Is It Possible to Get Pregnant While You're Breastfeeding?
One question that tends to top the list of things a new mom worries about is can a breastfeeding mother get pregnant so soon again?
If you just recently had a baby, your mind is probably overflowing with a myriad of questions. Some about your new mom life. From how to know whether your baby is getting enough milk to when you’ll ever score a full night’s sleep again. One that tends to top the list for most breastfeeding mothers is can a breastfeeding mother get pregnant? You may have heard from a friend that nursing can serve as a form of birth control. While that’s not entirely untrue, it’s not the whole story either.
Can you get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding?
The simple answer is yes. Breastfeeding offers some protection from ovulation. But during your monthly cycle, it is possible to ovulate and become pregnant before getting your first period.
The key player here is the hormone prolactin, which is responsible for milk production. Prolactin inhibits the FSH hormone that triggers your ovarian follicles to release eggs. Without an egg available for fertilization, you can't get pregnant. You'll agree this is aces when you're still adjusting to new motherhood. When a mother is breastfeeding exclusively, or even on a consistent basis, it is less likely that she is going to ovulate at all until she starts to wean.
But the general thinking is that this only applies to people who are exclusively breastfeeding. It doesn't include moms supplementing with other forms of nutrition for their babies. When you’re exclusively breastfeeding, your body is getting that constant hormonal feedback. Protection works best when there’s a consistent stream of ovulation-preventing hormones in action. When you miss birth control pills, you're more liable to get pregnant, and your body interprets on-and-off breastfeeding in a similar way.
So if you don't want to have another baby just yet, your best bet is to use a reliable form of birth control as soon as you start having sex again after giving birth. That said, it's also true that you may not ovulate for several months (or even longer) after giving birth. Especially if you're exclusively breastfeeding your baby. The fact that breast milk production delays the return of menstruation is actually the basis for a contraceptive technique called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).
LAM is reported to be 98 percent effective during the first six months postpartum when you meet these conditions exactly. But the rate of effectiveness drops as your baby gets older and your situation changes – like when your baby starts solids or nurses less as he starts sleeping through the night, for example.
But in order to use this method properly, you have to meet certain criteria:
- Your baby must be younger than 6 months old.
- You have to breastfeed at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night.
- When using LAM, you can't supplement breastfeeding with formula. Pumping instead of nursing and feeding your baby solids also make LAM less effective.
Keep in mind that you could start ovulating again at any time without knowing it. That means it's possible to get pregnant before you have your first period after your baby is born. How? You're fertile around the time you ovulate, and that happens before you get your period – typically about two weeks earlier. So don't wait until you have a period to find a reliable birth control method.
Few women rely solely on LAM to prevent pregnancy, partly because of easy access to other contraceptive methods. Some women nurse their babies around-the-clock for six months.
If you want to use breastfeeding for natural family planning, talk with your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant about LAM – ideally before your baby is born.
With hormones, nothing is cast in stone. If you don't want another baby so soon after having one, talk to your doctor about birth control. He will provide you with enough information to make an informed decision.