Breastfeeding while pregnant – the first trimester

I’m not sure how we got on to the topic but at some point in the midwife’s office, I mentioned that I was still breastfeeding. I didn’t look at faces for visible reactions because I was already clear on what I thought of the matter and slightly anticipated some ill-concealed negativity. I needn’t have worried. Without missing a beat, the midwife congratulated me, “Good for you!” and sounded genuine. She even offered to hand out leaflets for the breastfeeding group I’m a peer supporter at when I mentioned it.

It’s usually assumed if you’re pregnant that you’re no longer breastfeeding. Most people would assume you’re no longer breastfeeding your two-year-old, regardless. The combination is shrouded in taboo and most children in the UK aren’t breastfed long enough for their mothers to face the dilemma of whether to continue after conception. Not that it was particularly a dilemma for me. I happened to get pregnant and I happened to be breastfeeding. I didn’t – and still don’t – really have a plan.

OK, I suppose that’s not entirely true. I would ideally like Talitha to wean when she’s outgrown her need to breastfeed. She’s 26 months now and I’m happy to see where we go. That doesn’t mean I’ve completely ruled out mother-led weaning either. Breastfeeding is a relationship and relationships are too complex to be dictated by rules. At any rate, I suppose some of what I’ve done to make breastfeeding while pregnant more manageable could be considered a form of gradual weaning.

What I’m trying to say, though, is that I’ve been open. Open to her (and maybe me) choosing to stop sooner rather than later and open even to the possibility of tandem breastfeeding. Neither one is a goal. At the moment, the aim is as it has always been: to make it through today. That has become more complicated since falling pregnant.

Pregnancy discomforts

My nipples are often sore though nowhere near the agony they were in during my first pregnancy. When I was pregnant with Talitha and described the feeling of someone holding a flame to my nipples, I openly glared at midwives who responded: “Ah yes, nipples can get a bit tender during pregnancy.” A bit tender? Really? What I’m describing sounds “tender”?! However, I’d say that this time, yes, they’re just a bit sore – a bit tender. So, though breastfeeding sometimes hurts a bit, so far it’s been mostly doable. I’ve sometimes taken her off and asked her to re-latch with a “bigger mouth” or distracted myself with my phone or a book if that’s not helping.

However, I’ve found nursing aversion and nausea more challenging. In fact, I’ve found them impossible. I’ll explain what I mean by “nursing aversion”. There are times when I breastfeed my daughter and instead of getting a cuddly feeling of connection with her, I have an animal urge to throw her off me. I just want to stop. Talking to other mothers who’ve walked this path before me, and reading Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding during Pregnancy and Beyond, I realise this is a very common experience. No one can tell you how you’re going to feel about it or how you should respond. It’s too personal.

Night weaning

For me, these intolerable feelings have only accompanied night feeds so we decided to night wean. Some families do manage to bedshare and night wean but we thought we’d try moving her out of the family bed since she seemed happy enough in the little bed we’d set up in her bedroom. What she wasn’t happy about was Daddy attending to her when she woke up at night. In fact, she screamed and screamed.

It was awful to hear but we knew that he needed to find a way of parenting her at night – she’d been rejecting his comfort for months. We agree that the experience of crying in the arms of a loving parent is very different from being left to cry alone. I also knew that she was able to handle the change, not because of some arbitrary age she’d hit but because I know her and am confident in the foundation of trust we have built with her with past two years.

After a couple more nights, with less waking and crying for “Milk!” and she began to sleep through in her own bed. It’s been a few weeks now so I finally feel like I can say that. She has had the odd night waking but she accepts Laurence’s comfort more easily. The deal is he takes the night shift – and she usually doesn’t wake up anyway. From 5am, I take over. So, that means she comes into bed for a sleepy feed at 5 or 6 and we all get up for the day at 7. I always make sure to tell her when I get her at this waking, “It’s morning! Milky when the sun shines!” to keep consistency. It comes from the beautiful chidlren’s book Nursies When the Sun Shines that we’ve been reading to help her through the transition.

The unknown

As with any bit of parenting, nothing could prepare me for how much of this journey would be unknown. No woman can predict how she will feel, whether her child will self-wean or show no loss of enthusiasm or even what will happen to her milk and when. The last one has been such a surprise to me. Less than three months into this pregnancy and my supply has plummeted. I can only hear the occasional swallow, she mostly flutter sucks and she switches back and forth between breasts rapidly (particularly fun as you can imagine). She’s even on occasion come off the breast to tell me “Milk not enough” or “Milk not working” and, when I’m putting her to sleep, she mostly instructs me to sing to her rather than to nurse her. At first, I was managing the discomfort of breastfeeding while pregnant by limiting her feeds to three a day but now, she seems to be losing interest.

I couldn’t have known how I’d feel about this and I still don’t really. A part of me is sad that this significant chapter of our life together may be coming to a close but another part of me is also a little relieved at the prospect that she might wean before the new baby comes.

It’s significant to me that there is no “should” here. Breastfeeding through pregnancy is such a unique experience and just as I would respect another mother’s space to decide how she will face it, I offer myself the same kindness. I cannot know how I feel next week. I cannot know how Talitha will. I can only be patient with us. I can only trust that these years of breastfeeding have prepared us for whatever comes next.

Breastfeeding while pregnant – the second trimester
When it looked like she might be weaning
Breastfeeding while pregnant – the third trimester

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  • This is fantastically useful to read – I’m mentally filing it away for the future! Also interesting to read about the night weaning. I still feed E if she wakes at night, mainly because it’s the easiest way to get her to sleep. But I’m never sure if she’d sleep better if we night weaned her or not. We might give it a try…x
    Gill Crawshaw recently posted..A deluge of door decoration

    • I think the decision of whether or not to night wean is so personal. I know people who’ve done it before we have and people who’ve never done it at all. Only you can say whether it’s something that needs to happen and if so, when.

  • Great post Adele! We did the night weaning thing when Wilf was 14m or so and it helped with sleep massively (he went from waking every 45mins to every 3 or 4 hours instead). However he was teething a couple of months later so I started nursing him at night again. I really believe we will both get more sleep if we night wean him again it’s just having the energy (or rather Tom having the energy as he would be the one sleeping with him) to do it! xx
    Fritha recently posted..Yeo Valley and The Woodland Trust

    • It’s great that you’re being so responsive to his needs. I can definitely identify with the energy thing. I just didn’t have the motivation to stop her nipple twiddling even though I hated it (something I forgot to mention in this post). Then when I got pregnant it got to a point where I had to do something about it. At different stages the balance of needs seems to change and your need or their need takes priority for a while.

    • Glad to hear from someone who’s been there. A wise woman recently told me something along the lines of if your body has naturally allowed you to conceive this baby then your older child probably is capable of making whatever changes become necessary. Smallest has been breastfed for a lot longer than many many!

  • Nursing Aversion! THAT’S what it’s called!

    I was still feeding Dot when I got pregnant with Trojan Hero, but as she was nearly 3 it wasn’t very often, not even every day, and not at night – generally first thing in the morning and to go to bed with.

    My nipples got more and more tender (not something that’s usually an issue when I’m pregnant) and my milk gradually dried up and I began hating the whole thing so much that in the end I told her there was no milk. She asked a bit for a couple of days, but there were no tears and then she seemed to forget about it and move on – I suppose she was on the cusp of weaning anyhow.

    I did explain how the milk would come back for the new baby, and did wonder if she’d ask to nurse again. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it so decided to wait and see. Trojan Hero is now 6mnths old and she never did show any interest, though she likes to see him feed, ‘nurse’ her own baby dolls and occasionally talk about how she used to nurse.

  • As you know I have been through this. When I got pregnant with S I never imagined that I would go on to tandem feed for over a year, I certainly didn’t expect that. In the end M didn’t self wean, and it didn’t look like he ever would tbh plus my husband was obviously feeling a little uncomfortable about it. So we offered chocolate milk instead and when he jumped at the offer it reassured me that it obviously wasn’t so important to him anymore.
    Purplemum recently posted..Win A Baby Annabell Doll

    • Yes, and it would be great to hear more about your experience some time. It sounds like M was pretty close to weaning. Glad you got the reassurance you needed. He’s a very lucky boy. All your children are. x

  • I never knew there was a book about tandem feeding! I shall have to look it up. Found so little literature on toddler breastfeeding, I just assumed it would be the same for tandem feeding.

    I’m currently tandem feeding almost 3 year old Arlo, and 11 week old Rory. I find I never have much to say about it, because I just don’t THINK about it. It was a bit difficult in the early days when Arlo decided he wanted to feed every time Rory did, but recently he’s shifted back to his old pattern and things have become very laid back again. As you said, I’m not ruling out mother-led weaning, will see how it goes.

    • I imagine it’s more laid back the bigger the age gap there is. It seems a bit more stressful (but not without its benefits) when the older one is young enough to still have a very strong need for breastfeeding. Didn’t realise you were doing that. How wonderful. Another great book on toddler breastfeeding is Mothering your nursing toddler. Such a great read. I’ve read it 2 or 3 times now and have lent it to lots of friends.

    • Congratulations! There’s something about pregnancy that drives us to reach out to hear others’ stories and share our own.

  • Having read this I believed it was really informative.

    I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!

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