If you just recently had a baby, your mind is probably overflowing with a myriad of questions about your new mom’s life. It ranges from how to know whether your baby is getting enough milk to when you’ll ever score a full night’s sleep again. It’s a common question among new moms, and one you may find yourself feverishly researching in your postpartum life. One that tends to top the list for most breastfeeding mothers is whether or not you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. You may have heard from a friend that nursing can serve as a form of birth control and while that’s not entirely untrue, it’s not the whole story either. In this article, we will attempt answering the following questions:
- Can you get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding?
- Can you get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding and haven’t gotten your period yet?
- Why do people think of breastfeeding as birth control?
Can you get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding?
The simple answer is yes. Although breastfeeding offers some protection from ovulation, the monthly occurrence where you release a mature egg from one of your ovaries, it is possible to ovulate and become pregnant prior to getting your first period. The key players here are the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, which are responsible for milk production and the let-down reflex. Increased levels of these hormones actually suppress the brain from making the main hormone that stimulates the ovary to grow an egg each month. 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. That doesn’t mean that you won’t ovulate or conceive. The “protective” effect of breastfeeding becomes progressively less effective the longer it’s been since you delivered your baby.
Can you get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding and haven’t gotten your period yet?
Since ovulation comes before menstruation in your monthly cycle, the absence of your period does not eliminate the chance that you could be ovulating at any given point. In fact, it is most common for you to get a period about two weeks after ovulation. In other words, if you wait until you get your period to start using other forms of birth control. It may be too late to prevent pregnancy if that’s what you’re trying to do.
Why do people think of breastfeeding as birth control?
Exclusive breastfeeding, which consists of nursing at least every four hours during the daytime and at least every six hours at night, for the first six months postpartum and before the return of your period is referred to as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) of birth control. It is considered an effective form of birth control so long as all of the criteria are met. Breastfeeding outside of those criteria, especially when the mother is supplementing with formula or solids and her period has yet to return, does not offer the same contraceptive protection. For this reason, your OB/GYN will likely suggest that you start another kind of birth control if you’re not actively trying to get pregnant.
Getting pregnant while breastfeeding is half the battle. Next comes the hard work of having a healthy, comfortable pregnancy while keeping your little one happily fed. The good news is that you can continue to breastfeed through a subsequent pregnancy. Women who breastfeed have a delay in ovulation. But ovulation will happen before you start having periods again. So, you can still get pregnant during this time. Follow your health care provider’s recommendations on birth control.