I mentioned recently that a lot of my friends have had surprise pregnancies lately. (Well, in the last year.) Some of them, ah…thought they couldn’t get pregnant. Because they were breastfeeding.
But as it turns out…sometimes you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. I’m walking proof of that, since I’m pregnant while breastfeeding for the second time! Another friend didn’t even find out until she was 18 weeks along…she hadn’t even gotten her period back!
So how does this happen, when, and if you have pregnancy symptoms, should you panic?
“Ecological breastfeeding” — that is, breastfeeding where you do not use any supplemental bottles or pacifiers, and which occurs at least every 3 hours around the clock, is promoted as being excellent birth control.
It can be.
I wasn’t able to conceive this last time until I night-weaned my son. Every 2 – 3 hours around the clock was too much, and it surpressed my fertility. This is very common, and it works this way in a lot of women. But not all women. Some women, despite nursing very often around the clock, will get their periods back within 6 – 12 weeks after their last baby’s birth and are in danger of conceiving.
It’s notable that another blogger I follow, Amy of Raising Arrows, said that this happened to her several times (she’s had 7 babies) — she got her period back very quickly no matter how much she breastfed. Once she switched away from hormone-laden meat and milk and started buying grass-fed beef, her period didn’t return for several months with the next baby. So, if you have a problem with your fertility returning too soon, it could be because of extra hormones you are getting from your food or other sources. It may be worth it to you to change your diet, if breastfeeding functioning as birth control is important to you.
In general, you should not assume that you cannot get pregnant while breastfeeding around the clock, but it is unlikely that you will.
However. As soon as you introduce supplementary bottles, pacifiers, solids, or your baby starts sleeping through the night — you are no longer protected. A lot of women forget this part, assume that they still can’t get pregnant (they may not have gotten their periods back yet), and end up with a little surprise…. You can get pregnant from your very first ovulation post-pregnancy, which often occurs before your first period.
On the other hand, some women are unable to conceive at all while breastfeeding. Sometimes even one feeding a day continues to suppress their fertility. At that point, especially if your baby is over a year old, you have to make a choice: wean, or keep going? That is up to each individual woman.
Some women have “some” fertility. That is, they ovulate, but their luteal phases (the time from their ovulation to their periods) is too short, and their bodies can’t sustain a pregnancy. This happened to a friend of mine…repeatedly. She used Vitex (an herbal supplement; ask your health professional) to conceive her second. And started it again awhile back just to “straighten” things out and…ended up with a surprise. Yes, it’s quite good at balancing your hormones (reducing prolactin, the breastfeeding hormone, and increasing progesterone and estrogen, needed for conception).
Then, there’s the question: do I need to panic if I have pregnancy symptoms while breastfeeding?
Maybe not. Early pregnancy symptoms — breast tenderness, mild nausea, cramping — aren’t just early pregnancy. They can signal that your period is on its way. They can even signal that your body is trying to ovulate. These symptoms are usually caused by a surge in hormones, so any time you experience a surge, you may have these symptoms. I personally experienced them for 2 – 3 days each month around ovulation when my body was attempting (unsuccessfully) to ovulate during my first few postpartum cycles. Once things balanced out and got back to “normal” I didn’t have these symptoms anymore. Well, until I got pregnant.
So the summary is — yes, you definitely can get pregnant while breastfeeding. But how easily it happens varies from woman to woman. And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can breastfeed while pregnant!
Have you gotten pregnant while breastfeeding?
Top image by Daquella Manera
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