Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?
You’ve probably heard that breastfeeding is a form of birth control, but that may not be the whole story. If you recently had a baby and are breastfeeding, you probably have many questions on your mind. One of them may be what happens if you conceive now. This is a valid question, and it would be helpful to consider your options well in advance, just in case it happens.
Getting pregnant while breastfeeding is possible. Although breastfeeding inhibits ovulation to some extent, you can still ovulate and become pregnant before you get your first period after birth.
The oxytocin hormone plays a role in suppressing the brain from releasing the ovary-stimulating hormone for ovulation to happen. When you’re breastfeeding exclusively, you’re less likely to ovulate until you start weaning your baby. This method of contraception is known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).
However, this is not to say that you won’t ovulate or can’t conceive. The protection breastfeeding provides significantly reduces as time goes on after delivery. If you wish to use LAM to prevent yourself from getting pregnant, remember to do the following.
- Nurse your baby on demand: Pay attention to your baby and always follow their lead when they want to feed. Breastfeed at least every four hours during the day and every six at night. Remember that expressing milk is not an adequate substitute for breastfeeding.
- Breastfeed your baby exclusively: This means that you should not rush to introduce solid food to your baby until they are six months old. Also, avoid supplementing breast milk with water or formula. This research is still in its early stages and requires additional studies.
- Don’t use pacifiers: Allow your baby to satisfy their suckling needs whenever they want to by letting them breastfeed. Pacifiers are a risk factor for sudden interruption of breastfeeding.
- Check when you return to work: If you return to work and continue using LAM while expressing milk for your baby, your chances of getting pregnant are higher than for non-working moms using the same method.
- If your period returns: You have a higher chance of getting pregnant if your period returns while you’re still breastfeeding exclusively.
- For the method to be effective, your period should not have returned, and you must not have any spotting before the baby is six months old. This is one factor that makes it a temporary birth control method.
What if you want to get pregnant and continue breastfeeding?
Do you want to get pregnant and also continue breastfeeding? You’ll be happy to know that your chances of conceiving increase as you move further from the day of delivery. This means that you can go ahead and try to get pregnant.
If you aren't successful, consider cutting back on breastfeeding and partially introducing solid foods to the baby. Breastfeeding less often, for example, only once in the morning and once at bedtime, can stimulate the return of your period. This compromise leaves you some room to try getting pregnant while breastfeeding and allowing you to continue having a relationship with your baby.
Pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding
Breastfeeding makes it hard to quickly detect the signs of pregnancy, especially if you have irregular cycles. However, some symptoms that may indicate a pregnancy while breastfeeding include:
Early pregnancy symptoms are also closely similar to those of PMS, and it can be a little confusing for you at first. If you're in doubt, a pregnancy test will help you get the answer.
Can you continue breastfeeding while pregnant?
There are no hard rules about breastfeeding while pregnant, but ensure you get enough food if you want to do so. You should get enough calories for yourself, the breastfeeding baby, and the developing baby.
Increase your calorie intake in the second and third trimesters to keep you strong enough for the two babies. Also, learn the art of listening to your body and making healthy food choices.
The breastfeeding baby might start refusing breast milk in the first few months of your pregnancy. This can be attributed to the changing taste of your breast milk. Your milk supply may also diminish, contributing to your child's refusal to breastfeed.
On the other hand, you may be able to breastfeed throughout your pregnancy. Depending on how you feel and your milk supply, you may find yourself breastfeeding an older child and a newborn baby simultaneously. However, always give priority to the breastfeeding needs of the infant.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
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Contraception: "The Efficacy of the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) among working women."
Healthy Children: "Nursing During Pregnancy."
IPPF Medical Bulletin: "Breastfeeding and postpartum ovulation."
JOGNN: "The Use of Breastfeeding as a Contraceptive."
La Leche League International: "Fertility, “Menstruation."
Maternal Health, Neonatology and Perinatology: "Optimizing maternal and neonatal outcomes with postpartum contraception: impact on breastfeeding and birth spacing."
Obstetrics and Gynecology: "Return of ovulation and menses in postpartum nonlactating women: a systematic review."
Planned Parenthood: "Breastfeeding."
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Wiley: "Pacifier use and interruption of exclusive breastfeeding: systematic review and meta-analysis."
World Health Organization: "Healthy Eating during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding."
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