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Can I Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?

pregnant and a toddler_1

by Heidi Hauser Green
January 10, 2012

What is the likelihood that a woman can become pregnant while she is breastfeeding?

Women who breastfeed fully (exclusively or almost exclusively) are less likely to become pregnant as long as the following criteria are met:

  • Your baby is less than 6 months old.
  • Your baby is breastfeeding at least every 4–6 hours during the day and at night.
  • You are breastfeeding fully, offering no breast milk substitutes and using pacifiers only at bedtime.
  • You have not resumed menstrual periods (monthly bleeding).

Women who supplement with formula or other foods, follow a rigid feeding schedule (routinely limiting the frequency or length of breastfeeding), or breastfeed less than 4–6 hours during the day and at night are more likely to become pregnant.

The absence of menstrual periods makes pregnancy unlikely, however, ovulation (egg release) can occur before the start of menstruation. So don’t assume that you are protected (safe) because you haven’t had a menstrual period. You can become pregnant, while breastfeeding, before you resume menstrual periods.

If you don’t wish to become pregnant, you may want use another method of contraception in addition to breastfeeding. Birth control options include natural family planning, cervical cap, female condom, diaphragm, intrauterine device, tubal ligation, male condom, vasectomy, and spermicidal cream, foam, or jelly.

In the past, breastfeeding women were told to avoid birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone (combination pills), and to use birth control pills (minipills), implants (Implanon, Norplant), or injections (Depo-Provera) containing only progesterone instead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines in 2010 that allow for the use of combined oral contraceptives as early as 4–6 weeks and the use of contraceptives containing only progesterone within days of birth. Given reports by some women of a drop in milk supply after starting hormonal contraceptives, some makers of hormonal contraceptives recommend that breastfeeding women wait until their milk supply is well established, at least 4–6 weeks after birth, before starting hormonal birth control.

Planned Parenthood provides additional information about a variety of birth control methods—including breastfeeding.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com

  • Daychin

    My grandkids are both April babies one year apart. Ahhhh, the wonders of breastfeeding as birth control…not!!!

    • Banhamgibbs

      My two girls our both july one year apart

  • Teresa Watts

    I have been breastfeeding my daughter for two years now and have not had a period. Can i still get pregnant?

    • http://babygooroo.com baby gooroo

      Breastfeeding has been shown to prevent pregnancy only when mothers breastfeed exclusively and only when babies are less than 6 months of age. After 6 months, pregnancy is possible, especially if breastfeeding is your only method of contraception that you are using. The fact that you haven’t had a period for two years may be related to the fact that you are still breastfeeding, but it may also be unrelated. Some mothers ovulate (release an egg) and conceive (get pregnant) without having a period. If you are hoping to get pregnant and have not been able to do so, you might want to talk with your health care provider about possible causes.

  • Kristina Ludwig

    Why does the use of a pacifier during the day have an impact if all the other criteria are met?

    • http://babygooroo.com baby gooroo

      Pacifier use reduces the amount of suckling (breastfeeding) that takes place. When babies who use pacifiers throughout the day, they typically breastfeed less often. The more time a baby spends at the breast (suckling), the less likely a mother is to ovulate (release an egg) and become pregnant. While pacifiers can be used, mothers need to know that frequent use of pacifiers during the day or at night can increase the risk of pregnancy.

      • Kristina Ludwig

        Interesting. Thanks for the info!

  • Danoucheka Lune Barbylishes

    Okay my son is 9 months old however I met all of the criteria described. I’ m just a little bit worried about the time frame.

    • http://babygooroo.com baby gooroo

      Most babies begin eating solid foods around 6 months of age, which is why breastfeeding is considered an effective means of contraception only for the first six months. Once your baby is eating other foods in addition to breast milk, ovulation (egg release) is more likely to occur and you are more likely to get pregnant. Since your son is 9 months old, you should consider another method of birth control.

  • marikaye13

    OK I am breastfeeding my 2 year old daughter 3 times a day and also on depo how likely am I to get pregnant??? Feeling movement I’m my abdomen! No other symptoms but that.

    • http://babygooroo.com baby gooroo

      Breastfeeding is unlikely to provide any protection now that your daughter is two years old. Unfortunately, no method of birth control is 100 percent effective (with the exception of abstinence), and in the case of Depo-Provera, an injection must be given every three months (or sooner), if pregnancy isn’t desired. The movement you are feeling may or may not indicate pregnancy, but to be safe, please contact your doctor.