One of our readers contacted us with a GREAT question about colostrum.
“If you breastfeed throughout your complete pregnancy do you still make colostrum for the new baby?”
We are delighted to address this topic and welcome more questions from our readers. It is our pleasure to share research and experience with you!
The answer is YES! Usually mothers experience a decrease in their milk production during pregnancy as progesterone levels rise and prolactin levels go down. You may begin producing small amounts of colostrum in late pregnancy. When you birth the placenta, the prolactin levels shoot up, starting the boom of milk production that starts with colostrum. It’s like your body does a reset. So don’t worry, your newborn will be able to enjoy the same thick, antibody packed first milk that your first child got.
Breastfeeding two or more children at once is called tandem nursing. If you are about to embark on this journey I highly recommend the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond by Hilary Flower (2003). It’s packed full of research references, illustrations, quotes from mothers, and quotes from toddlers (so cute!). All of the information that I share with you now is from this book.
So, what exactly happens to your milk when you conceive, grow a baby, and finally give birth?
Breastfeeding during pregnancy
The American Academy of Family Physicians states that “if the pregnancy is normal and the mother is healthy, breastfeeding during pregnancy is the woman’s personal decision.”
You can relax about your health and the health of your baby.
Many women (though not all) report that their milk “dries up” or diminishes in quantity by about mid-pregnancy. Because of the high levels of progesterone during pregnancy, your alveoli (tiny pockets for milk storage) may loosen and not hold milk as well.
You and your nursing toddler may have to find a new kind of normal if your milk supply diminishes, changes in taste, or if you experience discomfort when you breastfeed.
Remember, if your pregnancy is not high risk, the decision to nurse during pregnancy is a parenting decision.
You may have heard that breastfeeding increases levels of oxytocin in your body and that high levels of oxytocin could cause labor to start prematurely. If your care provider or well meaning friend or relative mentions this as a risk, remember that having sex produces much more oxytocin than breastfeeding. If your doctor says that it’s okay to have sex, breastfeeding should be okay, too!
Birth and colostrum
When your new baby is born, followed by the placenta, those progesterone levels go down and your body will begin to make prolactin. Prolactin will seal up those little alveoli and colostrum will begin to form. Your breasts will secrete this thick, clear substance that has many amazing health benefits. It’s your baby’s first milk, and it’s jam-packed with antibodies. And that’s not all. Colostrum coats your baby’s digestive tract, protecting it from harmful bacteria and aiding in digestion. It is also a natural laxative. Colostrum helps your baby push out meconium, or baby’s first poo, that is very dark and dense.
Experienced tandem nursing mothers as well as lactation consultants like Anne Smith of Breastfeeding Basics, recommend breastfeeding the newborn first, then your toddler. This way, your newborn will be sure to get the colostrum that he needs. Your toddler can also benefit from the immunological proteins and laxative effect of colostrum.
If your toddler was getting used to your diminished milk supply during pregnancy, she may be pleasantly surprised to have milk again! Don’t be alarmed if your toddler fattens up a bit, or if her stool is a bit loose. It’s not diarrhea, it’s just the colostrum changing the consistency of her stool, and it’s harmless.
Hilary Flower’s book contains lots of cute and informative little cartoons like this one (page 59).
Nursing a baby and a toddler
During the course of about 10 days, your colostrum will gradually change into transitional milk. You needn’t worry about your toddler taking all the colostrum. It doesn’t “run out.” It just slowly changes from thick and clear to runny and creamy during the first two months.
There are so many ways to tandem nurse. Some women nurse both children at the same time. Some find it important to establish limits for the older child. You may give it a go and then decide that tandem nursing is not for you. Your toddler may decide to wean, or he may want to nurse more than the newborn (ahem, that’s what happened at our house).
Whatever your tandem nursing journey brings, it is important that you feel supported in your decisions. There is not one way to breastfeed. Just like other aspects of motherhood, trial and error is the name of the game. Try it (or not), see if it works, change, grow, make mistakes. You are not alone!
My experience with tandem nursing
Steven was born when Gianina was 18 months old. She nursed once or twice a day while I was pregnant. Besides some discomfort in the beginning of my pregnancy, I found nursing to be the easiest way to relax. When Steven was born, he wanted to nurse way more than I ever imagined possible. And when he nursed, Gianina wanted to nurse, too. The first time that she nursed after his birth I remember her pointing to my breast as if to say, “There’s milk now!” She seemed to fatten up though she was eating less table food. Her poop started to resemble newborn poop.
One of my friends said to me, “Good for you that you were able to keep nursing Gianina. I never could have breastfed in tandem.”
But I didn’t ever consider tandem nursing to be the more difficult route. In fact, I didn’t feel like weaning Gianina because for us, weaning would have been more stressful.
I felt very alone in my tandem breastfeeding life, which is why reading about other mothers’ experiences meant so much to me. Questions and doubts would run through my mind, but I kept them to myself because I knew that most people, including my pediatrician, would just tell me to stop nursing.
Here at Breastfeeding World we know that motherhood is a time when we need to stick together, learn from each other, and support each other’s choices. Thanks for being a part of our community!
Do you have some inspiring tandem nursing stories that you would like to share with other mothers drop us a comment below! Do you have other questions about nursing a newborn and a toddler, drop us a comment below as well!
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