Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Is it possible to breastfeed while pregnant?

While breastfeeding typically is associated with a decrease in fertility, it is possible to become pregnant while breastfeeding, and breastfeeding does not afford 100% protection from pregnancy. For most women, it is safe to continue breastfeeding if they desire, provided they ensure that they are receiving adequate nutrition and fluid intake. While breast milk from a pregnant mother is still nutritionally strong, the hormonal changes of pregnancy will result in some changes in the content of the breast milk and the way the breast milk tastes.

Some women who have had premature labor in previous pregnancies may be advised to stop breastfeeding if they become pregnant. This is because the stimulation of the nipples that occurs during breastfeeding may trigger contractions of the uterus. In a woman prone to preterm labor, these weak uterine contractions might increase her risk of developing preterm labor. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding place high demands on the body in terms of nutritional support and rest. Other women may be advised to stop breastfeeding during pregnancy if their nutritional status is poor or if they are suffering from extreme fatigue due to the pregnancy. These decisions should be made with advice from the mother's doctor.

Is smoking harmful when breastfeeding?

Tobacco smoking is always harmful, and all mothers should be encouraged to quit smoking prior to pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, smoking cigarettes is not considered to be a reason for not breastfeeding, since breastfeeding is the optimal nutrition for newborns. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy statement on breastfeeding, "tobacco smoking by mothers is not a contraindication to breastfeeding, but health-care professionals should advise all tobacco-using mothers to avoid smoking within the home and to make every effort to wean themselves from tobacco as rapidly as possible."

Nursing mothers should understand that nicotine is passed to the baby in breast milk, and they should never nurse their baby immediately after smoking or while smoking. Babies exposed to secondhand smoke also are at risk for a number of health issues, so if a woman smokes, she should nurse her baby after smoking, in a room away from cigarette smoke. Of course, the safest policy for both mother and baby is to abstain from tobacco use while breastfeeding and forever thereafter.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/26/2016

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