I really never imagined I’d be nursing during a pregnancy. It amazes me the endurance of this tradition we’ve made and how it’s seen us through so much.
I don’t know if almost three-year-old MaiTai will tire of it soon, or if aversion will strike the crazy into me and call a halt by my discretion. Or if we’ll just keep nursing like we always have, because it’s as normal a thing to do as would be not choosing to continue.
I do know that nursing isn’t so comfortable anymore. Aversion is milder so far than with bleeding cycles, but it just feels… different. Not all oxytocin-rush-of-pleasantness, squeeze-him-tight and never let go, butterflies of love swooping through my body kind of stuff like I wrote about here.
It feels how I imagine some people who’ve never breastfed might think breastfeeding feels like — a little person sucking on your skin, perhaps a most unwanted hickey? Still it’s not “gross” (he’s my baby, he’ll never be icky to me!) but it’s not a street paved in my favor as far as physical contentment. Emotionally though? Another story.
You see, I do love sitting down to care for him like this. Most of the time we nurse at home now, so I’m blessed with this special circumstance perfectly set up for cherishing every little piece of him. An exclusive moment to languish in the feel of his hair, his milky giggle, his ticklish ears… we nurse and it’s just us together in mutual admiration.
In his younger days I employed many moments like this to catch up with things on my phone or rest or eat or gather otherwise unattended thoughts. He nursed so frequently that it seemed more unusual to have both my breasts free, after all. The nursing sessions weren’t always so timeless; in fact I remember months’ worth that seemed endless and I have no regrets about doing what I needed to protect my sanity.
These days the nursing moments are preciously fewer and farther between. Time management carries a much different meaning now…
When Breast Milk Turns to Saltwater…
About a month before I conceived our newest baby, MaiTai stopped nursing on my left breast. For weeks there was no explanation. Then one day while nursing on my right breast, he told me, “This side is yummy, and [pointing to my left breast] that side is yucky!” He wasn’t trying to be mean; in fact, he was giggling as he broke the news. Though I’ll admit I was briefly offended. And a bit worried, too!
Curiosity spurred me to try it for myself. A hand-expressed droplet from the right side tasted like a candy bar flavored smoothie as usual, but the left side… it tasted like… salt water?!? Am I tasting salt water??, I panicked a bit.
After researching, I learned the salty taste is not dangerous and has no bearing on the nutritional goodness of the milk.
A NOTE ABOUT NATURAL FLAVORS IN BREAST MILK:
The flavors in breast milk do bear an important role in a child’s diet in the manner of establishing taste acceptance. Did you know that our first tastes are actually in the womb? That’s right, amniotic fluid is known to carry the flavors of what the mother has consumed.
Of course, this carries on when the baby starts breastfeeding, too. Generally, breast milk is sweet, sometimes nutty, and usually far too sugary for adult tastes. However, the flavor isn’t stagnant; nature didn’t intend for eating to be boring! Whereas formula’s flavor (corn syrup?) is unchanging, breast milk’s taste is affected by it’s composition (high-lipase milk may taste bitter, metallic, or smell soapy, all of which are usually harmless), what the mother has eaten, and hormone fluctuations (for example, due to intense exercise, when menstruating, or if she’s pregnant).
“[W]eanling animals actively seek and prefer the flavors of the foods eaten by their mother during nursing and are more likely to accept unfamiliar flavors if they experience a variety of different flavors during the nursing period,” says Julie Mennella, known for her work in the science of “flavor memories.”
Mennella’s research has shown these flavor profiles actually influence a child’s solid food preferences, too. (Suffice it to say, now’s a good time to rethink the junk food and give your child a chance to associate fruits and veggies with his favorite thing -– breastfeeding!) Especially since most kids have such an insatiable sweet tooth. But wait -– where did that come from? Mennella explains:
“At birth, sweet liking ensures the acceptance of that which infants need to survive — the sweet taste of their mothers’ milk. Heightened preferences for sweet tastes, which persist throughout childhood and adolescence, may have an ecological basis since, in nature, sweet-tasting foods, such as fruits, are associated with energy-producing sugars, minerals, and vitamins.”
In my case, the taste change indicated the milk’s residence in a certain stage of the weaning process. Weaning milk tastes saltier because it gathers higher levels of sodium and chloride when sitting untouched for a long period, as opposed to milk made for a breast that’s emptied frequently.
I came upon this conclusion after eliminating other possible causes of salty-tasting milk, which include mastitis or breast infection (unlikely with a toddler), a broken capillary or trapped blood, clogged duct, pregnancy (colostrum tastes unlike mature milk), and normal hormone changes.
So, it’s impossible to know whether MaiTai decided to stop nursing on the left side, then causing it to signal the production of weaning milk — or if the weaning milk came first and the taste change persuaded his focus on the familiar sweetness of the right side. In any case, it seems that if my breasts are “half weaned” then maybe so is MaiTai.
Thus far, he’s continued to nurse on the right side for nine weeks of pregnancy. He asks to “nanoo” almost every morning, and occasionally during the day but just for comfort as he doesn’t seem to draw out much milk then. On a day when I leave the bed before he rises, he might not have ideal opportunity to nurse at all. It wasn’t until nine weeks into pregnancy that he told me BOTH sides are now yucky (though he was happy to snack from the pair anyway). Sorry kiddo, I don’t control what goes on in the milk factory!
A few common questions about breastfeeding during pregnancy:
IS BREASTFEEDING POSSIBLE WHILE PREGNANT?
Yes! Read these Myths vs Facts on the topic of knocked-up nursing. Then read “What You Need to Know About Breastfeeding During Pregnancy” by Megan Rabideau, wherein she discusses common issues like nursing aversion, tender nipples, sibling bonding and more. Bronwyn Warner, ABA Counsellor, discusses what else you can expect when breastfeeding during pregnancy in this article for the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
IS BREASTFEEDING SAFE WHILE PREGNANT?
Not only is it safe, it’s rather common, so there are plenty of breastfeeding mamas who you can monitor for quality assurance purposes. In various studies, babies born to mothers who breastfed during pregnancy did not show higher risk factors for health compared to those with mothers who were not breastfeeding.
In the event of an especially problematic pregnancy, consult a doctor first (you’re probably already double-checking that everything from your favorite perfume to your favorite TV show is A-O.K. for gestating babe anyway).
This article by KellyMom explains how the pregnant body is perfectly suited to nourish children of different ages without sacrificing one’s health at the expense of another, or posing a threat to the mother’s health (the article also reminds about preterm labor signs). KellyMom details how the pregnant uterus is self-protecting against labor-triggering contractions from nursing (oxytocin surges):
“The specter of breastfeeding-induced preterm labor appears to spring in large part from an incomplete understanding of the interactions between nipple stimulation, oxytocin, and pregnancy…The first little-known fact is that during pregnancy less oxytocin is released in response to nipple stimulation than when a woman is not pregnant…But the key to understanding breastfeeding during pregnancy is the uterus itself.
Contrary to popular belief, the uterus is not at the beck and call of oxytocin during the 38 weeks of the ‘preterm’ period. Even a high dose of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) is unlikely to trigger labor until a woman is at term. Many discussions of breastfeeding during pregnancy mention “oxytocin receptor sites,” the uterine cells that detect the presence of oxytocin and cause a contraction. These cells are sparse up until 38 weeks, increasing gradually after that time, and increasing 300-fold after labor has begun.
The relative scarcity of oxytocin receptor sites is one of the main lines of defense for keeping the uterus quiescent throughout the entire preterm period—but it is not the only one. …In order for oxytocin receptor sites to respond strongly to oxytocin they need the help of special agents called ‘gap junction proteins’. The absence of these proteins renders the uterus ‘down-regulated,’ relatively insensitive to oxytocin even when the oxytocin receptor site density is high. And natural oxytocin-blockers, most notably progesterone, stand between oxytocin and its receptor site throughout pregnancy.
With the oxytocin receptor sites (1) sparse, (2) down-regulated, and (3) blocked by progesterone and other anti-oxytocin agents, oxytocin alone cannot trigger labor. The uterus is in baby-holding mode, well protected from untimely labor.”
WHAT ARE SPECIAL THINGS A PREGNANT BREASTFEEDER SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
Delayed return to nursing:
Many children who weaned during pregnancy, either at their own behest or a caregiver’s encouragement, may take up nursing again when the new baby arrives. Seeing their sibling nurse and noticing the return of abundant, free-flowing sweet milk may inspire them to nurse again, sometimes even more frequently or enthusiastically than the baby!
Decreased milk supply:
Due to the drop-off in milk production that often occurs in the second trimester, or in reaction to a change in milk flavor, a large number of children temporarily or permanently self-wean at this time.
*Reminder: galactogogues (milk-boosting items such as medicines and herbs) are not considered safe for use during pregnancy.*
Wanting to wean:
Click for common weaning concerns from nursing strikes to night weaning to tooth decay myths and more.
BUT… WHY WOULD A WOMAN EVEN WANT TO BREASTFEED DURING PREGNANCY?
Baby-led weaning is usually easier than forcibly training the child “out” of the nursing routine, so it can be a blessing. The decision, of course, really depends on what keeps the particular family collectively happiest.
Nursing sessions may offer a pregnant mother the chance to sit down, breathe, and relax for a few minutes while her child calmly and quietly nurses (to an experienced mother, “quiet” really just means “tolerably still,” volume irrelevant). She’s given a respite from clearing away the legions of wooden blocks and freeze-dried strawberries that prohibit entry to all walking paths, and a moment to get cuddly-close with her big kid who no longer fits in his babywearing sling over mom’s big belly. She can work, provide, and enjoy herself and her child, relax and take those deep, uninterrupted breaths…all at once.
Some mothers are also pleased to find that breastfeeding lessens morning sickness (unfortunately, for nearly as many others it has the precise opposite effect. But let’s not harp on the bad, shall we?).
Mother-led weaning is not exactly easy, and may be more trouble than it’s worth for a mother who’s also dealing with a new pregnancy. Continuing to nurse an emotional older child per the usual routine may make for a smoother ride than launching into the unexpected territory of new alternatives that intend to keep a child behaviorally stable and emotionally sound, yet sometimes only confuse a child who’s not ready to accept them.
“Trust yourself to make the best choice for your family” — Hilary Dervin Flower, Ma, author.