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Disclaimer: The information in this post is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.


Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?

Can you get pregnant while breastfeedingCan 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.

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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.

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Can I get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?

Image Credit: Esparta on Flickr

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.

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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.

Further Reading:

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)

Books:* 

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler
Natural Birth Control Made Simple, by Barbara Kass-Annese
Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, by Sheila Kippley

Other Resources:

Fertility Flower – Online fertility charting
Fertility Friend – Online fertility charting (free option)

*Amazon Affiliate links.


Anjanette Barr is a wife and mom of three living in Juneau, Alaska and loving the life God has blessed her with. Her days are filled with lots of silly antics and laughter, mountains of laundry, and more love than she could ever hope for or deserve. She blogs at Raising the Barrs. Find her also on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

Comments

  1. Stephanie Wiersma says:

    This is great! :) In my experience, after each baby it took at least a year to get pregnant again. I know plenty of women who go much longer, as well as women who get pregnant 3 months postpartum, all solely nursing! You just never know what your body is going to do.

  2. I breastfed my son for 15 months, and during the last four months of that time, I was pregnant with my daughter. I would love to offer some advice: Be sure you are taking PLENTY of good vitamins–not the kind you pick up at the supermarket or the pharmacy. Consult a nutritionist, if necessary, or at least go to the health food store and ask for some advice. Your body is doing triple duty (plus taking care of a little one), and the supply of food you’re getting does NOT have enough nutrients to support all that’s going on.

    I wish someone had told me this. I believe a lot of the problems we experienced with our daughter early on could have been prevented with some better nutrition prenatally. I was eating healthy and I was taking vitamins, but I just don’t think I was getting enough. My cousin was pregnant with the exact same timing, also with a son and a daughter, and her daughter was born with spinabifida. There was an unknown family history of scoliosis, but she also admits she wasn’t getting the necessary nutrition to support all her body was trying to do prenatally. It’s a simple step, but an important one.

    • Absolutely! That is an important related topic! Most of us are receiving inadequate nutrition for pregnancy in general – hence the need for vitamins. Nursing can definitely increase the burden on our bodies to provide. Sometimes that means our bodies take from mom – leading to bone loss/dental trouble among other tyhings. And sometimes our babies don’t get what they need either. Dense nutrition is important while pregnant, and especially crucial if breastfeeding while pregnant!

  3. I must be the oddball then. Lol,I co-slept,exclusively breastfed on demand, and got pregnant while nursing twice (once with an 8 month old and once with a ten month old ) I even drank tons of water,took algae and chlorophyll to increase supply during pregnancy but was forced to stop due to severe(could not talk through them) contractions. I was heartbroken to be forced to wean,I wanted them to make that choice…:( makes me wonder if we are all a little different?

    • For sure we are all a bit different. :) But you aren’t an oddball. Fertility is only suppressed with any reliability for the first six months if you meet all of those conditions. Beyond six months it MAY be suppressed further but it is very individual. I quoted an AVERAGE 14.5 months without ovulation for those who ecologically breastfeed, but remember that with an average there will always be statistics on either side – more or less time. I’m sorry you had to wean. :( It’s always difficult to end that part of your relationship no matter when it comes. I weaned my 2 year old while pregnant because of fatigue and it was hard even then!

  4. I had 8 children in 11 years and didn’t stop Breastfeeding each previous baby until I was at least several months pregnant with the next one. Those years were very exhausting, but I’m now blessed with 8 children I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gotten pregnant while breastfeeding!
    –Gena

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