Breastfeeding can be a beautiful way to nourish your newborn while providing numerous health benefits for both mother and child. However, many new mothers wonder if breastfeeding can act as a contraception.
In this blog post, we will delve into getting pregnant while breastfeeding, exploring the factors that influence fertility during lactation, and discussing effective contraceptive options for those who wish to prevent pregnancy while nursing.
If you’re wondering, “Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding?” The short answer is: yes, you can.
Let’s dive deeper into why and how this can happen, including some overview of lactational amenorrhea, non-hormonal birth control options, factors influencing breastfeeding fertility, and more.
Understanding lactational amenorrhea
Lactational amenorrhea refers to the temporary absence of menstrual periods due to breastfeeding.
It occurs because breastfeeding triggers the release of a hormone called prolactin, which suppresses the production of another hormone known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH is responsible for stimulating the release of eggs from the ovaries, leading to menstruation.
While lactational amenorrhea can provide some degree of natural contraception, it is not foolproof.
It primarily works when conditions are met, including:
- Exclusive breastfeeding
- Frequent breastfeeding (throughout the day and night)
- The absence of menstruation since giving birth
These factors collectively suppress ovulation and decrease the likelihood of pregnancy but don’t prevent it altogether.
Factors influencing fertility during lactation
It is important to note that the effectiveness of breastfeeding as a contraceptive method varies from woman to woman.
Several factors influence fertility during lactation, including:
1. Frequency and exclusivity of breastfeeding
Frequent breastfeeding during the day and at night is crucial in maintaining lactational amenorrhea. Breastfeeding every 2-3 hours, including at least one or two night feedings, helps ensure the continuous suppression of ovulation.
2. Timing and duration of feedings
Prolactin levels are highest during nighttime and prolonged nursing sessions. Therefore, feeding on demand and allowing your baby to nurse for as long as they desire can enhance the contraceptive effect.
3. Introducing complementary foods
As you start introducing solid foods to your baby’s diet, it may encourage ovulation as you drop feeds in preference of solids.
The introduction of solids, alongside breastfeeding, reduces the effectiveness of lactational amenorrhea as a contraceptive method.
4. Return of menstruation
Menstruation can resume before the baby takes supplementary foods or sleeps through the night. Once menstruation returns, fertility is restored, and the likelihood of getting pregnant increases.
Contraceptive options while breastfeeding
If you wish to prevent pregnancy as best as possible while breastfeeding, it is advisable to consider additional contraceptive methods.
Here are some safe and effective options:
1. Barrier methods
Condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps are reliable contraceptive choices that do not impact breastfeeding or milk production.
2. Progestin-only contraceptives
This includes progestin-only pills, hormonal implants, and hormonal IUDs. Progestin-based contraceptives are considered safe during breastfeeding, as they do not affect milk production or quality.
3. Non-hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs)
Copper IUDs are an excellent option for breastfeeding mothers. They are highly effective, non-hormonal, and have no impact on breast milk.
4. Natural family planning methods
Fertility awareness-based methods, such as tracking basal body temperature and cervical mucus, can help identify fertile periods. However, these methods require diligence and may not be as reliable as other contraceptive options.
Additional thoughts on avoiding pregnancy while breastfeeding
While breastfeeding can suppress ovulation and act as a natural contraception, it is not foolproof.
Factors such as frequency and exclusivity of breastfeeding, timing and duration of feedings, the introduction of complementary foods, and the return of menstruation can affect the effectiveness of lactational amenorrhea as a contraceptive method.
It is advisable to consider additional contraceptive options to ensure reliable contraception while breastfeeding.
Barrier methods, progestin-only contraceptives, non-hormonal IUDs, and natural family planning methods are great options for breastfeeding mothers who want to ensure they don’t get pregnant while breastfeeding.
These methods offer effective contraception while having minimal impact on breastfeeding and the quality of breast milk.
It’s essential to consult your healthcare provider to determine the most suitable contraceptive option based on your circumstances, medical history, and personal preferences.
Every woman’s body and breastfeeding journey is unique, and fertility can vary. Being informed and taking proactive steps to prevent pregnancy as long as you want can empower you to make the best decisions for yourself and your family.
Final thoughts on breastfeeding and getting pregnant
In conclusion, while it is possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding, the effectiveness of lactational amenorrhea as a contraceptive method relies on several factors.
Additional contraceptive options alongside exclusive breastfeeding can provide a higher level of pregnancy prevention.
By understanding the interplay between breastfeeding, fertility, and contraception, you can confidently make informed choices that align with your reproductive goals while nurturing your baby through the beautiful breastfeeding journey.
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Founded by new mom and self-care author Carley Schweet, Hello Postpartum aims to help fill in the gaps in postpartum care and support. At Hello Postpartum, we aim to create an accessible community where everyone can access postpartum education, research-backed articles, and support tools.