There is a lot conflicting information on whether it’s safe to use a breast pump while pregnant. What are the concerns with pumping while pregnant? Can you keep exclusively pumping if you become pregnant again, or do you need to wean? Will pumping while pregnant help your milk supply after your baby is born?
This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I love! More info here.
When I was exclusively pumping for my first baby, I got pregnant again. He was already 14 months old, and I’d been very gradually weaning. Because my understanding was that pumping while pregnant wasn’t safe, I finished weaning pretty quickly after getting the positive test.
(The pregnancy hormones speeded things up quite a bit, so it wasn’t hard.)
But was this really necessary? Is it safe to pump while you’re pregnant?
Why would using a breast pump while pregnant be considered unsafe?
When your nipples are stimulated (by a baby, or by a breast pump) a hormone called oxytocin is released. Oxytocin causes the breast tissue to contract, resulting in your breastmilk letting down. This hormone also stimulates the uterus to contract.
The concern with pumping during pregnancy is that these uterine contractions might trigger pre-term labor.
Does nursing or pumping induce labor?
Possibly. A 2005 study found that 37.8% of 719 full-term, pregnant women who were randomly directed to stimulate their nipples went into labor over the following three days, as compared to 6.4% of the women who were not.
Therefore, nipple stimulation may have some impact on inducing labor in full-term pregnant women.
Nursing is considered safe during healthy pregnancies
However, many women nurse their older children throughout their pregnancies, and then tandem nurse after their baby is born.
In a healthy, low-risk pregnancy, nursing your child is considered safe. From the American Pregnancy Association:
Many women worry about breastfeeding while pregnant as breastfeeding can cause mild uterine contractions. However, in a healthy pregnancy, these contractions are not a concern, as they generally do not cause preterm labor. This is because oxytocin, the hormone released during breastfeeding that stimulates contractions, is usually released in such a small amount during breastfeeding that is not enough to cause preterm labor.
How is a low risk pregnancy defined by the APA?
- You’re not carrying multiples
- You’re not bleeding or having uterine pain
- Your provider hasn’t advised you not to have sex
- Your provider hasn’t told you that you are at risk for preterm labor or that you are high-risk
(How can nursing a baby be safe if nipple stimulation can help induce labor at term? One theory is that the body releases less oxytocin earlier in pregnancy.)
What’s the difference between nursing and pumping during low-risk pregnancies?
So if nursing is safe, why isn’t pumping? What’s the difference?
Here’s what Kellymom has to say:
It is often stated that a woman should not use a breastpump when pregnant. However, there is considerable reason to believe that pumping, like breastfeeding, will not trigger preterm labor in a healthy pregnancy.
She states that working moms should be able to continue to pump as the same as they did before they became pregnant again:
If you are pumping to provide milk for your current nursling when you are separated, this should not pose more of a problem than breastfeeding… Aim to keep your pumping in scale with what you were doing before pregnancy, or in scale with your baby’s normal breastfeeding. Sustained and intense pumping is more of an unknown and is not recommended.
It seems logical that continuing to exclusively pump in the same manner that you did pre-pregnancy would also be safe, assuming you are in a low-risk pregnancy. However, she doesn’t explicitly state this.
Will pumping while you are pregnant help your milk supply after your baby’s birth?
No, pumping while pregnant for your unborn baby will not affect your milk supply after birth.
How should you pump while you are pregnant?
Assuming you’re given the okay from your provider to pump, how should you do it?
If you are a working or exclusively pumping mom, I would suggest continuing to pump as you did before, being careful not to exceed the amount of time that you pumped in the past, or to use higher settings.
If this is your first baby or you are not breastfeeding a baby currently, I would suggest using a milk catcher hand pump like the Haakaa. You can just suction these pumps onto your breast, and it will gently pull out any milk you have.
Here’s an example of what that might look like:
View this post on Instagram
(Note: This is a lot of milk to get! Don’t be discouraged if you get much less than this.)
Bottom line: If you’re having a low-risk pregnancy, it’s probably safe to use a breast pump while pregnant, but always talk to your provider first.References
- American Pregnancy Association. “Breastfeeding While Pregnant.” https://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-while-pregnant/
- Bonyata, Kelly, IBCLC. “Is it safe to use a breastpump during pregnancy?” https://kellymom.com/tandem-faq/05pumping/
- Medela. “The Science Behind Pumping to Induce Labor.” https://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/article/282/the-science-behind-pumping-to-induce-labor