This is a tough question to answer definitively. If you have searched for breastfeeding and miscarriage together, you are either in a situation where you are thinking about pregnancy, are pregnant already (and feeling worried), or you were pregnant and you want to understand why it happened.
Generally, the answer is no, breastfeeding won’t cause miscarriage in every case. But before you run off, worry free, you have to know that this isn’t a black and white world. Breastfeeding can impact your pregnancy, but just because it can, doesn’t mean it will. It is important that you understand how so you can make appropriate decisions for you and your family.
Let’s talk about pregnancy and breastfeeding.
It is even possible to breastfeed while pregnant?
It’s completely normal to worry about whether or not you can continue to breastfeed when you are pregnant. First of all, if you only have one baby, and you’ve never seen what your body is capable of, you might wonder how it is even possible? Can your body continue to make milk for the baby you have, while growing another one inside of you?
In most cases, the answer is “yes” your body can feel your baby while pregnant with another one.
Do many women breastfeed while pregnant? Is this common?
Research collected from three hospitals in three states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa) confirm that one in five pregnant women seeking prenatal care are pregnant again, and are either breastfeeding or should still be breastfeeding their prior baby because of that baby’s age. (source)
Breastfeeding while pregnant happens all the time. If you are pregnant and still breastfeeding your baby, you are definitely not alone.
Why is breastfeeding a concern while pregnant for the growing fetus?
In trying everything possible to go into labor naturally with their first baby, women learn that in addition to hot sauce, pineapple, and jumping jacks, stimulating the nipples can cause labor to begin. Much like stimulating the nipples (but more provably so), breastfeeding can also actually cause you to experience uterine contractions.
These contractions are generally very mild, however, and as long as you have a healthy pregnancy, they are usually not a cause for concern. In most cases, these milk contractions will not cause you to go into preterm labor.
How does breastfeeding cause contractions?
When you breastfeed, the pituitary gland in your body releases oxytocin. This is a hormone that plays multiple roles throughout your body. One of it’s jobs is to stimulates contractions. (You might be familiar with the drug Pitocin, if you’ve ever had labor induced. Pitocin is a manufactured form of oxytocin.)
During breastfeeding, however, you don’t release enough of the hormone to cause you to go into preterm labor. While you may experience contractions, in most cases, these small contractions (like Braxton hicks) aren’t going to harm the baby, or cause you to miscarry.
Additionally, while some hormones will pass through the milk to your breastfeeding child, they aren’t at high enough levels to cause harm.
In high risk cases…
However, there are a few situations that you will want to consider whether breastfeeding while pregnant is best. Women who struggle to carry a pregnancy through the first trimester or have a history of miscarriages may not want to breastfeed. In these cases, women do not want to have any unnecessary uterine activity.
Also, if you are carrying twins, are at risk for preterm labor, or have been told that you are a high-risk pregnancy (such as being an older pregnant woman or have other health conditions), or have to avoid intercourse while pregnant, it’s important to talk to your doctor about breastfeeding.
Your medical ream may also recommend weaning if you have uterine pain or bleeding, as you want to do everything that you can to ensure a healthy and safe pregnancy.
Is breastfeeding an acceptable risk for you?
Here’s the thing. As mothers, we make decisions all the time that we have to live with. We understand the generally accepted concept now that “breast is best.” But sometimes the breast is not possible, and we know that formula is alright too. There’s a risk that the baby won’t grow as thrive as well on formula as she might on breast milk, but sometimes situations require that we accept that risk.
Miscarriages aren’t just medical procedures. For women, a miscarriage is a loss, a real death, and something to grieve. A woman who has miscarried will, for a long time, grieve, and wonder what happened if her doctors cannot point to a reason.
Mothers who are breastfeeding a child and then experience a miscarriage may blame herself for putting the needs of the baby in her arms over the baby in her belly. Even if there is little to now risk that nursing caused the miscarriage, the mother will always wonder.
Even if the risk of miscarriage is incredibly low for an otherwise healthy mother and a low-risk pregnancy, a pregnant woman may not consider that small chance of miscarriage worth the risk.
This is an incredibly personal decision, as well as a medical one. If you are already pregnant, talk to your OB about his/her thoughts on the matter.
In the situation where you are planning to move forward with getting pregnant in the near future, you may want to consider your nursing goals in the timing/planning. For mothers who are young and have not experienced struggles with pregnancy, waiting until weaning before trying might be the best option. For mothers who are older or who struggled with fertility, it might makes sense to wean or accept the small risk or nursing and pregnancy.
I nursed while pregnant. Here’s what I experienced.
My first son was six months old when I became pregnant with my second son. Nursing became challenging, but not because of any concerns for me about miscarriage. For me, nursing did not cause me to spot, or have any other issues with my pregnancy.
However, it was harder to nurse than before. My nipples were really sore, and my son became more active at the breast around that time. Instead of lying quietly, he was more likely to turn his head, pull on the nipple with him gums, or even bite down. This was uncomfortable!!
Next, sometimes while my son nursed, I would have this feeling I can only describe as the “creepy crawlies.” I didn’t want to snuggle him as much, and I definitely didn’t want anything else to touch my legs, arms, shoulders, or back. I can’t explain it, but I just felt uncomfortable. Like there was something hanging onto me that shouldn’t have been, but I couldn’t get it off.
Finally, consistent with some other pregnant women who have been through this, I found that my milk supply lessened. I’m not sure if I wasn’t eating well enough to supply both the milk and the pregnancy, if I wasn’t drinking enough water, or the hormones did me in. But I ultimately decided to wean my son at 12 months instead of pushing through to the birth and on to tandem nursing.
For more info about breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding FAQs post: 100 Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms.