Fertility During Breastfeeding

So you’re breastfeeding, and you want to start trying for another kiddo. Or maybe you are breastfeeding and really don’t want to have another baby right now. Either way, knowing how your reproductive system works alongside breastfeeding is good information to have.

One tough thing about learning about this is that if you ask five people about it, you may well get five different answers. Another tough thing is that in biology, nothing is finite. I have friends whose periods returned pretty quickly after giving birth despite exclusively breastfeeding, and others whose periods went MIA for well over a year. How your body is going to react post-pregnancy will probably be different than your best friend’s, and it may well be different pregnancy to pregnancy.

The basics though are (mostly) straightforward. If your baby is less than 6 months old, is exclusively breastfed (particularly on demand) and not eating solids yet, your odds of getting pregnant are very slim. Kellymom has a terrific article detailing statistics of fertility if you are a number hound.

For those of you wanting a baby right away, this may not be the best news. You can either wait until your baby starts eating more solids for your fertility to naturally return, wean partially or fully, or perhaps even talk to your doctor about fertility medications like clomid. For those of you in the NO WAY camp, you may be looking for a little extra insurance. In that case, you can ask your doctor to prescribe the mini pill , which is a progestin-only birth control pill (most birth control pills are combination pills), which is compatible with breastfeeding but also very finicky. They have to be taken at the same time each day, and some medications (like antibiotics) interfere with their effectiveness. Other options are a copper IUD or natural family planning (NFP).

After your baby’s 6-month birthday, though, most breastfeeding women will begin to ovulate again on a regular basis. When it occurs varies woman-to-woman, but this is the time where, if you’re in the NO camp, using an alternative form of birth control becomes necessary. For women trying to conceive, you may find that your first cycle or three you are menstruating but not yet ovulating. Other women may find they ovulate before their first period (according to Kellymom, this is more common in women whose periods return later postpartum). Finally, most women do not need to wean before their fertility returns, so if you have dreams of tandem nursing, it’s totally possible.

Meaghan Howard is a mom to two little boys, ages 3 and 6. She’s currently enjoying the expat life in Japan.

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