Can you Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
The simple answer is yes, but it’s a little bit more complicated than that. In this post, we’ll unpack fertility while nursing, the chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding, and how tracking your temperature holds the key to your fertility. Get comfy, grab a coffee, and join us as we answer ‘can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?’
How soon can you get pregnant after giving birth while breastfeeding?
If you’re not breastfeeding, you can get pregnant again as soon as three weeks after giving birth. However, a review of studies in 2011 found that most women did not ovulate until six weeks after giving birth, this is different if you choose to breastfeed. If you are exclusively breastfeeding (i.e. feeding your baby only breast milk) this can work as a method of birth control for up to six months after giving birth.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know when that first ovulation is going to arrive - you might not know it’s happened until you get your first period after pregnancy, by which point you’ve already been fertile. There are a couple of options available to help you detect ovulation. LH tests can detect a surge in hormones before ovulation, while taking your basal body temperature can confirm ovulation has happened.
Do I ovulate while breastfeeding?
You’re extremely unlikely to ovulate in the first weeks after giving birth, and if you are only feeding your baby breast milk then ovulation is likely to be delayed further. Of course, if you’re not ovulating, then you can’t get pregnant. However, since the signs of ovulation are extremely subtle, you likely won’t be able to tell when it’s coming and prepare for it.
You should get the opportunity to get contraceptive counseling with your doctor both before and after the birth of your baby. This is a good time to consider your birth control options and ask questions as you might want to try a different method of birth control than what you’ve used previously.
Chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding
If used perfectly, breastfeeding as a birth control can be as much as 98% effective. This means you are only giving your baby breast milk, and only for the first six months. After this time the chances of becoming pregnant will increase. Of course, this varies from woman to woman, and while for some it might take a longer time for ovulation to resume, once it does there is a risk you might get pregnant.
If we look at birth control effectiveness, and take couples who have regular sex without using any protection there is an 85% chance they will fall pregnant within a year. Again, if you are breastfeeding exclusively, then ovulation is likely to be halted for the first months after giving birth and you can rely on breastfeeding as contraception during this time.
If you are using Natural Cycles, we recommend that you start measuring again once you have been breastfeeding for five months. If you are using a different method of birth control, this is also the time to transition back to using it to minimize the chances of getting pregnant.
Pregnant while breastfeeding symptoms
The symptoms of early pregnancy can be hard to detect at the best of times, but if you’re looking after a little one and you’re having irregular cycles, it might be extra hard to detect a pregnancy. However, some symptoms of becoming pregnant while breastfeeding include:
- Missed/late period
- Sore breasts
The symptoms of early pregnancy are also very similar to those of PMS, so it can be a little confusing - especially if you have been experiencing irregular cycles after giving birth. If you’re in doubt, take a pregnancy test and consult with your doctor if you still have concerns.
Birth control and breastfeeding
You can use both hormonal and non-hormonal birth control while breastfeeding. However, for the first three weeks after giving birth you should avoid birth control containing the hormone estrogen. You might want to try a non-hormonal birth control method post-pregnancy - or if the pill has always worked for you, you might reach for the packet again. Either way, it’s a good time to have a discussion about the available methods with a healthcare professional.
Using Natural Cycles while breastfeeding
Natural Cycles is an FDA Cleared app and thermometer that helps you understand your own personal fertile window. Natural Cycles has three modes that adapt to your unique fertility journey: prevent mode (birth control), plan mode (helps you conceive) and follow mode (tracks the progress of your pregnancy).
If you are breastfeeding full time, we recommend starting with Natural Cycles around four or five months after giving birth. You should be aware that you will be given red (fertile) days in the app until your first ovulation is confirmed and you should use condoms or abstain from sex until that happens. If you are only breastfeeding some of the time, then we recommend getting started around one to two months after giving birth.
We hope you’ve learned lots about breastfeeding, preventing pregnancy, and when you’re likely to ovulate again after giving birth. There’s lots more to learn about your body and whether you’re looking to plan or prevent pregnancy, Natural Cycles is a great tool that gives you personal insights into your own cycle. Are you ready to take control of your fertility?