Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding? We have all heard one opinion or another regarding whether or not it is possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. And many of our experiences run contrary to the information we were given. There is factual information about breastfeeding and fertility available, whether you hope to avoid pregnancy after childbirth or add to your family with a baby close in age to your little one.
Much of the confusion comes not from misinformation—trusted health organizations (like the WHO and the La Leche League) are in agreement on the basic ways that lactation affects reproduction—but in the difficulty in making blanket statements about the fertility of such a large group of women (lactating women) when there are so many other factors that contribute to the issue in question.
Here are the basics of how breastfeeding can affect ovulation and conception. Please speak with a trusted health care provider and read through the recommended resources at the end of this post for more guidance.
Breastfeeding as Birth Control
You have less than a 2% chance of becoming pregnant while breastfeeding as long as the following three conditions are met:
- Your baby is younger than 6 months of age.
- You have not experienced the return of menstrual bleeding since your lochia (post-partum bleeding) ceased.
- Your baby nurses during the day and at night without supplementation (a bottle), solid foods, or a pacifier.
Beyond six months, your fertility may be further suppressed if you follow the seven standards of Ecological Breastfeeding, which include co-sleeping and breastfeeding on demand.
Obviously, these “rules” are difficult to follow for many families—especially if the mother works outside the home or chooses to feed on a schedule for other reasons.
Simply lactating (producing milk) is not a guarantee that your body will postpone ovulation. Supplementing with formula or donor breast milk, for instance, may not provide enough nipple stimulation to suppress the hormones responsible for returned fertility. Because of this, many women become fertile soon after the birth of their baby and need to take other precautions to avoid pregnancy.
Women who practice Ecological Breastfeeding can expect a return of fertility at an average of 14.6 months post-partum.
Conceiving Without Weaning
Some families worry that breastfeeding will prevent them from being able to conceive when they would like to, but they don’t want to wean their child to induce ovulation. As you can see from the number of conditions that need to be met to prevent pregnancy as described above, it is likely that conception will be possible when desired. However, those who are experiencing unwanted amenhorrea (absence of menstruation) can try the following to increase fertility:
- Gradually decreasing the number of nursing sessions with your little one.
- Observe signs of fertility and chart your cycle to determine if you are ovulating, and then time intercourse to be most effective.
- Incorporating fertility-boosting herbs and foods into your diet—take care to verify that they are safe for your nursling.
So Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
The short answer is yes, maybe. As frustrating as it is, there are so many things at play in the miracle of conception that it is impossible to answer that question definitively for any individual person.
If you are trying to avoid pregnancy while breastfeeding, review the information above, talk to a trusted health care provider, and discuss a plan of action with your partner. If you are hoping to achieve pregnancy while you have a nursling, there is hope for conceiving without weaning.
7 Rules to Delay Your Period While Breastfeeding – Breastfeedingplace.com
Breastfeeding and Fertility – Kellymom.com (many resources linked at the bottom)
Fertility Signals While Breastfeeding – Natural Fertility and Wellness (formerly Naturally Knocked Up)
*Amazon Affiliate links.