When it comes to growing your family for a second, third or even fourth time, if you are still breastfeeding you might be wondering whether or not getting pregnant is something that can occur simultaneously. It’s a good question and one that can have many different answers depending on the circumstance. For those women looking to get pregnant while breastfeeding, this article will discuss helpful tips for the TTC journey while breastfeeding.
Considerations When TTC While Breastfeeding
Before you try for another baby, there are some factors to consider while looking to grow your family while still breastfeeding, which can help you work with intercourse timing, baby’s sleep and feeding schedules and managing the fertile window.
During the breastfeeding stage many women experience lower energy levels as a result of the milk production and feeding process. If night feedings are still taking place, some women find they tend to have more energy during the day, than the evening and night hours due to interrupted sleep. Being mindful of these energy level peaks and plateaus along with baby’s breastfeeding and sleeping habits can help women best plan for opportunities to conceive again. Feeding the baby just before bed and sleeping can help provide more energy and reduce any aching or pressure as the breasts will have already been expressed.
Intimacy timing aside, it is important to note the body’s biological timeline from childbirth recovery. In a 2011 review of studies, researchers found that women’s first ovulation phase after giving birth averaged between 45 to 94 days post-birth. While most women do not begin ovulating until a minimum of six weeks after childbirth, there are exceptions to this and some women ovulate sooner, though generally speaking, women who do not breastfeed ovulate sooner than those who do breastfeed.
Like many factors, pregnancy causes a number of hormonal shifts in the body, and it can take time for the body to regain a regular menstrual cycle after giving birth. Typically, the act of breastfeeding often prevents ovulation, and because of this, many women consider breastfeeding a form of contraception. This use of breastfeeding as a birth control method, known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), is 98 percent effective in the first six months postpartum, and reduces reliable as a form of preventing pregnancy over time. However, as long as three factors are fully present, women may have a greater chance of preventing pregnancy with LAM;
- the breastfeeding baby must be younger than six months and feeding frequently.
- the breastfeeding mother must be almost exclusively breastfeeding, with intervals of no more than 4–6 hours between feedings.
- the menstrual cycle must not have returned post-childbirth.
The key hormone at work when looking to get pregnant while breastfeeding is the hormone oxytocin, which is not only responsible for milk production but also suppresses the production of the hormone that stimulates the ovary to grow an egg each month for ovulation. The more frequent breastfeeding occurs, the more prevalent oxytocin. These considerations being said, getting pregnant while breastfeeding is not impossible, especially if the three factors above are not being met. For those looking to successfully get pregnant while breastfeeding, here are some tips to increase your chances and help you along the way.
The first helpful tip when TTC at any time is to be patient, and TTC during the postpartum phase is no exception. It’s essential to be patient with breastfeeding and trying to conceive as it may take months to occur as the body recovers from pregnancy, hormones return to more normal levels, and ovulation returns. That being said, some things can help speed up the process or keep you in tune with opportunities to successfully conceive.
One way to help increase your chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding is to check your cervical position every day. You can do this by feeling yourself below the navel with one finger and inserting a second finger into your vagina. The cervix feels like a small, round bead and will be firm. Checking your cervical position will help you determine when you are most fertile. When the cervix is high and firm, ovulation is near. When the cervix is low and soft, it means that ovulation has already passed.
You can also check cervical mucus, which changes throughout your menstrual cycle. The more slippery and stretchy the mucus is, the more fertile you are.
Click here for a more detailed guide on How Cervical Mucus Can Help Predict a Woman’s Most Fertile Days
Trying to conceive while breastfeeding is difficult because hormones can be thrown off balance after having a baby. For those looking to conceive during this timeframe, a discussion should be had with the primary or OB-GYN doctor before trying to get pregnant, to confirm hormones won’t be disrupted or the breastfeeding process won’t be impacted by another pregnancy. That being said, using fertility awareness method (FAM) as your birth control method, can help with tracking the possible fertile window. To use FAM, track basal body temperature every morning at the same time and chart cervical mucus changes every day on a calendar or spreadsheet. This will help determine when ovulation happens to avoid intercourse during those days.
Additionally, FAM also helps women who do not want to get pregnant again, have an idea of when to use other forms of contraception to prevent another pregnancy.
Click here for a guide on Tracking Basal Body Temperature for Fertility Charting
There are other ways to help increase your chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding, such as taking a natural fertility supplement. The ingredients vary from product to product but may include L-Arginine and Zinc. There is some evidence that some key nutrients to help increase sperm count in men, which could lead to pregnancy if the timing is right during ovulation. Prior to starting new fertility-focused supplements, be sure to speak with your doctor so they may recommend nutrients to include or avoid so your breastfeeding health is not hindered.
In addition to considering using a natural fertility supplement, consider your diet and be sure to include nutrient-dense items that can help balance hormones, promote ovulation and create a solid nutritional foundation for pregnancy while maintaining breastfeeding health.
Like tracking BBT, cervical position and mucus production, charting is important, and if you’re looking for a more scientific way of predicting ovulation, then ovulation prediction kits (OPKs) or at-home fertility tests are a good option. These tests work by detecting the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge that happens before ovulation. You can use these tests starting around day 12 of your menstrual cycle and continue using them until the day of ovulation.
Keep in mind that these may not always be 100 percent accurate, so it’s still important to track basal body temperature and cervical mucus changes simultaneously. When combined with additional fertility tracking methods, monitoring your fertility status can present a complete picture for your fertile window, and with complete tracking, some women are able to achieve pregnancy even prior to the return of their period, as ovulation occurs beforehand.
Click here for a guide on Understanding Ovulation Kits and When to Use Them
Another tip for trying to conceive while breastfeeding is to switch up baby’s feeding schedule. This doesn’t mean you need to wean baby off of breastmilk, but suddenly cutting a feeding session out or stretching the time between feedings can increase the chances of ovulation returning, but keep in mind you may have a fussy baby who doesn’t appreciate the abrupt changes.
In addition, don’t forget that having fun together is also very important. Sex shouldn’t be a chore or something you do out of obligation because it can make things much more difficult in the long run. Try not to put too much stress on conceiving and be sure to communicate openly with your partner and see what happens from there. You never know when an opportunity may arise, so try to take advantage of every moment instead of worrying too much about trying hard enough.
In addition, if pregnancy does occur, and you are still breastfeeding be sure you are ingesting enough calories to nourish yourself, baby and your growing fetus. For some women this can be an extra 500 – 650 calories from day, but check with your doctor to ensure everyone involved is getting everything they need on an individual nutrient level.
Trying to conceive while breastfeeding can add a whole new set of challenges into to the fertile window mix, but we hope that these tips will help you conceive during your breastfeeding timeframe. It’s definitely not an easy process, but it is possible with a lot of patience and added effort.