Have you heard other moms talk about how they plan to use breastfeeding as a form of birth control? If so, you might be wondering if that really works! After all, it would be pretty convenient to not have to worry about family planning for a little while as you adjust to your latest little addition.
However, relying on breastfeeding as a form of contraception might not be the most reliable choice. Here are a few things you should consider when it comes to the chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can prevent ovulation...but only in certain circumstances
The way that breastfeeding can prevent pregnancy in some circumstances is by delaying ovulation during the postpartum period. However, there are some things to keep in mind if you are counting on that delay to prevent pregnancy.
First, ovulation is only delayed when you are still exclusively breastfeeding on demand, not feeding your baby any solid food or using any formula, and breastfeeding at least every 3-4 hours.
Secondly, if you are not carefully monitoring for ovulation, you might miss the first ovulation after giving birth, since you will not have a period until after you ovulate. If you are having unprotected sex, it is still a possibility that the initial ovulation can lead to pregnancy before you ever have your first postpartum period.
And thirdly...this doesn’t work for everyone. Because all women respond differently to the hormone shifts of breastfeeding differently, you might be breastfeeding around the clock and still start your cycles again.
Breastfeeding can delay periods, but that doesn’t mean you’re not fertile
As stated above, not having your period back yet doesn’t mean that you haven’t begun to ovulate again, since your first period will occur about two weeks after your ovulate for the first time after giving birth.
If you are consistent about checking for ovulation even before your periods have returned, you might still feel comfortable using breastfeeding as a form of birth control. However, even those experienced at tracking their cycles can sometimes be confused or miss the signs of ovulation due to the influence of breastfeeding hormones!
If you think your cycle might be returning soon, try taking at-home ovulation tests to help you determine if it is safe to continue to have unprotected sex. Once you begin to ovulate regularly again, you should be able to get back into the routine of regular tracking and ovulation testing to determine when you are fertile.
Breastfeeding can cause unpredictable cycles and make fertility tracking tricky
Because breastfeeding hormones can fluctuate so rapidly, tracking your fertility through your breastfeeding journey can be tricky.
Even something as simple as your baby sleeping a couple hours longer than normal, or spending the day with another caregiver can be enough to shift your hormones dramatically, leading to possible ovulation.
Some women may also have a harder time tuning into their body’s usual symptoms of ovulation, such as tender breasts, because of the body changes already occurring daily with breastfeeding. For these reasons, even those experienced with fertility tracking may wind up confused or unsure about where they are in their cycle while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding as birth control will not work for long, if at all
Even when breastfeeding does prove to be an effective form of birth control for some women, these effects are lost when babies begin to add solid foods to their diets, or sleep longer stretches at night.
Even done perfectly, breastfeeding as birth control will only be effective for about six months after giving birth. This makes it important to decide early on how you will go about family planning after the initial postpartum period is passed.
Six months with a new baby can fly by! Don’t leave yourself unprepared for the next stage of life, especially if you are not ready to add another little one to your family right away.
Other methods of birth control have been deemed safe and effective while breastfeeding
Many conventional forms of birth control are approved as safe to use during breastfeeding, and worth considering. Talk to your care provider (your six-week postpartum check is a great opportunity!) about what forms of birth control will be appropriate for your use.
Some popular hormonal forms of birth control for breastfeeding moms are mini-pills, hormonal IUDs, and implants. These are generally considered safe to use as soon as you are cleared for sexual activity after giving birth.
If you are uncomfortable using hormonal birth control while breastfeeding, you might prefer to use options such as the copper IUD, condoms, or diaphragms. Just make sure to take your lifestyle and any health conditions into account when choosing your birth control! Your care provider will have more information on each type, their benefits, and any potential side effects to watch out for.
What if you are trying to get pregnant while breastfeeding?
While many moms are focused on preventing pregnancy for a while after having a new baby, some women feel the opposite!
Whether the thought of a close age gap between sibling just appeals to you, or you feel that you need to try again right away due to fertility concerns, the idea that breastfeeding your baby might prevent you from getting pregnant again right away is a real concern for some women.
If you are using fertility treatments in order to get pregnant again right away, you might need to have some tough discussions with your care team about your ability to continue to breastfeed your baby. Some fertility treatments are not considered safe to use while breastfeeding, and you may have to choose between the two.
However, if you simply want to start trying to get pregnant again right away, first consider why you would like to. Many times, the thought of a new snuggly baby is a nice one, but remember that you will likely have a newly mobile toddler to chase and might not even be able to enjoy those new baby snuggles as much the second time around!
If you’re still convinced that a small age gap is right for you, you can always try stretching out nighttime feeds or adding a bottle or two of formula to your baby’s feeding schedule in order to encourage your cycle to return. You might just be needing to stock up on pregnancy tests again before you know it!