One of the greatest myths about motherhood is that breastfeeding serves as a contraceptive method; that is, a lactating woman cannot get pregnant. Is this a myth, a fact, or fiction? And because?
More and more couples do not use any type of contraception during the first months postpartum, since they believe that during the breastfeeding period, it is impossible to get pregnant.
This thinking is built on the assumption that since many women do not menstruate after delivery, therefore they are not ovulating. However, what happens to the body during this period is not that simple, since getting pregnant while breastfeeding is possible.
As a woman, our body undergoes various hormonal changes throughout our lives, but there are two stages in which we experience the most physiological changes. And they are during pregnancy and lactation.
During pregnancy, women stop ovulating, since estrogen and progesterone levels rise, which slows down the ovulation process. After the baby is born, the levels drop, so the body prepares to return to its fertile cycle.
However, this period is known as the puerperium and lasts at least 6 weeks, so a mother who does not breastfeed usually begins to menstruate around 2-3 months postpartum. But a mother who breastfeed her child goes through a different process.
In this article, we will find out if it’s possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding? What are some tricks to getting pregnant while breastfeeding? Pregnancy symptoms and potential risks. Let’s get started.
What is Lactational amenorrhea?
Lactational amenorrhea is a temporary infertility that prevents pregnancy while breastfeeding. It is caused by the release of hormones, such as prolactin and oxytocin during breastfeeding, which suppresses ovulation.
At the time of having your baby, the body slowly begins to recover to return to its menstrual cycle. However, nature gives priority to your newly born child and allows you to focus on your baby while feeding with what you can best offer: breast milk.
Lactational amenorrhea can last anywhere from a few months to a year or more. It is regarded as a natural method of birth control, but it is not always effective and should be used with caution.
However, if you choose to exclusively breastfeed your child with breast milk directly from the breast, your ovulation will be delayed. And your chances of becoming pregnant while breastfeeding are extremely low.
This type of “contraceptive method” is known as LAM (lactational amenorrhea method), and it is not 100% effective.
How to make LAM an effective form of birth control
To make LAM an effective form of birth control, it is important you meet certain criteria:
- Exclusively breastfeeding: The baby should be breastfed on demand and should not receive any other form of milk or food.
- Frequent breastfeeding: The baby should be breastfed every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night.
- Early postpartum period: LAM is most effective in the first 6 months postpartum.
- No menstrual bleeding: The woman should not have had any menstrual bleeding since giving birth.
However, LAM can only be used as a contraceptive method for the first 6 months of the baby’s life or until you menstruate again.
Note: LAM is not a 100% effective method. Approximately 2 out of 100 women using LAM become pregnant during the first 6 months postpartum. LAM is not a completely reliable method of birth control and there is still a small chance of getting pregnant. It’s recommended to use an additional form of birth control as a backup.
Although, every woman’s body is unique and different, so is our cycle too. It’s important to consult your gynecologist for professional medical advice.
Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding and not seeing my period?
It is possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding, even when not seeing your menstrual period. Or even if you passed the criteria for the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) of birth control.
During breastfeeding, many changes occur in the woman’s body, especially at the physiological and hormonal levels. The body focuses on feeding the newly born baby and generally suppresses ovulation. This decreases the sexual desire and prevent a new pregnancy. This depends on each woman, so we cannot generalize that it will not happen to all.
Therefore, it is likely that, if you exclusively breastfeed on demand, the first months after giving birth, you will not have your period. But this does not mean that you cannot get pregnant, since there is some probability that ovulation will occur.
So, if you are breastfeeding and haven’t seen your period and also do not use any contraceptive method. It is recommended that you take a pregnancy test to be sure that you are not pregnant.
Pregnant while breastfeeding
As we saw previously, pregnancy during the lactation period is possible, especially if you do not breastfeed exclusively and frequently. At any minute you can start to ovulate, therefore, increasing the possibility of getting pregnant.
If you get pregnant at this stage, you may not realize it, since the most obvious sign is to stop menstruating. But…you weren’t menstruating before either! So how do you know if you are pregnant while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding can make it more difficult to detect pregnancy, as it can suppress ovulation and delay the return of menstrual periods.
Signs of pregnancy while breastfeeding
- Decreased breast milk production: In general, the amount of milk decreases. Also, the appearance and taste of your milk may change. See if your baby is getting hungry or doesn’t want to suck.
- Increased tenderness in the breasts and nipples: This is already a common symptom of breastfeeding, but you should look for extra irritation and redness.
- Morning Sickness: This is a very well-known symptom of pregnancy. It is characterized by nausea and vomiting, and can also include dizziness and headaches.
- Fatigue: The stress your body is undergoing due to pregnancy during a postpartum recovery period can cause you to feel fatigued.
- Change in taste of breast milk: One Pregnancy while breastfeeding sign is the change in the taste of breast milk. During pregnancy, the composition of a woman’s breast milk can change as her body adapts to the needs of the growing fetus. Hormone levels, specifically Prolactin and Oxytocin, change and influence the taste, volume, and nutritional content of breast milk. Some mothers may notice a sweeter taste in their milk during pregnancy, while others may not notice any change at all.
- Positive Pregnancy Test: The best way to know if you are pregnant while breastfeeding is getting tested. This is the most accurate way to be sure if you are pregnant or not.
In a situation whereby you are pregnant while breastfeeding, if you don’t experience any danger signs like dizziness, contractions, or drastic weight loss, you can continue breastfeeding. Simply consume a nutritious die. Also, there is a high possibility that your baby may wean if the taste of your milk changes as a result of pregnancy.
How to get pregnant while breastfeeding
During the first 6 months of the baby’s life, if you breastfeed exclusively and on-demand, it is very likely that you will not ovulate, so conception in that period can be somewhat more complicated, but not impossible. However, frequent intercourse without using any contraceptive method can trigger pregnancy.
From 6 months, babies begin to gradually incorporate other types of food into their diet, which is known as complementary feeding. This means you may likely begin ovulating and therefore become pregnant. The tricks that you can use are the following:
- Track ovulation: Use ovulation predictor kits or basal body temperature charts to determine when ovulation is likely to occur.
- Have intercourse at the right time: Have intercourse during the fertile window, which is the time when an egg is most likely to be fertilized.
- Consider taking a prenatal vitamin: To ensure that both you and your baby are getting the nutrients you need, talk to your doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding.
- Consult your doctor: It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider before trying to conceive, especially if you have any medical conditions or concerns.
Note: While breastfeeding, it may take longer to get pregnant than it would if you were not breastfeeding.
How does breastfeeding affect Pregnancy?
Breastfeeding and pregnancy, as we have seen, are compatible, although the taste or amount of the mother’s milk may slightly change. However, despite the benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby, certain cases must be taken into account in which it can be risky:
- History of preterm labor
- History of abortions
- Multiple pregnancies
Breastfeeding while pregnant is risky because the baby’s suckling at the breast causes the mother to secrete oxytocin. Oxytocin triggers contractions, so it could stimulate early labor. For this reason, the doctor must assess each particular case, taking into account your history, and will give you relevant recommendations.
Contraceptive methods compatible with breastfeeding
As we have seen, the chances of getting pregnant decreases only if breastfeeding occurs directly, exclusively, and frequently. If this is not your case and you do not want to get pregnant, you can use another contraceptive method.
Note: Some contraceptive methods are not recommended to use during the lactation period. Those that are usually allowed are the barrier ones. Such as
- Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM): This is a natural method of contraception that relies on the natural suppression of ovulation that occurs during breastfeeding. It is highly effective during the first 6 months postpartum, as long as certain criteria are met (e.g., exclusive breastfeeding, no menstrual bleeding).
- Progestin-only hormonal methods (e.g., the mini-pill or the injection): These methods do not affect milk production and are considered safe for breastfeeding mothers.
- Copper intrauterine device (IUD): This method is also considered safe for breastfeeding mothers and does not affect milk production.
Note: There is no one-size-fits-all solution for contraception, as each person’s needs and medical history are different. It’s best to consult with a healthcare provider to discuss the options that are best for you.
Common questions regarding breastfeeding
Can a breastfeeding mother get pregnant?
The answer to this query was provided above in detail. Yes, you can become pregnant while breastfeeding.
When should I test for pregnancy while breastfeeding?
As soon as your body begins to change due to pregnancy, you should take a pregnancy test.
What happens if I think I’m pregnant?
First, you need to confirm that you are pregnant. Take a pregnancy test. If the result is positive, consult your gynecologist for medical advice.
How long can I continue breastfeeding while I’m pregnant?
As long as there is no imposed risk to your health or the health of the baby, you are allowed to breastfeed.
Can breastfeeding cause miscarriage in early pregnancy?
No, breastfeeding can cause miscarriage in the first trimester. But miscarriages can occur in high-risk pregnancies. When a pregnancy is confirmed, women who have a history of uterine pain, bleeding, premature labor, or miscarriages, are usually advised to wean right away.
Women with non-high-risk pregnancies can breastfeed their babies during and after pregnancy. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor for professional advice.
Can a breastfeeding mother be pregnant without knowing?
Yes, a breastfeeding mother can be pregnant without knowing. Especially if she is not seeing her menstrual period during breastfeeding. A missed period is the most known symptom of pregnancy.
If you are pregnant, continuing breastfeeding is the best option for your baby. Breast milk is packed with antibodies that can help your baby build up his or her immune system. Plus, breastfeeding also helps to supply your baby with the nutrients needed.
However, in a situation whereby, you can’t cope due to one issue to another. It is best to wean your baby and opt for other options. Such as formula.
Your health is important, and it should be prioritized. The choice to continue breastfeeding or not while pregnant is yours to make.
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