When pregnancy occurs, certain hormones taper off, while others increase to maintain the pregnancy. During the nine-month gestational period, the body prepares for sustaining the baby outside of the womb by engorging mammary glands and milk production through another hormone called prolactin. After the baby is born and the mother begins to breastfeed, the brain receives signals to make as much milk as the baby is eating, along with the gradually increased demand with growth. (Isn’t the body amazing?) With that comes amenorrhea (no ovulation) to irregular ovulation. This makes it hard to conceive. It’s not impossible, but unpredictable.
Is Conception While Breastfeeding Possible?
Most women worry about getting pregnant while breastfeeding, but have you ever thought about trying to conceive while breastfeeding? Is it possible? Yes, it is. Conception while breastfeeding can be very unpredictable, though. For some, exclusively breastfeeding, also known as the Lactational Amenorrhea (LAM) is used as a form of contraception. The La Leche League explains it as a method that provides “lactational infertility for protection from pregnancy.” This kind of contraception can be used for up to 6 months postpartum, with 99% effectiveness. (La Leche League, 2014)
What to Try
Women who want to get pregnant can still breastfeed, but there are a few things that need to be done to prepare the body for pregnancy and to increase the chance for successful conception.
Important Note: If you are nursing a baby that is under 9 months old, breastfeeding is more important than trying to conceive. The nourishment and bonding are very important for your baby.
1. Decrease the nighttime feedings (go at least 6 hours). This will decrease your milk supply. This also tells your body that it can resume regular non-lactational duties such as ovulating.
2. Begin feeding your baby solid foods and other supplemental liquids (at about 6 months of age). This will decrease your milk supply even more. Your baby will still have the nutrition they need and you will still have the bonding benefits with daytime feedings.
3. Wean altogether. If any nipple stimulation through breastfeeding keeps you from returning to ovulation, then weaning will be the last option. This is not recommended until the baby is at least 6 months old. I want to stress that this is a last-ditch effort and is not encouraged. Breastfeeding is extremely important for the health and development of your baby. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to 6 months of age and continued breastfeeding alongside complimentary foods for up to 2 years of age.
How to Prep for Pregnancy
While you are thinking about conception, you should also be thinking about prepping your body for pregnancy. Here are some tips to think about.
If you stopped taking them after delivery, you should resume taking them. Your body is expending all it has to make milk and perform regular body functions. You also need the folic acid (800mcg/day or 0.8mg/day) to prevent neural tube defects if you become pregnant while breastfeeding.
Hydration is key. Our bodies are made up of approximately 70% water. With breastfeeding, you should be drinking a minimum of 2-3 liters of fluid to sustain your milk supply and 3-4 liters to promote the best environment to grow another baby.
Chances are, if you are breastfeeding, you are eating a healthy balanced diet. Women who are breastfeeding need to consume more calories each day than when pregnancy, 200 more calories per day. These calories, and extra protein, iron, calcium and vitamin C specifically, need to come from nutritious whole foods, according to healthcare specialists at University of California San Fransisco Health. Exercise and stress relief are important, as well, so make sure these are integrated into your lifestyle.
It’s important to have your yearly breast exam and pap smear (if you are due for one.) Be mindful if you are at risk for cervical or breast cancer; if so, you must have an exam before considering another pregnancy.
Natural herbs such as vitex, Shatavari, red raspberry leaf, milk thistle seed, and milky oats may help prepare your body for pregnancy and are considered generally supportive and safe for use during lactation. It is important to note that these herbs may increase milk supply, so this may contradict your goal if you are weaning a baby from breastfeeding.
*Most herbal supplements are not recommended for use while breastfeeding. It is always best to let your practitioner know of any new supplements you are taking while breastfeeding.
- La Leche League, The Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) section. Retrieved from: https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/birth-control/
- La Leche League, Fertility while Breastfeeding. Retrieved from: https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/fertility/
- Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers (n.d.). University of California San Fransisco Health. Retrieved from https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/nutrition_tips_for_breastfeeding_mothers/