Dear Attachment Parent: My first baby is still breastfeeding around the clock. We would like to have another child, but I don’t want to wean! Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding?
Yes, you can absolutely get pregnant while breastfeeding. Most of us have her the tale of a couple who thought breastfeeding equals contraception and who now have two children 10 months apart. Those stories aside, many moms continue to breastfeed into toddlerhood and still have their children 2-3 years apart. About 30% of mothers continue to breastfeed their children after they turn 12 months old, but many of them hide this fact from all but their closest or most open-minded friends. Stories like these show that it is indeed possible for breastfeeding moms to get pregnant. The question is, how likely is it?
If your baby is younger than 6 months
Breastfeeding is considered a highly effective form of birth control if ALL of the following are true:
(1) Your baby is less than 6 months old, (2) You are breastfeeding around the clock without supplementing with formula or solid foods, and (3) Your period has not returned yet.
As long as all of these three conditions are met, there is a 99% chance you will not get pregnant. It’s possible your body and your baby are not quite ready for another sibling.
If your baby is older than 6 months.
Generally speaking, at this point breastfeeding is no longer considered highly effective contraception, but your mileage may vary. Babies and toddlers differ in how soon they start to replace nursing sessions with solid foods and in when they start to sleep longer stretches at night. Eventually, when babies and toddlers go long enough stretches between feedings, it triggers the return of ovulation and therefore fertility in the mother. The threshold is different for every mother-baby pair, but the average return of fertility if you breastfeed on demand is 14 months. That said, there is a wide range around this average. Some women are pulling down the average with an immediate return to fertility after mere weeks postpartum. Others go two years or longer without having a period again.
If your period has already returned.
If your period has already returned, there is generally no reason you could not get pregnant again anytime. Remember that it can take up to a year of trying for a healthy couple to conceive. Also, after your period returns it may initially be irregular, especially if your baby or toddler is breastfeeding frequently. You may want to consider temperature charting or using ovulation predictor kits to determine your most fertile times if you want to get pregnant as soon as possible.
If your period has not returned.
If your period has not returned, your chances of pregnancy this particular month are slim. It’s possible that you might “catch the first egg” once you begin ovulating again, but it’s difficult to know when that will be.
If you want to speed up the return of your fertility.
If you are breastfeeding around the clock and your period has not yet returned, but you would like to conceive again, you may need to tinker with your breastfeeding patterns. When the goal is for your period to return, abrupt changes are more helpful than gradual changes. Therefore, if your normal pattern is to spend all day with your toddler nursing on demand, taking a couple days to be gone 4-5 hours in a row will generally be more helpful than trying to slowly stretch the amount of time between nursing sessions. It is rarely necessary to wean entirely in order to become pregnant again.
For more information, we recommend the informative book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler.
We’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you gotten pregnant while breastfeeding?
Do you have a question for an attachment parent? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org