It is commonly believed that breastfeeding is the best natural contraceptive. The more you feed your baby, the longer it takes for you to start ovulating and get your menstrual cycle back on track. But, is there a chance to get pregnant even then?
In this MomJunction post, we tell you how breastfeeding affects pregnancy, the signs of pregnancy to look for while breastfeeding, and how safe it is to breastfeed when you are pregnant.
Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Yes, you can get pregnant even when you are breastfeeding. Studies say that in the perfect scenario, breastfeeding as a contraceptive is as effective as a pill, which means there is still a 2% chance that it can fail (1).
In the remaining 98% of cases, breastfeeding can successfully prevent a pregnancy. So what happens inside your body when you breastfeed and how can it prevent or fail to prevent pregnancy? Keep reading and we’ll tell you.
How Does Breastfeeding Affect Pregnancy?
When you are breastfeeding, the baby stimulates the nipple and sends a message to the body to produce a hormone called prolactin, which prevents the release of eggs (2). When you breastfeed on demand at least four to six times a day, your body does not ovulate and your periods are delayed. For this reason, breastfeeding as a contraceptive is also referred to as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).
Once the frequency of breastfeeding goes down, the prolactin levels will start subsiding and your menstrual cycle is back to normalcy (3). Though exclusive breastfeeding lowers the chances, it does not prevent pregnancy. Note that ovulation cannot be prevented if you choose to express breastmilk using a pump instead of breastfeeding (4).
If you get pregnant while you are still nursing the baby, you’re likely to experience the symptoms of pregnancy. Find out more about that next.
Common Pregnancy Signs While You Are Breastfeeding
Here are the common pregnancy symptoms that you may experience while breastfeeding (5):
- Excessive thirst: During pregnancy, the blood volume increases, and more water is expelled from the body through urination. Also, your body drains more fluid during breastfeeding. All this leads to excessive thirst.
- Fatigue: The body is working twice as much to nurture the fetus and also nourish the nursing baby, leaving you fatigued.
- Reduced/refusal of milk: If you get pregnant when you are still lactating, the production of milk will reduce and its taste changes as well. This becomes evident when your baby feels hungry immediately after a feed or starts refusing milk.
- Sore and painful nipples: The nipples become tender and hurt when the baby feeds.
- Vomiting and nausea: If breastfeeding is accompanied by vomiting or nausea, then it might be an indication of pregnancy.
- Spotting: If you notice spotting while breastfeeding, then it might indicate pregnancy. Spotting happens when the embryo is implanted on the uterine lining.
So you are breastfeeding and could be pregnant too. Does this mean you should stop breastfeeding now? The section below elaborates on that.
Is It Safe To Breastfeed While Pregnant?
Yes, it is. If you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, then you can continue breastfeeding your little one for as long as you can (6).
You may worry that breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin that causes contraction of the uterus (7). But, these contractions are mild and safe during an uncomplicated pregnancy.
However, if there’s a history of miscarriage or a high-risk of preterm labor, or if you are carrying two or more babies, seek your doctor’s advice on the safety of breastfeeding during pregnancy.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Can breastfeeding affect a pregnancy test?
No. A pregnancy test comes out positive when the pregnancy hormone hCG is detected in the urine or the blood sample.
2. Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding even when I do not have my periods?
Yes, you can. It is difficult to determine when the female body starts ovulating after delivery. If the prolactin hormone starts to subside, the ovulation hormones (FSH and LH) will kick off triggering the release of eggs. The thickening of the uterine lining then follows due to the increased progesterone and estrogen levels (8). Thus, the possibility of pregnancy increases even before your first period starts.
If you have recently delivered and are not planning to have another baby soon, then make sure to use other contraceptives besides breastfeeding. Although breastfeeding is a natural method, it is not 100% effective. Using other contraceptives will prevent any unwanted pregnancy, and you can enjoy an uninterrupted sex life even post delivery.
Do you have any experiences to share? Tell us about them in the comments section below.
2. Prolactin inhibits ovulation and thus decreases risk of incident endometriosis; BMJ (2019)
3. Breastfeeding and periods; Healthdirect
4. Lactational amenorrhea method (LAM); U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
5. What are some common signs of pregnancy?; NIH
6. Breastfeeding while pregnant; Healthdirect
7. Breastfeeding your baby; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2019)
8. How does my hormone cycle work?; Women in Balance Institute (2019)