Is it safe to breastfeed during pregnancy?

August 4, 2011. Posted in: BF FAQ: Tandem

Yes, in most cases. At this time no medical study has been done on the safety of breastfeeding during pregnancy so it is impossible to list any definitive contraindications. If you are having a complicated pregnancy, such as lost weight, bleeding, or signs of preterm labor, you should problem-solve your individual situation with your caregiver. Depending on your individual situation and feelings you may decide that continued breastfeeding, reduced breastfeeding, or weaning is for the best.

Breastfeeding Contractions

Although uterine contractions are experienced during breastfeeding, they are a normal part of pregnancy. Similar contractions often occur during sexual intercourse, which many couples continue throughout pregnancy.

Miscarriage/Preterm Labor Risks

This is a common worry, but it does not appear to have a strong foundation. A recent review of research on the pregnant uterus reveals that there is actually no theoretical basis for the common concern that breastfeeding can lead to miscarriage or preterm labor in healthy pregnancies. Instead the uterus has many safeguards preventing a strong reaction to the oxytocin that breastfeeding releases.

Interestingly, experts on miscarriage and preterm labor are not among those who see a potential link between breastfeeding and these pregnancy complications. Miscarriage expert Lesley Regan, PhD, MD, quoted in Adventures in Tandem Nursing, saw no reason that breastfeeding should impact pregnancy, even if the mother has a history of miscarriage or is experiencing a threatened miscarriage.

Mother’s health

There is no evidence that a well nourished mother who nurses during pregnancy is at risk nutritionally. Breastfeeding does not increase a mother’s risk for osteoporosis, even when the mother nurses during pregnancy. Breastfeeding reduces the mother’s risk of breast cancer.

Nursling’s health

Your child will benefit from breastfeeding into the second year and beyond. The milk is just as safe during pregnancy, but pregnancy can cause milk to dwindle and can also motivate mother and child to wean. Thus if pregnancy does cause a child to receive less milk, the child will receive proportionally fewer of milk’s health advantages. Indeed, weaning before two years increases the risk of illness for a child, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Is the milk safe for the toddler?

“Ingestion of hormones of pregnancy through human milk should not be harmful to the breastfeeding child, according to Thomas Hale, PhD, author of the authoritative text Medications and Mothers’ Milk. In lay person’s terms, he says, the steroids, including many estrogens and progestins, pass poorly into milk sue to their steroid structures. Secondly, these hormones are not readily bioavailable in humans.” [Adventures in Tandem Nursing, p. 61]

See also: A New Look at the Safety of Breastfeeding During Pregnancy by Hilary Dervin Flower, MA

Experts who endorse the safety of breastfeeding through a healthy pregnancy:

  • Hilary Flower, MA, author of Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond.
  • Ruth Lawrence, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession.
  • Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC and Julie Stock, MA, IBCLC, authors of LLLI’s The Breastfeeding Answer Book.
  • Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC, author of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers.
  • William Sears, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, and author of The Baby Book and numerous other books.
  • Debbie Shinskie, RN, IBCLC and Judith Lauwers, BA, IBCLC, authors of Counseling the Nursing Mother.
  • La Leche League International
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians

For extensive research-based information on the safety of breastfeeding during pregnancy, see Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond by Hilary Flower. The chapter on health concerns includes a list of 85 references.

Health topics covered include:

  • The Mother’s Health
    (Maternal Bone Density, Breast Cancer, Maternal Fat Reserves)
  • The Nursling’s Health
  • Health of the Fetus/Newborn
    (Weight Gain Issues, Miscarriage and Preterm Labor, Fetal Well-Being or Distress, Postpartum Milk Production)
  • Going Forward
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Trust Yourself