Myth Busted: Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding Is A Thing

Myth Busted: Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding Is possibleHave well-meaning friends and family told you that breastfeeding means you can’t get pregnant? Think again!

Many mothers fall for the old wives’ tale that says you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. Unfortunately, believing this could lead to you getting pregnant much sooner than you anticipated. I’ve been told this myth dozens of times. I love telling people that I conceived my fourth while breastfeeding my third child!

Getting pregnant while breastfeeding is not unheard of in the parenting world, and it happens to thousands of women a year. It is not reliable as a form of birth control, and you should absolutely not depend on it if you do not want to get pregnant any time soon. You can even get pregnant right after having birth which is known as having Irish twins (because folklore tells that Irish families typically did not prevent any pregnancy, causing them to get pregnant faster). And you don’t even have to have your period to do so.

Let’s go back to eighth-grade sex-ed class. Your period happens when an egg is not fertilized but before that can happen, your body has to ovulate. So you can ovulate before your period even comes making it totally and completely possible to get pregnant while nursing before you even know that you’re fertile. So saying, “Well, I haven’t gotten my period yet so I’ll be fine” is not a reliable form of birth control.

The act of using breastfeeding as a form of birth control is called lactation amenorrhea or LAM. LAM is only effective when a mother is exclusively breastfeeding, and it is only a temporary form of birth control. And even then it is not completely reliable.

According to experts, in order for LAM to be effective, a mother must be:

  1. Practice exclusive nursing. That means you should delay introducing solids and avoid supplementing with formula or anything else.
  2. Nurse on demand. Follow your baby’s lead and let them nurse when they want — at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours during the night. Pumping is not an adequate substitute when using LAM.
  3. Avoid using pacifiers. Instead, let your baby satisfy their sucking needs by snuggling up and letting them breastfeed.

Even then, LAM is only effective until your baby is about 6 months old when they are no longer nursing as often. Babies are usually sleeping for longer stretches of time around this age and solids are often introduced meaning that you have are not nursing for the required 4 hours. Most mothers can expect to not get pregnant during the first 6 months of her baby’s life if she is exclusively nursing, but it still happens to some– one to two in every 100 women still become pregnant while practicing LAM before their baby turns 6 months old.

The Dangers of Getting Pregnant Too Soon

There are some things to consider if you are not preventing pregnancy and you happen to get pregnant before your baby’s first birthday. Many doctors recommend that women wait to get pregnant until their previous child is over one year old, preferably 18 months old Why? There are a few reasons:

  • Too little time between pregnancies increases the risk of premature birth for your next baby. The shorter the time between pregnancies, the higher the risk of a premature birth. Premature babies are more at risk to have health problems and low birth weight.
  • Your body needs time to heal between pregnancies. If not, you could end up with severe health problems like a prolapsed uterus or diastasis recti.

Having two babies close in age is really hard, and can increase the likelihood of postpartum depression.

Myths Busted: Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding

1. Breastfeeding Amenorrhea

The old wives’ tale started because many mothers experience breastfeeding amenorrhea. I am one of those mothers. These mothers have no or little periods while they are breastfeeding. I typically don’t have my first period after birth until nine months postpartum at the earliest! I have even gone over a year without a menstrual cycle.

However, women have to remember that a lack of menstrual cycles doesn’t mean you are not ovulating. At some point, you are going to ovulate, and this is when you risk getting pregnant.

The reason why breastfeeding holds off your period is because of the hormone prolactin. Prolactin suppresses ovulation. For some women, prolactin can make conception hard even after their period returns! Everyone is different; that is key to remember.

2. Ecological Breastfeeding

These women who experience amenorrhea typically practice ecological breastfeeding, whether they know it or not. Mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies up until six months old, typically not going longer than a four hour stretch of time. If your baby starts to sleep through the night (meaning five hours or longer), then you are at risk for ovulation.

Once your introduce solid foods at six months, the chances of ovulation occurring increases. Fertility starts to return slowly when you supplement feedings with anything, from formula to food.

Related: NFP or FAM Methods While Breastfeeding

3. Tracking Cycle Signs

If you aren’t on hormonal birth or skip barrier methods, you will need to track your cycle signs to detect early signs of fertility. Doing so can prevent you from getting pregnant breastfeeding when it is undesired.

  • Cervical Mucus: As ovulation nears, your cervical mucus will increase and turn to egg white cervical mucus. Tracking your mucus lets you know that ovulation is nearing as you notice the changes.
  • Cervical Position: Another indicator that ovulation is nearing is your cervix. The cervix changes position based on your cycle. A high, soft and open cervix lets you know that ovulation is about to take place or is taking place right then.
  • High Basal Body Temperature: This sign won’t help so much, but it will let you know that you did, in fact, ovulate.

Related: How to Manage Breastfeeding and Natural Family Planning

4. Getting Pregnant Breastfeeding

If you are content with the idea of getting pregnant now, then there is nothing you need to do. Every woman is different. Some have their menstrual cycles return soon, while others have to wait for 18 months or longer! While breastfeeding can be a form of birth control for some mothers, it is not a dependable form for everyone. Because of the uncertainty, pay attention your cycle and signs that could indicate a return of your fertility.

 

Photo: shurkin_son/Shutterstock


6 thoughts on “Myth Busted: Getting Pregnant While Breastfeeding Is A Thing”

  1. As breast feeder of many years I spaced my babies using breastfeeding and absence of menstruation and it worked beautifully with about 2 years infertility. However, I must stress that one needs informed and skilled tuition to be able to identify fertile and infertile cervical mucus which is the key to knowledge of returning fertility.
    It also has the enormous benefit of education the individual about their fertile/infertile cycle – its absolutely wonderful realisation – one to shout from the hill tops!

  2. This is definitely one of those things that is very individual to the woman. I went 10 years without a period. I had 4 babies, each 2.5 years apart, and practiced child-led weaning. I never ovulated until my baby was completely weaned and would immediately get pregnant during the first ovulation cycle, so never menstruated in between babies. It would really confuse medical staff when I would fill out forms on my first pre-natal visit listing my last period as 8 years ago, etc.!

  3. I had to wean in order to get my period back — how ovulation happens without a period I don’t know— and I waited until 20 months. I was going 8 hours a day without nursing and my period still didn’t come back. But as SOON as I stopped nursing it came back and 6 weeks later I got pregnant. Now my baby is back on the boob even though it’s only for soothing! And since I’m pregnant, it kind of hurts sometimes so I have to cut her off.

  4. “You can get pregnant breastfeeding”? This title is grammatically problematic. Last i knew, conception does not take place from breastfeeding. That is what your article’s title says. Like if you said you can get pregnant kissing or you can get pregnant dreaming. Even saying “you can get pregnant while breastfeeding” is a strange awkward incestuous statement. I think you meant to say “You can ovulate while breastfeeding.” or “You can get pregnant, even though you are a breastfeeding mother.”

  5. This is news?
    When I went for my six week checkup after giving birth I was ovulating. I was also 100% breastfeeding. My doctor confirmed that I was ovulating based on physical exam and copious cervical mucus. He said “be sure you use birth control because you are absolutely ovulating.” Sure enough I had a period two weeks later and continued to menstruate regularly for three years of breastfeeding.

    No pumps, and no solids during the first eight months. Exclusive. And definitely ovulating.

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