. Give yourself permission to change your mind as your pregnancy progresses.
  5. Some children wean at some point in the pregnancy, and then “unwean” at a later time, either late in pregnancy or after birth.

It may feel strange to think of your breastfeeding relationship as vulnerable to the influences of pregnancy. As parents there are so many things that we cannot control. Starting with pregnancy, the new baby will change family life in many unexpected ways, some more welcome than others. If you can, open yourself to the various possibilities and trust that you and your older child can make it through no matter what. Remember, your fundamental relationship with your older child is not at stake.

Self-Weaning during Pregnancy

Reports seem to indicate that 26% of children self-wean during pregnancy1. If this figure sounds low to you, that may be due to some misinterpretations of the available data. Indeed, the study by Moscona is frequently misinterpreted as saying that 57% of children self-weaned during their mother’s pregnancy. Although 31 out of 57 babies, or 57%, of the children who were nursing at the beginning of their mothers’ pregnancies were no longer nursing by the end, the investigator specifically records that the weaning was baby-led in 15 of these 31 cases and mother-led in 16. Therefore the percentage of babies who self-weaned was 15 out of 57, or 26%. Similarly, Niles Newton’s study found that 69% of babies were no longer nursing by the end of their mother’s pregnancy, and this figure, too, is often incorrectly offered as a self-weaning-during-pregnancy statistic. However, Newton’s 69% includes mother-led weaning, too.2

– Hilary Flower in Adventures in Tandem Nursing, p. 166

  1. Moscone [sic] SR, Moore MJ. Breastfeeding during pregnancy. J Hum Lact. 1993 Jun;9(2):83-88. (Sherrill Moscona’s name was mispelled in the original publication.)
  2. Newton N, Theotokatos M. “Breastfeeding during pregnancy in 503 women.” In Emotion and Reproduction. London, England: Academic Press, 1979;845-49.
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