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Breastfeeding While Pregnant: Are You at Risk for a Miscarriage?

If you conceive again while you're still breastfeeding, you may wonder whether it's safe to continue nursing throughout your pregnancy. Provided that your baby was born at full term and you didn't have any complications during your last pregnancy, you should be able to continue breastfeeding without an increased risk of miscarriage. For most women, breastfeeding while pregnant does not increase the risk of miscarriage.

Preterm Risks

In the past, women may have been discouraged from breastfeeding while pregnant due to concerns about miscarriage and adequate nutrition for the nursing baby, fetus and mother. Recent research, including a 2014 study published in the Journal of Human Lactation, has shown that breastfeeding while pregnancy causes no adverse effects to the mother, her infant or the developing fetus. As long as they have delivered full-term babies with no complications during pregnancy, women who choose to continue nursing during subsequent pregnancies appear to have no greater risk of miscarriage.

If you have a history of preterm delivery or if you're experiencing any type of pain or bleeding, though, your health care provider may encourage you to stop breastfeeding before you become pregnant again, the Mayo Clinic states.

Oxytocin's Role

Breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin, a powerful hormone that stimulates the release of milk from a mother's nipple and helps a bond form between a mother and her baby. Oxytocin is also the hormone that causes uterine contractions to occur during breastfeeding. While nipple stimulation can bring on labor in a woman who is full term, there is no evidence that breastfeeding while can cause early miscarriages in women who continue to nurse through pregnancy, reports the JHL. Women who are experiencing symptoms of preterm labor, such as mild cramping, back pain or vaginal bleeding, may need to wean their baby to prevent premature delivery, which is labor before 37 weeks' gestation.

Nutritional Concerns

In addition to concerns about miscarriage, you may wonder whether your nursing baby and developing fetus will receive enough nutrition if you continue to nurse while pregnant. Provided you follow a healthy diet, breastfeeding while pregnant shouldn't cause any harm to either baby, the Mayo Clinic notes.

Keep in mind, that breastfeeding can help you burn an additional 500 calories per day, so you may need to adjust your caloric intake and diet if you continue to breastfeed during pregnancy, notes Dr. Christine Sanders, an obstetrician and gynecologist with the Hutchinson Clinic in Kansas. "The benefits of breastfeeding are well known," she says. "By all means, if a patient is able to breastfeeding during a subsequent pregnancy, they should continue."

The Milk Effect

Even if you decide to continue nursing during pregnancy, your baby may notice changes to your breast milk, the Mayo Clinic notes. This is because pregnancy hormones will cause the taste and consistency of your breast will to change. Some babies, in fact, may end up weaning spontaneously, Sanders observes. In addition, the amount of milk you produce may lessen, requiring supplementation with formula or, if your baby is older than 1 year of age, cow's milk.

Remember that breastfeeding typically acts as a natural contraception for about the first six month's of your baby's life; after that, as your baby breastfeeds less often, ovulation will likely return. If you want to avoid pregnancy while you're still breastfeeding, make sure you use an alternate form of birth control, Sanders recommends.

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