Preparing for a new baby is a huge deal all on its own. But preparing for a new baby while you’re still nursing their soon-to-be big sibling comes with its own unique set of questions, worries, and challenges. Like, breastfeeding while pregnant is one thing, but is it safe to pump while pregnant?
You’re exhausted, touched out, and feeling all sorts of pregnancy side effects, so let’s cut to the chase: if you are actively nursing another child and already pumping when you become pregnant, it’s likely OK to pump. However, there are definitely some things to take into consideration before you do.
Can you breast pump while pregnant?
You can pump breast milk while pregnant, but it’s important to understand that doing so has risks and should be cleared with your doctor first.
“Pumping while pregnant is generally not advised unless you are pumping to feed a little one who is still nursing,” Dr. Crystal Berry-Roberts, a board-certified OB-GYN at Austin Regional Clinic explains. Berry-Roberts stresses that there are risks involved if you choose to pump while pregnant. “Pumping while pregnant can stimulate the release of oxytocin which can cause the uterus to contract,” she explains. “If done early on in the pregnancy, this could increase the risk of miscarriage.”
However, these possible risks should also be weighed against your nursing child’s nutritional needs. If you are nursing a particularly young baby and need to pump to provide them with optimal nutrition, the benefits of pumping for them may outweigh the potential for complications during a healthy pregnancy. “As long as there aren’t any significant risk factors and the doctor doesn’t order pelvic rest — aka, no sex — then there is no reason to restrict pumping or nursing,” registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant Tera Hamann says.
Here’s the thing, though — both pumping and breastfeeding while pregnant can cause contractions, so paying attention to your body is key. “Random contractions typically are not an issue, but if they are getting stronger and/or more regular, you should stop,” Hamann explains. Outside of the first trimester, it’s likely just Braxton hicks contractions (for which she recommends pushing fluids), but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Are there benefits to pumping while pregnant?
During late pregnancy, pumping while pregnant can potentially help prepare your body for labor. “Pumping while pregnant can be considered later in the pregnancy when term at 37+ weeks to see if contractions can be generated,” Dr. Berry-Roberts explains. “This could bring about some cervical change and may have a positive impact on labor.” This could be especially helpful if you want to have a non-medicated birth, as it can stimulate contractions without medical intervention.
So, it can help your body get ready to give birth, but does pumping while pregnant have any impact on your milk supply? “There is a common misconception that pumping while pregnant can help increase milk supply,” Hamann explains. Unless you’re already nursing another child, Hamann says that “milk supply does not begin to be established until after a hormone surge when the placenta separates.”
If you do pump while pregnant and are able to store breast milk for future use, it can help ease the pressure you may experience after birth to formula feed — especially if you have your heart set on nursing. “Many women are not given appropriate education on breastfeeding and are pressured for various reasons to give supplements,” Hamann explains. “Having stored milk can provide that nutrition without having to use formula.” Though as always, fed is best, so do whatever works for your family.
Even if you aren’t currently nursing another child, pumping or expressing breast milk by hand while pregnant can be done to collect colostrum before you give birth. This is known as antenatal expression, and Caitlyn Parker, an IBCLC with The Lactation Network, explains that it’s usually safe for anyone who’s more than 37 weeks along and not considered high-risk.
“There are benefits to hand-expressing colostrum while pregnant,” Parker says. “First, you are learning how to hand-express before the baby arrives, a skill that is very important to know postpartum. Second, if you are able to hand-express colostrum, you can save the colostrum in case your baby needs supplementation after birth. If you know your baby may need special care after birth, this may be a good option to explore.”
Are there risks to pumping while pregnant?
As Berry-Roberts explained above, there is a risk of miscarriage if you pump during early pregnancy. However, if you are already breastfeeding and pumping when you get pregnant, you should discuss the risks and benefits of continuing to pump with your doctor. “Any type of pumping, — electric, manual, and hand expressing — can cause contractions which could lead to labor,” Parker says. For this reason, she recommends that you always check with your healthcare provider before pumping while pregnant.
Additionally, pumping while pregnant can cause sore nipples and dehydration. You already know you should drink lots of water while breastfeeding, but pregnancy itself is extremely taxing, so it’s even more important to stay aware of your body. “Pumping can cause contractions so it’s important to listen to your body and stay well hydrated,” Hamann says. “When in doubt, do not hesitate to call your doctor and/or go in to be seen if you have any concern.”
Now, let’s address the nipple situation. “Pregnancy tends to cause nipples to be sore already, pumping can make it worse,” Hamann explains. “You want to be careful to avoid soreness that may hinder your comfort and ability to nurse your newborn.”
The bottom line is that pumping while pregnant can come with risks — especially in early pregnancy — so you should talk to your healthcare provider before deciding to do so. If you want to do it and you can do so safely, that’s amazing. But if not, don’t stress. “Not everyone leaks prior to delivery and not every person can get any output from pumping during pregnancy,” Hamann explains. Additionally, your milk can dry up if you were nursing when you got pregnant, because hormones, of course.
But thankfully, Hamann says that “being able to get or save any milk does not signify anything in regards to future milk supply.” Whew! Now you have one less thing to worry about.
Crystal Berry-Roberts, M.D., MBA, FACOG, board-certified OB-GYN at Austin Regional Clinic
Tera Hamann, BSN, RN, IBCLC
Caitlyn Parker, IBCLC with The Lactation Network