Many moms-to-be have heard the old wives’ tale that you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. I know I did, and I took it to heart and believed that at the very least I would get a nice hard-earned break from menstruating. Well, that was never the case for me. While there is some truth to the myth of breastfeeding being a birth control method, it’s not foolproof; here is what you need to know.
How To Use Breastfeeding As A Form Of Birth Control
Once you have a baby, it can take a few weeks, a few months, or even longer for your body to become fertile again. However, it is possible to delay the return of your period and fertility by way of breastfeeding. This form of natural birth control is called Lactation Amenorrhea Method (LAM). But before you get excited, you need to know that you must meet ALL of the following criteria for LAM to be effective:
- Your baby is exclusively and frequently breastfed. This means that your baby cannot use bottles or pacifiers so that you can meet all of your baby’s sucking needs at your breast.
- Your periods have not returned. Even if you are experiencing spotting, there is a possibility you are ovulating and your fertility has returned to normal.
- Your baby is less than six months old. The older your little one, the greater your chances of ovulating and becoming pregnant. Although it may take more than six months for some moms’ cycles and fertility to return, there is a higher chance that you might ovulate and possibly become pregnant before your first postpartum period.
LAM is clearly not a failsafe method of birth control. And if you genuinely don’t want to get pregnant again while you are still nursing, your safest bet is to use a backup method of birth control. And Whattoexpect.com notes that doctors generally advise women to wait a full year, and ideally 18, months to get pregnant again.
How Breastfeeding Can Prevent Pregnancy
Here’s the thing, your body is pretty darn impressive. After having a baby, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin, aka the “feel good” hormone. But this multi-functional hormone does more than assist in the shrinking of your uterus and help you feel calm and relaxed. Oxytocin is also responsible for your let-down reflex … you know, that needling sensation that comes just before your milk lets down.
If you have already had a baby, you know you can easily trigger your let-down reflex. The release of oxytocin can also be stimulated by touching, smelling, or seeing your baby, hearing your baby cry (or any baby cry for that matter), or simply by thinking about your baby. And you can quickly end up in the middle of a grocery store with breast milk leaking through your shirt. But that’s a story for another day.
And then there’s prolactin. This hormone is released steadily while you’re breastfeeding, and is dependent on how frequently you nurse. So the more you nurse, the more prolactin is released. Prolactin helps regulate your milk supply.
Also, when your baby suckles at your breast, the nerves in your nipples tell your brain to release even more oxytocin. This is important because oxytocin — along with prolactin — also helps prevent ovulation by sending signals to the brain to suppress the main hormone that stimulates ovulation. And if there is no ovulation, then there will be no pregnancy.
What Else You Should Know About Breastfeeding and Fertility
According to AskDrSears.com, LAM’s effectiveness in preventing pregnancy is better than 98 percent as long as you follow all the rules (which are easy to break!). But you must remember that this is a very temporary form of birth control. It is important to be careful because it is possible to ovulate and become pregnant before getting your first period. And most women ovulate two weeks before getting a period.
Nonetheless, it is possible to continue breastfeeding and try to conceive your next child. And you may be able to continue breastfeeding through fertility treatments, dependent on your treatment plan, the age of your breastfeeding child, and how often you are breastfeeding.
The bottom line is, yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding as birth control will not 100% prevent another pregnancy. So if that is not what you want, be sure to discuss other viable birth control options with your doctor.
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