Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Chances are you’ve heard about some of breastfeeding’s benefits—for Baby and you! But is birth control one of them? Some parents swear that breastfeeding can keep them from getting pregnant. Could that be true? The short answer is kind of…and that answer comes with a big BUT. It’s important to know that ultimately you can still get pregnant while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding as Birth Control
There’s some evidence that breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of pregnancy. Known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), this temporary form of birth control relies on a lack of a period (and thus, absence of ovulation) as its driving force.
LAM only really works if your period is delayed, and that delay depends on the production of the hormone oxytocin. The love hormone that played such a vital role in pregnancy also plays a starring role in breastfeeding by helping to produce milk. While the brain is under the spell of oxytocin to make milk, it suppresses the hormone responsible for producing eggs in the ovaries. That’s why many exclusively breastfeeding parents don’t get their periods until around six months postpartum.
- Your period has not returned.
- You are fully or nearly fully breastfeeding (going no longer than 4 hours during the day or 6 hours at night between breastfeeds, max).
But LAM isn’t a straightforward method of contraception. If you’re relying on breastfeeding to keep you from getting pregnant again, you have to do it to a T. You must:
- Practice exclusive nursing, which can mean delaying the introduction of solid foods and formula
- Nurse on demand and ideally avoid using a breast pump (according to American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it’s unclear whether pumping decreases the effectiveness of LAM)
- Ideally avoid pacifiers
Although exclusively breastfeeding might seem like a convenient form of birth control, it is not guaranteed that the effectiveness will last as time passes. Once your period is back, LAM no longer works. And remember, you will ovulate about two weeks before your first post-baby period shows up, so it’s possible you could get pregnant before Aunt Flo waves the red flag that you’re fertile again. If you’re not ready to have another child yet, it’s wise to have a backup method to LAM. And, of course, it’s important to know that LAM does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Keep in mind that a few signs of pregnancy look and feel a lot like the same sensations of breastfeeding. If any of these side effects of breastfeeding start to feel more intense, then it might be time to take a pregnancy test.
- Excessive thirst
- Reduced milk production
- Increased hunger
- Tender breasts
Should I stop breastfeeding if I’m trying to get pregnant?
If you’re trying to get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding, then you might be wondering if nursing can hurt your chances. The good news is that it is possible to conceive while breastfeeding.
If you haven’t yet gotten your period and want to try to jumpstart ovulation, you could play with your feeding schedule by introducing solids, bottles, or formula—depending on how old your baby is and what they are developmentally able to handle. Of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life if you can. Once you get pregnant, it should be safe to keep breastfeeding, as long as you’re getting enough nutrients and fluids. Talk to your doctor to be sure.
The bottom line: If you’re open to getting pregnant again and are already exclusively breastfeeding, feel free to try the LAM method. But if you’re not ready to welcome another baby (and who could blame you, you’re still in the trenches right now!), you’re better off with other methods of contraception, such as birth control pills or an IUD. When you go in for your six-week checkup, ask your OB/GYN about your options! The bottom line: Though exclusive breastfeeding can keep pregnancy at bay, it’s not an iron-clad form of birth control.
More on Breastfeeding:
- The Best Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding
- How to Prep for Breastfeeding Success
- What to Know About Extended Breastfeeding
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- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: US Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Postpartum Contraceptive Access Initiative Options for Postpartum Contraception
- Consensus Statement on the Use of Breastfeeding as a Family Planning Method, Contraception, May 1989
- Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, Pediatrics, June 2022
- A Comparative Study of Breastfeeding During Pregnancy: Impact on Maternal and Newborn Outcomes, The Journal of Nursing Research, March 2012
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.