If you just had a baby and you are hoping that it will be a while before you have another, you may be wondering about the likelihood of getting pregnant while breastfeeding.
Many people will tell you that breastfeeding is a reliable form of birth control, so you may be thinking that’s all there is to it. “I just breastfeed and I won’t get pregnant? Is that all I have to do?” While this may be true in the early months, it’s important to be aware of the facts.
Maybe you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and you are already wanting to add to your family and wondering how breastfeeding can affect your fertility. Is it really possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding? What if I haven’t even gotten my period yet? Do you even ovulate while you breastfeed?
There are many myths about getting pregnant while breastfeeding, fertility, and ovulation. It is important to be accurately informed so that you can have a better chance of getting pregnant again or protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy.
How Does Breastfeeding Affect Fertility?
Generally, it can take up to six weeks before your period returns after giving birth. Whenever your period does return, that is when you can consider yourself fertile.
However, if you choose to exclusively breastfeed, it can take months before your period and fertility return. This can affect your ability to get pregnant within the first six months following childbirth.
The Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) can be used as a reliable and natural form of birth control if ALL of the following requirements are met:
- You haven’t gotten your period or experienced any spotting for at least two months postpartum.
- Your baby is being breastfed on demand (at least every 4-6 hours) and not given any other solids or liquids.
- Your baby is under six months of age.
After the first six months is usually when most moms start introducing solids and when babies start sleeping in longer stretches, so the requirements for LAM are no longer met. This is usually when your period and fertility will return, increasing your chances of getting pregnant.
Can I Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
The simple answer is yes. You can still get pregnant while breastfeeding.
By nature, breastfeeding can prevent ovulation due to the release of certain hormones. If you are exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life, then it is highly unlikely that you will get pregnant.
However, once you start introducing other solids or liquids, or your baby starts sleeping through the night, ovulation is likely to return and your chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding are higher.
Can I Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding If My Period Hasn’t Returned?
It is possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding even if your period hasn’t returned yet.
Ovulation can happen up to two weeks before you start menstruating, so you may be ovulating before you know it. If you don’t want to get pregnant, it is important to start using other forms of birth control BEFORE you get your period.
Can Breastfeeding Be Used As Birth Control?
If your baby is less than six months old and exclusively breastfeeding every four to six hours around the clock (LAM), then you can consider that a reliable form of birth control.
If you don’t meet the criteria for LAM, you do have a good chance of getting pregnant again. If you aren’t looking to get pregnant right now, it is important to speak with your OB/GYN. They can recommend another reliable form of birth control that is safe to use while breastfeeding.
What Are The Symptoms of Pregnancy While Breastfeeding?
The symptoms of pregnancy while breastfeeding are generally the same as symptoms of a regular pregnancy. The only full-proof way of knowing if you are pregnant is to see your doctor.
If a medical professional confirms there is a heartbeat, sees the fetus through an ultrasound, and feels the fetus move, then you are pregnant!
There are certain things you can look out for if you are still breastfeeding, but please be aware that these are very weak indicators of pregnancy.
- Changes in the breasts.
- Changes in milk production.
- Mild contractions.
- Regular pregnancy symptoms.
If you think you may be pregnant, please see your doctor for confirmation and next steps.
Is It Safe to Breastfeed If I Do Get Pregnant?
If you do get pregnant while breastfeeding, you may be wondering if there are any safety risks you should be concerned about. Is it safe to breastfeed while pregnant? Can breastfeeding harm my baby or my fetus? Are there any challenges to breastfeeding while pregnant?
The good news is that is generally safe to breastfeed while pregnant. You may experience some mild contractions, but these contractions shouldn’t be a cause for concern in a healthy pregnancy.
These contractions are largely due to a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is released in small amounts during breastfeeding and can stimulate contractions.
This can very rarely pose the threat of miscarriage or preterm labor. Since oxytocin is released in such small amounts, there is very little risk to your pregnancy or your baby.
However, you may need to talk to your doctor if
- You have a high-risk pregnancy or may be at risk for preterm labor.
- You are having painful contractions.
- You are bleeding or having any other pains.
- You are carrying twins.
Most doctors recommend that you wait up to 18 months before getting pregnant again. If you don’t want to have another child right now, your safest bet will be to use another form of birth control as a back up.
How Can I Avoid Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
If you’re wondering whether you can get pregnant while breastfeeding because you aren’t ready for another baby, it is important to discuss other forms of birth control with your doctor. The LAM method is temporary, so talk with your OB/GYN to discuss your options.
What if I Do Want to Get Pregnant Again?
If you are wondering “Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding?” because you DO want to have another baby, there are some important things to consider.
Many experts will advise you to wait at least 18 months before you have another baby. This is because your body needs time to recover from your last baby before you are ready to have another. There is also less risk (such as low birth weight or preterm labor) involved when you wait to get pregnant.
If you choose to try for another baby, there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
- Start introducing solids to your baby. This decreases the demand for milk, which affects the hormones that prevent ovulation.
- Start training your baby to sleep through the night so that he or she goes without milk for longer periods (hopefully over six hours). This will also help with any fatigue you are experiencing when you do get pregnant.
- Start eating the right foods to increase fertility, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains.
- Take prenatal vitamins to ensure you are getting the right nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy.
- Relax. Your body just went through a major change and is about to go through even more if you do get pregnant again. If you want a healthy pregnancy and have the energy to care for two small children, try to rest whenever possible.
When To See Your Doctor
Whether you are anxious to get pregnant again or want to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, it is always important to talk to your doctor. Your doctor can recommend safe forms of birth control or advise you on what to do next if you are having trouble getting pregnant again.
It is especially important to speak to your physician if you are going through any fertility treatments. There are certain procedures you may or may not be able to continue breastfeeding through, so contact your doctor for questions or concerns regarding treatment.
Final Thoughts on Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding
No matter your reason for wondering if you can get pregnant while breastfeeding, it’s important to sort through the myths and be informed about reliable contraception or healthy techniques to increase your chance of pregnancy.
Were you able to get pregnant while breastfeeding? Did you do anything to prevent pregnancy? Share your experience with us in the comments below or bring it to our Facebook group!
Until next time!