There's nothing more impressive than a pregnant mom who's still nursing her first, except, maybe, an awesome tandem nursing mom. More often than not though, mothers report that they struggle to keep their milk up when they get pregnant. Despite their best efforts, supply just seems to take a dip during pregnancy. If you're looking for safe ways to increase milk supply while pregnant, know that human biology makes no guarantees on this front. According to Kelly Mom, the majority of mothers experience a supply decrease during pregnancy, and unfortunately, there's not much you can do but wait for baby to come.
"Milk supply very often decreases during pregnancy," writes International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Kristin Gourley of Lactation Link in an email interview with Romper. She explains that for some women, supply drops as soon as they become pregnant. Others don't see a marked decrease until around week 12 or so, as that hormonal first trimester comes to a close. However, by 20 weeks, "nearly all women will see at least some reduction in supply," Gourley explains. "This is because pregnancy hormones trump those of lactation." Kelly Mom backed this up: 70 percent of nursing moms report a "significant" milk supply decrease during pregnancy. Bummer, right?
Here's why your supply might dip. During pregnancy, progesterone and estrogen levels are high and elevated, but when you're nursing, they're low and suppressed, according to Gourley. When your body gets pregnant, it chooses to adopt the hormone levels necessary for creating a new life, and sadly, that may come at the expense of your milk supply. So what can a nursing mom do?
"There's nothing that can for sure increase supply during pregnancy, and some common ways to increase supply, like taking supplements, aren't ideal during pregnancy," Gourley observes. Really, the only thing you can do is keep "breastfeeding on demand," assuming your doctor gives you the all clear. If your baby is too young for solid foods, or hasn't taken to them much, Gourley suggests you supplement their diet with formula or donated breast milk if your pediatrician or lactation consultant feel it's necessary. "Work closely with baby's pediatrician and an IBCLC to ensure baby's intake and growth," she says.
Beyond supply issues, other aspects of pregnancy can also make nursing difficult. "Many parents find breastfeeding while pregnant can be painful due to tender nipples," explains Tania Archbold, IBCLC, of Mother's Nectar Lactation Consultant Services. "Many parents may find that they develop feelings of nursing aversion," in which they feel emotionally or psychologically uncomfortable about continuing to nurse. The good news, she says, is that those feelings generally disappear at the end of the pregnancy.
Most nursing moms have heard of at least some of the popular breastfeeding supplements out there. For instance, fenugreek and fenugreek seed. Unfortunately, Kelly Mom noted that the jury is still out on the safety of these supplements during pregnancy, and Archbold explains that galactagogues usually don't help with supply at this time. However, some moms report increased milk supply from eating oatmeal, Kelly Mom reported, and oatmeal, of course, is a perfectly safe. It can't hurt to drink plenty of water and maintain a healthy diet, either.
If you're really looking forward to keeping up a robust milk supply while your new baby is still on the way, know that I really don't meant to bum you out. A likely reduction in milk supply doesn't mean it will vanish, and many moms happily breastfeed throughout pregnancy. According to Archbold, your body will start making colostrum around 16 weeks gestation, so don't be surprised if your nursling's stools are runnier — colostrum has laxative properties, she says.
Rest assured also that nursing is entirely safe in all three trimesters during a normal, healthy pregnancy, according to La Leche League. Even if you struggle a bit with your supply and decide — with a doctor or lactation consultant's advice, of course — that you want to supplement with formula or donor milk, the light at the end of the tunnel just might be tandem nursing, which is a truly amazing thing. (I mean, your body feeding not one, but two babies? Moms rock.)
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.