Congratulations! The pregnancy test confirms what you suspected — a new baby is on the way. You’re excited but can’t help wondering about your toddler, who is breastfeeding. Yes, he’s eating solid foods and enjoys his sippy cup, but you know breastfeeding is still a big deal to him. What now? Can you keep breastfeeding even though you are pregnant, and what happens once the new baby is born?
In most cases, you can continue to breastfeed while pregnant, and many women go on to nurse both their toddler and new baby after the birth. It’s not always easy, though. Here are some tips to help you through.
1. Check with your doctor or midwife first, but breastfeeding during pregnancy is generally not an issue. Though, in some situations, such as when you have a history of premature births caused by your cervix dilating too early, or signs of premature labour during this pregnancy, or unusual bleeding, your doctor may recommend weaning. It’s the contractions of the uterus that breastfeeding causes that may be a problem in these instances. Most often when this is the case you are also advised to abstain from sex.
2. For some mothers, morning sickness seems to be aggravated by nursing. If you’re one of those, try keeping light snacks handy; when your toddler comes over to nurse, eat a few crackers or a piece of toast to ease any nausea. In severe cases, you may need to work towards complete weaning.
3. Make sure you are eating well. Your body is helping to sustain a toddler AND grow a baby, so good nutrition is crucial.
4. Be prepared — sore nipples (due to hormonal changes) are very common during pregnancy! Most mothers find this easiest to deal with by keeping feedings short. Depending on the age of your toddler, you may be able to negotiate this (by saying something like “We’ll nurse while I count to 10, when I get to 10 we’ll go to the kitchen and have a snack, or go outside and play catch.”) Remind your toddler to open wide and help her latch well. Yes, the underlying problem may be hormonal, but toddlers are notoriously careless about latching, and that can make it worse.
5. As your milk supply decreases (a normal part of pregnancy), your toddler will need to have more foods and drinks added to his diet to compensate.
6. If your toddler always nurses to sleep, you may want to begin introducing some other approaches to sleep to that it will be easier when you have the new baby. For example, you could begin patting your toddler’s back or singing a song while nursing her to sleep. Once she’s accustomed to that, you could try singing or patting for a while before you offer the breast. As you extend the time that you are doing these things, she may start falling asleep before you even get to the nursing part. Then your partner may be able to take over the patting or singing, at least some of the time. Or your partner may want to develop his or her own going-to-sleep routine. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to nurse your toddler to sleep, if you want, but it is sometimes useful to add other ways of helping the baby relax and doze off.
7. As your belly grows, you may find you need to experiment with new positions. No, I’m not talking about sex here — although you’ll need some new positions for that, too — but the traditional baby-across-your-lap position obviously won’t work when you’re nine months pregnant. Side-lying is often good. Your toddler may also be willing to sit or kneel or even stand beside you and nurse.
8. Talk to your toddler about sharing his “num-nums” with the new baby when it comes. Many are very resistant to this idea — one toddler told his mom “when the baby comes, Grandma can give it her num-nums,” but most come around once there is an actual baby. Don’t push it too hard — you’re just trying to plant the seed.
9. It’s important for the new baby to get a good “dose” of colostrum, so in the first few days after the birth you may want to limit the toddler’s feedings and try to always nurse the baby first. Plan to have someone who can distract your toddler with games and activities, if you can. Once your milk “comes in” — and nursing two will certainly speed up that process — you won’t need to worry too much about who nurses when. Some mothers, especially those with younger toddlers who are still breastfeeding quite frequently, will assign one breast to each child. Others just nurse both on each side, on demand.
10. Don’t be surprised if your toddler — who just days ago was your little baby — suddenly seems huge once the new baby arrives. You may even feel a bit annoyed when he nurses, in contrast to the cuddly, loving feelings you feel when nursing your newborn. This is common; it will get easier.
11. Some toddlers are delighted when your milk supply increases dramatically a few days after birth, others have gotten used to the lower supply and may even wean because they don’t like getting lots and lots of milk every time they nurse. You may also notice that your toddler has very loose bowel movements in the first few weeks after the new baby is born, because your colostrum and newly-abundant milk is quite laxative.
12. If you can, get to know some other moms who are also “tandem-nursing” (the name given to the situation where a mother is nursing siblings who are not twins or triplets). They’ll be able to give you some perspective as well as practical tips for coping with some of the more challenging moments. Remember most toddlers feel some jealousy towards the new baby and may regress in behaviour (acting like babies themselves) or show anger by acting up, complaining or being aggressive to the new baby. So if your toddler is doing this (or worse!), it’s not because he’s still nursing — it’s because having a new sibling is stressful.
13. Keep in mind all the good things about tandem nursing. If you run into any breastfeeding difficulties, toddlers are great for helping out. Got an overactive letdown or too much milk? Your toddler can get that first, fast flow so that it’s easier for the new baby to manage. Having problems with plugged ducts? A toddler’s stronger suck can often get the milk flowing again. Most importantly, it gives you an extra tool to calm a cranky toddler and another way to reassure him that he’s still loved and close to your heart. (And there will be days when you are grateful for all the tools you can get!)
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