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Everything You Need to Know About Nursing While Pregnant

Yes, it is safe – but it’s not birth control

by Olivia Bennett, MSN, CNM, ARNP
A person nurses their baby lying down on a yellow bed.
It’s not always easy if you’re the primary source of nutrition for one child while pregnant with another, but it is perfectly safe. Changes in milk, supply, and hormones are normal and expected.

Key Takeaways

  • Lactation is not a reliable form of birth control.
  • Nursing while pregnant is perfectly safe and does not cause preterm labor.
  • Your milk will change over the course of your pregnancy; this is perfectly normal.
  • Bringing another child into your family may change your older child's relationship to nursing.

So you had one baby and you’re still breastfeeding (or chestfeeding, bodyfeeding, lactating, nursing, pumping, or any other term that fits you and your family!). Now you’re looking at that baby growing out of their wee little clothes and starting to think about giving them a sibling. But can you bodyfeed while you’re pregnant? Can you even get pregnant while lactating? Is it safe? This article will cover some common questions and help you understand your body’s changes if you decide to get pregnant and keep nursing.

Can you get pregnant while you’re lactating? 

While the hormones of lactation help delay another pregnancy, that alone is not effective birth control after the first few weeks. You can still get pregnant! Hormonal shifts only prevent pregnancy if you’re still feeding your baby several times overnight and you haven’t gotten your period back. You can even get pregnant before your first period postpartum! In short, don’t count on nursing for birth control.

But if you want to get pregnant and your cycle isn’t back yet, you may want to consider cutting down how often you’re feeding or pumping. This will encourage your period to start again. For many people, cutting out night feedings is enough. However, for some, lactating even a few times a day will keep your period away. If your baby is under a year old and still getting most of their nutrition from your body, you may need to supplement with formula or donated milk if you cut out several feedings. Talk with your pediatrician if you have questions. 

Is it safe to breastfeed while pregnant? 

You might have heard that breastfeeding while you’re pregnant will cause preterm labor. However, studies show this is not true! If you find you get very crampy while you are feeding your baby or pumping, stop and wait a bit. If the cramping doesn’t go away, check with your midwife or physician.

Toward the end of pregnancy you may notice that your milk looks quite different. Sometime in the second trimester, your milk will start to change from “mature” milk back to colostrum.

What kind of nutrition do I need if I’m nursing while pregnant?

How much extra nutrition you will need depends on how much your child is nursing. If you are still the primary source of food for your baby, you’ll need to eat more than if you have a toddler who nurses just a few times a day. Nutrition needs also depend on how far along you are in your pregnancy.  A good general rule is to follow your hunger cues. Focus on getting plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and water. 

Will I make enough milk for my baby if my toddler continues to nurse? 

People often notice a significant drop in their milk supply when they become pregnant. If you have an older baby, they may self-wean at this point. You may notice they eat more solids or decrease how often they ask for milk. Some babies have the opposite reaction and want more feedings. If your baby is still getting most of their nutrition from you, you may notice them fuss more while nursing, want to feed more frequently, or adjust by eating more solid foods. 

If your baby continues to gain weight normally and nurses at least three to four times a day, that’s a good sign that they are getting enough milk. As always, check with your pediatrician if you have any concerns. If you’re pumping, you may notice a drop in how much milk you can pump, and you may even notice a change in how your milk looks and maybe even tastes or smells. This is all normal.

After your baby is born, most people make plenty of milk for both children. Of course supply problems can happen to anyone, but most find they have too much milk rather than not enough when they’re nursing two children. 

A baby bottle filled with milk and a pump on a counter.

How will my milk change when I’m pregnant? 

Toward the end of pregnancy you may notice that your milk looks quite different. Sometime in the second trimester, your milk will start to change from “mature” milk back to colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk you make for a newborn before your mature milk comes in. It’s thicker, sticky, and often honey-colored or even clear. Colostrum is very sweet and high in protein and antibodies to help newborns fight infections. It can also be harder to get this milk out with a pump. 

Colostrum is still an excellent source of nutrition for your older baby, but it does have fewer carbohydrates and less water, so you may find your older baby is hungrier and thirstier. Don’t worry about your older baby “using up” the colostrum. Your body will continue making it so there will still be plenty for your newborn. In fact, people who feed both an infant and an older baby often find there’s more colostrum and it’s easier to feed their newborn.

You may find that as your milk changes, your older baby’s poop becomes softer. Colostrum is a great natural laxative, which helps newborns clear out the thick, black/green poop in their intestines when they’re born. After your newborn arrives and your milk changes back to “mature” milk, this will go away.

What if my nipples hurt?

With all the hormones of early pregnancy, it’s common to have tender nipples, especially in the first trimester. Nipple creams, like lanolin, ease tenderness when applied a few times a day. 

Many people also experience nipple sensitivity when they’re pregnant, both physically and emotionally. The most common emotion is strong, negative feelings about being touched on or around the nipples. If you struggle with nipple sensitivity, it may help to change feeding positions so your baby isn’t touching you as much. You can also take slow, deep breaths, or read a book or watch TV to distract yourself. 

If you have a lot of nausea at the beginning of pregnancy, bodyfeeding may make it worse. You can try eating a snack or ginger candy or having a cool drink before nursing your baby. Changing which position you feed in may help too. Pressure on your stomach can make nausea worse. Instead of sitting upright, try lying on your side or the “clutch/football” hold to keep weight off your front. 

With all the hormones of early pregnancy, it’s common to have tender nipples, especially in the first trimester. Nipple creams, like lanolin, ease tenderness when applied a few times a day.

When should I stop nursing? 

When to stop is a very personal decision. You know your body, your family, and your baby(s) the best. Listen to your instincts. Here are a few questions to ask: 

  • How important is tandem nursing to me? 
  • What role does nursing play in how I care for my child? What else could I use to fill that role? 
  • Is this discomfort temporary, or do I think it will continue? 
  • What else will my baby need to eat instead? (If they’re under a year, they will need formula or donated milk. For more information, talk with your pediatrician.) 
  • Can I do something else to make it easier for me? Sometimes nursing less often or limiting how long each nursing session lasts is enough. If your baby is still nursing at night, changing that can help.

Ultimately, you will find the right answer for you and your family. There can be mixed feelings when you decide to wean – this is normal! There will also be some hormonal changes as you transition; mood swings are common. Whatever you decide, remember to give yourself grace and have patience with your experience. Take a moment to thank your body for what it has done, and give it all the extra care and love you deserve.

Olivia Bennett MSN, CNM, ARNP
CNM (she/her)

Olivia is a certified nurse midwife at Quilted Health. She specializes in lactation, frenotomies, abortion care, and gender-affirming care.

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