Can I Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Whether you’re considering having another baby as soon as possible or you plan to wait a while, learn how breastfeeding affects your fertility.
You've given birth to a beautiful baby and have begun breastfeeding. Weeks or perhaps months have gone by and, despite its many challenges, your journey through motherhood has brought tremendous joy. Now, you may find yourself wondering, "can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?"
Whether you're considering having another little one as soon as possible or you'd rather wait a while between babies, it is important to know how breastfeeding affects your fertility. While exclusive breastfeeding can temporarily delay your fertility postpartum, making it more difficult to conceive while nursing, it's not impossible.
With that in mind, the short answer is yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. That said, it's a little more complicated than that!
Breastfeeding and Fertility
While it's true that breastfeeding can delay the return of your fertility postpartum, it's not impossible to get pregnant. The time it takes for a woman's period to return after giving birth can vary widely. Once you start menstruating, it is usually a sign that your fertility has returned or will return soon. As menstruation returns to a fairly regular schedule, it usually means that you are back to full fertility and breastfeeding won't have any effect on your ability to get pregnant. However, every woman's fertility and ovulation cycle is different. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your fertility.
When you breastfeed your little one, your body releases a small amount of oxytocin, a hormone that can cause uterine contractions. Despite common myths about postpartum or pregnant breastfeeding, the amount released is generally not enough to cause preterm contractions in a healthy pregnancy.
Pregnant breastfeeding is generally safe, but you should still talk with your doctor before continuing to breastfeed if you become pregnant. Breastfeeding while pregnant could cause the taste of your milk to change and may also increase the likelihood of experiencing fatigue, morning sickness, or breast tenderness.
Lactational Amenorrhea Method
We all know the numerous benefits of breastfeeding for mothers, including reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Did you know that breastfeeding also causes your body to naturally stop ovulating? This means it can postpone the return of a mother's fertility after giving birth, as it affects menstruation through interfering with certain hormone production necessary to activate ovulation. Two out of 100 people who use exclusive breastfeeding as birth control get pregnant in the six months it can be used after your baby is born. Because of this, many women use Lactation Amenorrhea Method (LAM) as a form of natural conception during the first few months after giving birth.
Although LAM can be 98 - 99.5% effective at preventing pregnancy, there are important factors that must be considered to ensure it's most effective, including:
- You gave birth less than 6 months ago.
- You breastfeed exclusively (not supplementing with formula).
- You have not started menstruating since you gave birth.
It is important to know that LAM isn’t 100% effective as a sole form of contraception, because you can get pregnant before your period begins again. Additionally, LAM does not protect against STDs. If you think you are at risk for a sexually transmitted disease, make sure to use effective contraception.
Signs of Ovulation While Breastfeeding
If you're unsure if your fertility has returned while breastfeeding, there are a few signs to look out for.
Of course, the return of your menstrual cycle is a common sign that you've begun ovulating again, though some moms begin ovulating again even before their first postpartum period so it's not always a perfect way to tell where your cycle is at.
Another sign that you may be ovulating again is that your cervical mucous temporarily becomes thicker while breastfeeding. Cramping, increased libido, and breast tenderness are other signs of ovulation while breastfeeding (though they could be signs of other things too!)