Friday, November 14, 2008

Breastfeeding During Pregnancy

I did a little bit of research today about breastfeeding during pregnancy. I'm a huge advocate of breastfeeding. My goal with each of my children has been to nurse them exclusively for the first 6 months and to continue breastfeeding at least until the baby is 12 months old. So far I've been able to achieve that, and I'm very grateful to have been able to do it.

After my second child was born I was talking with my obstetrician about how long I should wait before getting pregnant again. There are two major points I remember he made.
  • One was that there are health concerns for the mother if she has two babies (not twins) within 12 months of each other. This includes a higher risk of blood clots. He emphasized the need for the mother's body to recover after giving birth.
  • The next point my doctor made was that if I were to get pregnant I should stop breastfeeding. His argument for weaning was that nutritionally it's too hard for the mother's body to provide the needs for 3 people: herself, her nursing baby and her developing baby growing inside of her.
Now, that second point really bothered me. I could understand the nutritional need, but I didn't feel that it was necessary to stop breastfeeding at the first confirmation of pregnancy. I have thought about it a lot since then, and I feel that a woman should be able to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy, as long as she is eating well and maintaining good health, and her nursing baby and fetus are thriving.

La Leche League has some really good articles about this, and it supports my own feelings on the subject. To sum up what I read, they say that any argument against breastfeeding during pregnancy is based on conjecture and not on fact. In fact, no reliable studies have been done to support the idea that pregnant mothers should wean their nursing babies. Some things that stood out to me in the articles are:
  • In a normal pregnancy there is no evidence that continuing to breastfeed will deprive an unborn child of necessary nutrients.
  • Breastmilk changes during pregnancy. The taste changes because the makeup of the milk changes in a similar way as it does when weaning. At around 4-5 months in pregnancy, the milk supply generally decreases. The milk may also turn to colostrum, and the milk returns within a few days after birth.
  • Each child is different and some have a stronger need to nurse than others. Some children will naturally wean themselves because of the change in the flavor or consistency of the milk, while others won't care about the milk changing and will continue to nurse throughout pregnancy regardless of the changes. It's important to consider the child's needs and reasons for breastfeeding.
  • Younger babies, particulary less than 12 months old, should be monitored closely for weight gain to ensure that they are thriving on the mother's milk during pregnancy. Older babies are more likely to wean themselves or the mother may decide it's a good time to wean if the child is already eating a good amount of solids.
  • Hormone levels change during pregnancy (surprise!), and the higher levels of progesterone help relax and smooth the muscles in the uterus so that uterine contractions from nursing are generally not a risk during pregnancy. As the progesterone levels drop and estrogen levels increase just prior to birth and after, uterine contractions will be stronger.
I could go on about this subject, but the articles themselves offer comprehensive information. If you're interested in learning more about this, check out the LLLI website, and if you'd like me to post more about it, please indicate your response below!

No comments:

Post a Comment