Breastfeeding During Pregnancy – Common Concerns About Supply

September 10th, 2011 by Dionna | Comments Off on Breastfeeding During Pregnancy – Common Concerns About Supply
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting, Pregnancy and Birth

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Nursing mothers who become pregnant are often given inaccurate information about the safety of breastfeeding during a pregnancy. In this post – part two of a two-part series – I will share information on common questions and concerns nursing mamas have about breastmilk supply during pregnancy. For more information, read Breastfeeding During Pregnancy – Common Concerns About Safety.

The information in this two-part series comes primarily from three incredible resources: Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Bumgarner, and I strongly recommend that pregnant mamas interested in nursing through pregnancy and/or tandem nursing read them.

In part one of this series (“Common Concerns About Safety”), I looked at four questions: Are there risks involved with breastfeeding during pregnancy? Are there risks to the mother’s health? Are there risks to the current nursling’s health? Are there risks to the fetus’s health?
Today I’ll share information on three more questions: How many breastfeeding mothers will lose milk during pregnancy? How many nurslings will wean during pregnancy? What can I do to maintain my milk during pregnancy?

Click on each question to jump to the answer below:

How many breastfeeding mothers will lose milk during pregnancy?
How many nurslings will wean during pregnancy?
What can I do to maintain my milk during pregnancy?

How many breastfeeding mothers will lose milk during pregnancy?

The short answer to this question is that a majority of pregnant mothers will experience some decrease in milk production. “Most women notice a decline in milk production (70 percent in one study) usually evident by mid-pregnancy, and sometimes beginning in the first month. A minority of women report drying up entirely (18 percent in one study), and many women say that by mid-pregnancy ‘there isn’t a whole lot there.'”1

The decline in milk production seems to reflect the changes a woman’s body goes through during weaning. Milk quantity decreases, let-downs are less noticeable, the flavor often changes (many women and children say that involutional milk becomes saltier), children may begin to ask for other forms of liquids to supplement their nursing.2

The upside to the above statistic is that “[a]s many as 30 percent of mothers notice no change in milk supply during pregnancy. . . . And interestingly, a few pregnant mothers notice their milk actually increasing, even to the point of becoming temporarily engorged if their toddler starts to nurse more frequently.”3

How many nurslings will wean during pregnancy?

While changes in milk (both flavor and quantity), breast pain, nursling frustration, and the pregnancy nursing “heebie jeebies” can all combine to make breastfeeding a more unpleasant experience than what the nursing pair is used to (see Breastfeeding During Pregnancy – Common Discomforts and How to Help (Part 1) and (Part 2)), pregnancy does not mean that you must wean your nursling, no matter how old he is.4 Whether it is mother-led, child-led, or “influenced” because of decreased/changing milk, weaning may indeed occur. Every nursing pair must decide together if pregnancy is the appropriate time to wean.

So how many nurslings wean during pregnancy? In a “1970s study of 503 La Leche League members who became pregnant while still nursing, Niles Newton and Marilyn Theotokatos reported that 69 percent weaned at some time during pregnancy. . . . Two decades later, in Moscone and Moore’s study of 57 La Leche League mothers who were pregnant and breastfeeding, 57 percent weaned.”5 If you are considering weaning due to pregnancy, Hilary Flower offers many factors you may wish to consider in Chapter 1 of Adventures in Tandem Nursing.

What can I do to maintain my milk during pregnancy?

Unfortunately, because supply decreases are largely hormonally based, you will not be able to do a lot to maintain/increase your supply. Normally, the frequency and duration of your child’s nursing sessions would be the best way to increase supply (think about growth spurts – babies nurse more to increase the amount of milk available!). Pregnancy hormones, however, interfere with this normal process, and “increased suckling frequency cannot be expected to stop a decline in milk during pregnancy.”6

Some women have tried increasing water consumption to help milk supply, others have experimented with galactagogues. But there is no research to show that either of these methods increase supply during pregnancy. Flower explains that galactagogues may not be effective, “since galactagogues are usually based on enhancing prolactin levels, and during pregnancy, high progesterone may be more the problem than low prolactin levels.” Moreover, there is a lack of research – and therefore, safety data – on the use of galactagogues during pregnancy.7

The best way to maintain your milk supply is to take care of yourself – eat, drink, give nursling opportunities to nurse, and rest. And don’t worry if you lose your milk supply, many nurslings are happy to dry nurse until your milk starts flowing again. “[M]ilk volume tends to increase again somewhat in the third trimester and . . . will be restored completely upon delivery.”8

Do you have questions or concerns about breastmilk supply during pregnancy? If you nursed while pregnant, share your own experiences in the comments.

For more online resources, see:

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