Many women wonder whether they can get pregnant while breastfeeding. Well, the answer is yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. It may or may not be easy, but it is definitely possible. I should know, it happened to me!
That said, you have probably heard that breastfeeding can prevent fertility and this is true to an extent. Maybe it’s nature’s way of helping us space out our children. In general, fertility takes longer to return after pregnancy if you are breastfeeding.
So how does breastfeeding help prevent pregnancy?
Breastfeeding hormones help suppress ovulation. The more you breastfeed the more likely these hormones will keep you from ovulating. Many women do not ovulate at all during their first six months of breastfeeding.
LAM (Lactational Amenorrhea Method) can be used as a form of birth control
LAM is a technique that uses breastfeeding as birth control. There are specific rules, and if you do not follow them exactly it may not be effective. The rules:
Your baby is less than six months old.
Your menstrual period has not returned.
Your baby is fed on demand day and night.
Your baby is not supplemented or fed other foods.
Following these rules, the LAM method is said to be 98% or more effective in preventing pregnancy.
However, if you are not following all of the rules of LAM and you are not sure if you are fertile again; you may ovulate before your period returns. So it is possible to get pregnant before you even see your period again. If you definitely do not want to get pregnant you will want to use a back up birth control.
When will my period return?
For many breastfeeding women your period could return anywhere between 3 months to a year or more. In my case it returned around 9 months postpartum with my first baby. I was still breastfeeding on demand and once a night occasionally.
Update – For my second baby my period did not return until after he was one. And, for my third my period just returned at 13 months postpartum!
Factors that may cause your period to return sooner:
If your baby is sleeping through night or not nursing overnight.
Less nursing in general, starting solids, or supplementing.
Any sudden changes in your breastfeeding schedule.
If you go more than six hours without breastfeeding overnight or four hours during the day.
These factors may cause your period to return sooner but are definitely not a guarantee.
What if I want to get pregnant but my period has not returned?
A big factor is your baby’s age. If your baby is only 3-6 months old you are most likely going to have wait to get pregnant again unless you really cut back on breastfeeding and supplement.
If your baby is over a year old you may be able to cut back on breastfeeding a little and successfully bring back your fertility.
Here are some tips to help your fertility return
I only recommend these if your baby is over a year old, but you have to do what works for you.
Try night weaning, or going more than six hours at night without nursing.
Reduce daytime nursing. You can try cutting out a feeding, or going more than four hours between breastfeeding during the day.
Reduce duration of nursing.
Start tracking your cycle using a calendar or application.
There are many great apps out there for tracking your cycle. You can track it even if your period has not returned by using ovulation tests, or taking your basal body temperature (btw here is a great new tool for tracking BBT).
Maybe you will catch the first postpartum ovulation!
Weaning should be a last resort unless you really are ready and need to get pregnant as soon as possible. In many cases a little experimentation you can bring your fertility back even while continuing to breastfeed.
The factors that will help a woman get pregnant while breastfeeding are going to be different for everyone. There are no tried and true rules to follow so experimenting is your best bet.
In my case
My period returned around the same time that my daughter started sleeping through the night more frequently. At nine months old she still woke occasionally, and when she did I continued to nurse her back to sleep. She also increased her solids around this time and was nursing a little less frequently during the day. I did not push her towards this at all and it happened pretty naturally. I got pregnant again when she was 13 months old.
Another factor that I have heard that can affect getting pregnant again while breastfeeding is your luteal phase.
What is the Luteal Phase?
This is the time between ovulation and when your period starts. When your fertility returns while breastfeeding or after breastfeeding your luteal phase may be shorter than normal. A normal luteal phase is 12-14 days. If your luteal phase is too short it may not be able to sustain a pregnancy.
In my case it was definitely pretty short once my period returned. I think it was only six days the first postpartum cycle! It gradually lengthened to 8 or 9 days, and I believe the cycle I got pregnant it was only around 9 or 10 days. I was sure, based on my research, that I could not get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy with it this short but I did.
I only share this anecdote to show that anything is possible. While a short luteal phase while breastfeeding may be a concern, you may actually still be able to get pregnant. Obviously this will vary and affect each women differently.
A great resource if you would like to learn more about fertility, including getting pregnant while breastfeeding is the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
It’s definitely possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. If you are looking to prevent pregnancy follow the LAM method or use a backup birth control. If you want to get pregnant but have not gotten your period try some of the tips above to help bring about the return of fertility. The factors that bring the return of fertility while breastfeeding are different for every woman so experiment to find out what will work for you.
If you are already pregnant and still breastfeeding, congratulations! Please check out my article about breastfeeding during pregnancy.
Please let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below! Thanks! Jen