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The 411 on breastfeeding and fertility

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Conception effects from lactation

Trying to get pregnant — or avoiding pregnancy — is a whole different ball game when you're breastfeeding. What impact can breastfeeding have on your fertility?
Breastfeeding mom

Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience for many, and for some moms, it can even delay the return of her period. This can be really amazing, unless you are trying to conceive a baby — or trying to avoid another pregnancy. What do you need to keep in mind as a breastfeeding mom?

Lactation’s effect on your cycle

When you breastfeed your baby, your body produces a hormone, called prolactin, that induces lactation. The more frequently you breastfeed, the higher the prolactin levels are in your blood — and prolactin also works to prevent ovulation. Some moms who breastfeed don’t see their periods resume until they wean their baby, but others report that it didn’t affect their periods at all.

“Breastfeeding has zero effect on my cycles,” shared Ashley from Canada. “They come back within a month or two of giving birth and are fairly regular — within a few days. My second, third and fourth pregnancies were conceived while breastfeeding within one or two months of trying.”

Jana, however, has had a different experience. “I'm 14 months postpartum with nothing yet after my first,” she told us.

Breastfeeding as birth control?

Since breastfeeding can delay ovulation and menstruation, it can be used as a reliable form of birth control — right? However, before you enjoy birth control-free sex, you should know a few things. “In the U.S., using breastfeeding as a fertility method may not work well for the average American mother,” explained certified lactation consultant Deedee Franke, RN, BSN. “That is why many American health care providers don’t recommend using breastfeeding as a birth control method.”

Some moms swear by the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) for birth control, but Franke said that requires following certain guidelines, such as exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months, no pacifiers or bottles, sharing sleep space with Baby, nursing often during the day as well as the night and feeding and comforting at the breast on demand.

The good news? According to Dr. Sears, research indicates that LAM is 98 percent effective at preventing conception. However, once your period comes back, you can no longer rely on LAM, so if you’re back in full swing before your child is 6 months old, different birth control methods need to be put in place.

Trying to conceive

On the opposite end of the spectrum, trying to get pregnant can be a challenge if you are breastfeeding. Some moms note that even after their periods resumed, they couldn’t count on a regular arrival until well after they weaned their little ones. “I nursed one of my babies for a couple of years, and even though I got my period back when he was 4 months old, they were never regular until we had stopped breastfeeding,” shared Amy, mom of two. This can make planning a pregnancy seem impossible — how do you know when to time intercourse, and how do you know when to take a test when you don’t even know when to expect your period?

Fortunately, moms can use cues their bodies give them. For a general idea, it’s nice to know that a couple of days before ovulation, women often notice that their cervical mucus thins out quite a bit and becomes stretchy (here’s a hint — watch your toilet paper). Tack on 14 to 17 days after this and you may know when to expect your period — or when to take a test.

You can also start charting your temperature or you might consider investing in an ovulation prediction monitor.

Often, when baby begins eating more solid foods and sleeping for longer stretches at night, moms report that their period soon follows.

Whichever life situation you find yourself in (preventing or trying), knowing what to expect from your cycle during your breastfeeding experience is valuable information that everyone should have. It can be hard not knowing what to expect, but if you glean a little insight into what your body is up to, it is far easier.

More on breastfeeding

Your guide to breastfeeding
The coolest breastfeeding blogs
Breastfeeding: Why pumping or covering may not be an option

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