Can I become pregnant while I’m breastfeeding?

We now know the contraceptive effect of breastfeeding. For some women, it's an interesting aspect of breastfeeding, but not for all. What happens if I want to get pregnant again but I’m still breastfeeding? Is it possible or should I stop breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is not a contraceptive method on its own. Many women can become pregnant while they are breastfeeding. Some women breastfeed during pregnancy and will even breastfeed different-aged children simultaneously afterwards. There are however a few  prerequisites.

A question of ovulation

First of all, if a woman meets all the MAMA (breastfeeding and amenorrhea method) criteria, she only has a 1% chance of becoming pregnant. If she doesn’t meet the criteria because the breastfeeding isn’t exclusive or the baby is over 6 months old and sleeps through the night, ovulation could start again. If there are no menstruations, the ovulation has not yet restarted. It's unfortunately impossible to predict when a woman’s ovulation will restart. All we know is that with time and the decrease of breastfeeding frequency, it is more probable for ovulation to restart.

Also, it could be impossible to get pregnant when ovulation restarts because the luteal phase1 is too short. To know if that's your case, you must take the thermal symptom test (write down the variations in temperature and note your cycle’s symptoms). You can also decide to only  take your temperature but it'll be a lot less precise and leaves a lot of room to interpretation errors.

Finally, it has been noticed that breastfeeding women with normal luteal phases are still less prone to getting pregnant than women who do not breastfeed. There is a slight decrease in fertility during breastfeeding. It has also been noticed that the cervical mucus is not as fertile during breastfeeding, which could explain part of it.

Breastfeeding or getting pregnant?

Now that you have this information, what do you do if you wish to conceive while still breastfeeding? This decision is very personal and depends on your moral values and motivations.

On one side, you must think of the child presently being breastfed. You know that breastfeeding has considerable benefits that will have a positive impact throughout the child’s life. You also know that natural withdrawal from breastfeeding is what is best for the child. Furthermore, it is recommended to wait 18 months between pregnancies to allow the mother’s body to rebuild the optimal amount of supplies. It is also easier for the older child to adapt to the new baby 's arrival if he's a little older. Finally, nothing guarantees that stopping to breastfeed earlier will allow you to get pregnant faster.

On the other side, there are many reasons for wanting children close in age. For some women, breastfeeding doesn’t have the same importance and the need to withdraw is already there. Breastfeeding withdrawal at 3 months or 15 months old is extremely different. You need to weigh the pros and cons and decide as a couple what the best decision is. You may also consider progressive withdrawal.

You could cut a feeding every three weeks. Sometimes, cutting one feeding is enough to jumpstart your ovulation again. This way of proceeding allows your child to go through a softer withdrawal and is more respectful of his natural pace.

Conceiving a child takes patience because fertility is not something you have control over. During breastfeeding, it is usually a question of patience until your ovulation restarts. For some couples getting pregnant again can take time even after the woman has stopped breastfeeding. Not getting pregnant is not always due to breastfeeding. Many things have to be taken into consideration when it comes to fertility. Sometimes you just need to trust life!

1 The luteal phase is the stage following ovulation and is characterized by the secretion of a yellow body. This yellow body is necessary to feed the fertilized ovum until it reaches and implants itself in the uterine wall.

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