Can I fall pregnant while breastfeeding?
You might have heard that breastfeeding can prevent you falling pregnant. But while breastfeeding can make you less likely to conceive, it should not be relied upon as a form of birth control.
It is possible to become pregnant again while you are breastfeeding and this may mean you end up having another child before you intended to. You can conceive as early as three weeks after giving birth, if you are sexually active. This means if you have decided you definitely don’t want to have another baby, for whatever reason, it would be wise to use contraception alongside breastfeeding to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.
One of the biggest issues is that it is difficult to predict when your periods will start again. Some women will not start menstruating again for a long time when they are breastfeeding, while others may get their first period much more quickly.
As you will have already ovulated by the time you get your first period after having a baby, there is a chance you could become pregnant before you even realise your menstrual cycle has returned. As you are unlikely to know when you are ovulating, your released egg could become fertilised and you could become pregnant before you even experience your period.
Do some women use breastfeeding as a form of contraception?
Although breastfeeding is not recommended as a reliable form of contraception, some women do choose to use it as a natural form of birth control known as the lactational amenorrhoea method (LAM). This is something which you should think carefully about and discuss with your midwife.
Exclusive breastfeeding will reduce the likelihood of you becoming pregnant in the first six months after giving birth. However, if you top up your baby’s feeds with formula or start weaning them onto solid foods, this could trigger the start of your menstrual cycle meaning you could end up becoming pregnant.
If you do decide you will use exclusive breastfeeding as a form of natural contraception, it is important that you understand the risks of an unplanned pregnancy. And you must start using an additional form of birth control once your child reaches six months, unless you decide you are ready for another baby at this point.
It is also important to use contraception if your baby has anything other than breastmilk, including formula, solid foods and even a dummy. This is because these things will all encourage your baby to go longer between breastfeeds.
If your baby feeds less frequently than every four hours, this is likely to send a message to your body that you are ready to start ovulating again. Expressing your milk will also not prevent your periods from starting again so if you feed your baby expressed breast milk, remember to think about contraception.
Pay close attention to whether your periods have started again if you are not using another form of birth control. The bleeding you experience after giving birth is not a period, but any vaginal bleeding after this has stopped should be considered to be menstruation, even if it is only light spotting. This is a sign that your body could potentially become pregnant again without the use of contraception.
What contraception can I use while breastfeeding?
After your baby is born, your midwife will talk to you about what contraception you plan to use. This is an ideal opportunity to ask any questions you may have about the different methods available.
There are a number of types of contraception which can be safely used while breastfeeding. These include all the non-hormonal barrier methods like condoms, both male and female, diaphragms and caps.
There are also some hormonal methods which are safe to use while breastfeeding too, although discuss your preferred option with your GP to check it is suitable for you. You can use the progestogen-only pill (POP), the contraceptive injection, the contraceptive implant, an intrauterine system (IUS) or an intrauterine device (IUD).
If you decide you want to have an IUD or IUS, you can ask for it to be inserted within 48 hours of giving birth, otherwise you will need to wait four weeks.
The contraceptive patch, combined pill and vaginal ring can also be used while breastfeeding, but you will need to wait at least six weeks after giving birth. These have been linked to a reduction in women’s milk supply so it is important to wait until breastfeeding is well established and other forms of contraception are likely to be more suitable.