The World Health Organization recommends that women breastfeed their children for at least two years. Some women become pregnant again and choose to continue to breastfeed during their pregnancy and beyond. While women who have healthy pregnancies with excellent diets can continue to breastfeed through pregnancy, women who are a high risk for certain pregnancy complications should exercise caution. If you experience period-type cramps while breastfeeding during pregnancy, be aware of when you should seek care.
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Oxytocin is an important hormone for childbearing women and plays multiple roles in pregnancy, birth and lactation. Oxytocin is manufactured in the hypothalamus in your brain. In late pregnancy, small amounts of oxytocin work to prepare oxytocin receptor sites in your uterus so it is sensitive to larger amounts of oxytocin in labor. Oxytocin is the main hormone that triggers uterine contractions in labor. When you breastfeed or have any manipulations of your nipples during pregnancy or postpartum, your body releases oxytocin.
Many women experience uterine contractions during pregnancy that do not result in the birth of the infant. Braxton Hicks contractions are common painless uterine contractions that do not cause the cervix to dilate. A variety of situations can stimulate uterine contractions, including dehydration, intercourse, urinary tract infections and nipple stimulation from breastfeeding or sex. For women with low-risk pregnancies, these contractions are benign and usually subside once the cause of the contractions passes or resolves.
Women who have risk factors due to complicated pregnancies or obstetric history should exercise caution and consult their pregnancy healthcare provider if they wish to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy. If you have a history of a preterm birth, are pregnant with twins, have a placenta previa or if your fetus is not growing well, you should consider discontinuing breastfeeding during your pregnancy as you are at high risk for pregnancy complications.
If you have a low-risk pregnancy and you experience period-type cramps while breastfeeding, note the frequency, intensity and duration of the cramping. Make sure you stay hydrated and eat plenty of calories to support your body, your growing fetus and your breastfeeding child. If you experience cramping, drink fluids and rest. If the cramping continues for several hours, talk to your healthcare provider. You should be evaluated to see if your cervix is starting to open.