You may have heard that breastfeeding prevents pregnancy, but it’s not that simple: you can still get pregnant while breastfeeding. Many birth control methods are safe to use if you don’t want to conceive again, including one that may be able to turn nursing into temporary birth control.
Many people breastfeed their baby after giving birth (although it’s important to remember that some people can’t or don’t breastfeed, and that’s okay, too!).
You may have heard the rumor that you can’t get pregnant if you’re nursing, and you may be wondering: can you get pregnant while breastfeeding? Turns out, it’s a common misconception that you can’t. The simple answer is: you
can get pregnant while breastfeeding.
However, just like when you’re not breastfeeding, there are lots of ways to prevent
pregnancy, including forms of hormonal and barrier birth control. And, the role between pregnancy and breastfeeding isn’t quite so straightforward: when done in a very particular way, breastfeeding can act as temporary birth control for up to six months after giving birth.
If, on the other hand, you’re breastfeeding and want to conceive again, it’s entirely possible to continue breastfeeding and carry a pregnancy at the same time.
Here’s what this all means.
Why can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?
So, what exactly happens in your body when you’re breastfeeding? When you breastfeed a baby regularly, it can prevent ovulation.
Ovulation is the phase of your menstrual cycle when your ovaries release an egg. You have to ovulate to be able to get pregnant. On the flipside, if you’re not ovulating, you can’t get pregnant.
That’s where the rumor that you
can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding can come from. But just because breastfeeding can stop ovulation doesn’t mean it always does, and it’s absolutely possible to still become pregnant. It all depends on your body and your ovulation.
If you don’t want to conceive while breastfeeding, you need to use birth control—just like during any other time.
What types of birth control can you use while breastfeeding?
If you were hoping the answer to “can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?” was “no,” you still have options! If you don’t want to get pregnant while breastfeeding, there are many birth control options available to you, including the lactational amenorrhea method, certain hormonal methods, and barrier methods.
Lactational amenorrhea method (LAM)
Breastfeeding regularly can block ovulation. By doing so, breastfeeding can, in certain cases, act as a temporary form of birth control. This is known as the
lactational amenorrhea method, or LAM. “Lactational” refers to breastfeeding, and “amenorrhea” refers to not having a period.
LAM is a family planning method of contraception. Like other family planning methods, you have to carefully follow a set of guidelines for LAM to be effective.
There are three criteria that must be met for LAM to prevent pregnancy:
You breastfeed regularly and exclusively You don’t get your period You’re less than six months postpartum You breastfeed regularly and exclusively
Breastfeeding regularly means that you nurse your baby at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night. If you nurse more infrequently than that, you’re more likely to begin ovulating again. If you’re ovulating, you can get pregnant.
Breastfeeding exclusively means that you don’t feed your baby solid food or formula. It also means that you don’t pump and you don’t bottle feed your baby, even if you’re bottle feeding with breastmilk. Your baby needs to nurse directly from your breast to prevent ovulation. This can make LAM a difficult option for people who have to return to work or spend long periods of time away from home.
It’s important to note that pumping, bottle feeding, and/or using formula are perfectly good ways of feeding your baby! These methods just make LAM less effective and, if LAM is your only form of birth control, they increase your chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding.
You don’t get your period
For LAM to work effectively, you also can’t get your
period. Getting your period means that you’re ovulating, and if you’re ovulating it means you can get pregnant. If you haven’t gotten your period or experienced spotting since within the first six weeks following your baby’s birth, LAM may be a viable method of birth control for you.
Keep in mind that you can start ovulating again before getting your period, which can complicate using LAM. At-home fertility test kits like
Oova can help you keep track of your menstrual cycle and know when you’ve started ovulating.
You’re less than six months postpartum
Finally, you have to be less than six months post-partum to use LAM, meaning your baby has to be less than six months old. Beyond six months, your chances of beginning to ovulate increase, regardless of whether you’re still nursing.
You also may
introduce solid foods when your baby is over six months, which makes LAM less effective at preventing pregnancy, as well. Other forms of birth control while breastfeeding
If you’re using LAM as contraception and don’t want to conceive, consider having a back-up form of birth control ready for as soon as your period begins again, you introduce formula or solid foods into your baby’s diet, or your baby reaches six months—whichever comes first.
Aside from LAM, there are lots of other forms of birth control that are safe to use while breastfeeding. Options include:
Barrier methods like condoms or diaphragms Certain hormonal methods like the shot, the implant, Skyla and Mirena intrauterine devices (IUDs), and mini-pills (progestin-only pills)
start using these birth control methods right after your baby is born. It’s a good idea, however, to talk to your doctor about what your body can handle, and when.
Avoid birth control methods with estrogen—including the pill, the patch, or the ring—for three weeks after giving birth.
What are the chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding?
While the answer to “can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?” is a simple “yes,” what are the actual chances of conceiving? When used perfectly in accordance with these guidelines, research suggests that
lactational amenorrhea method has a 98% success rate. In reality, however, this number is likely lower among breastfeeding people who actually use LAM, given its strictness.
Keep in mind that LAM is only a temporary form of birth control, and can’t be used after your baby is six months old. Additionally, LAM is no longer effective if you’re ovulating. If your menstrual cycle is irregular, it can be difficult to know when you’ve started ovulating again, and many people experience
irregular cycles postpartum. This can complicate using LAM as birth control, and underlines the importance of having a back-up method. What if you want to get pregnant while breastfeeding?
It’s of course entirely possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding.
The chances that you’ll conceive increase with time. Remember, even when correctly using LAM as a form of birth control, it only works for six months post-birth. If you don’t have a history of
infertility, you’ll likely start ovulating and be able to conceive again sometime after this six-month mark.
In order to be able to get pregnant, you need to be ovulating. To help restart ovulation, you can try incorporating things that make LAM less effective, like:
Reducing the regularity of your skin-to-skin breastfeeding sessions Pumping and bottle feeding more frequently Introducing solid foods (when it’s safe to do so) >>MORE: Signs of Ovulation After Giving Birth
recommend waiting at least six months between pregnancies, and caution against getting pregnant fewer than eighteen months after your previous delivery. Consider talking with your doctor before trying to conceive again to make sure it’s safe.
It’s also possible to continue to breastfeed while you’re pregnant. If this is the case for you, you may want to consult with your primary healthcare provider and your obstetrician (OB) to make sure you, your baby, and your pregnancy are all getting the
nutrients you need and staying healthy. Takeaway
Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding? Yes, it’s entirely possible to conceive during this time. Arming yourself with this knowledge can help you take the necessary steps to prevent pregnancy or achieve it when it’s safe to conceive again.
If you want to avoid getting pregnant while breastfeeding, there are options available to you. By carefully following LAM to a tee, you may be able to use breastfeeding to help prevent ovulation, which turns nursing into a form of temporary birth control. There are also other methods of birth control that are safe to use while breastfeeding, including several hormonal options.
If you are
trying to conceive again, you don’t have to stop breastfeeding—you can carry a pregnancy and continue nursing at the same time. Consider consulting with your doctor beforehand to make sure getting pregnant again is safe for you.