African young Mother breastfeeding her little baby in her arms

Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding?

Elizabeth is a first-time mother. Her mind is filled with many questions and concerns from how to get enough milk, how to sleep train her baby, to whether breastfeeding is a form of contraceptive.

You may have heard that breastfeeding can act as a temporary form of contraception. While there is some truth to this, there is more to this story.

So, can you get pregnant?

Yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding BUT exclusive breastfeeding can act as an effective temporary form of contraceptive. Confused?

Let’s get into it:

The process that produces breast milk delays the return of your periods. No period means no ovulation thus if the egg is not released, you cannot get pregnant. However, it is possible to get pregnant as it is hard to predict when the first ovulation will occur after childbirth. In short, do not wait until your first period to get on contraceptives as it may be too late to prevent pregnancy.  

But then again,

When a woman is breastfeeding her baby exclusively (only breastfeeding the baby), or consistently, it is less likely that she will ovulate because hormones responsible for milk production – oxytocin and prolactin, prevent ovulation from taking place. If you don’t ovulate, there’s no egg to fertilize and thus means that you will not get pregnant.

Breastfeeding as a contraceptive method is also known as the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) and is 98 percent effective if done correctly during the first 6 months after giving birth.  

The following should be done for LAM to work:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding: This means nursing the baby at least every 4 hours during the day and at least every 6 hours during the night. This may be hard for women who return to work after maternity leave and, in such cases, an alternative birth control method is recommended.
  • No formula or no solid food: You should not supplement breastmilk as this takes away contraceptive protection. When a baby is introduced to formula and/or solid food, there is a chance that they will breastfeed less and this may mean that breastfeeding hormones may not be as active in stopping ovulation as the demand for mild is less.  
  • No pumping: This will make LAM less effective as it doesn’t send that same signal to the body that breastfeeding does.

It is, however, important to note that breastfeeding will not protect you from getting pregnant for long as its protection becomes less effective with time, usually 6 months after giving birth.

Also, note that this protection 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. This is especially because it is hard to predict when the first ovulation after childbirth will occur, you can still ovulate and become pregnant within 6 months.

Have you ever tried exclusive breastfeeding as a contraceptive method?

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LoveMatters Africa

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