During the first six months after giving birth, breastfeeding can be a hindrance in conceiving again. This is due to the natural presence of prolactin – a hormone that helps to make breast milk. Prolactin also helps to prevent the eggs releasing from your ovaries. This typically leads to an absence of both menstruation and ovulation.
However, no two women are ever alike, and so too are their hormone levels. For some women their ovaries will still release eggs monthly, even if prolactin is present during lactation. Therefore, you should not assume that just because you are breast-feeding, there is no chance of conception occurring.
Groups of scientists, including the World Health Organization, have conducted and reviewed studies to determine whether breastfeeding can prevent pregnancy. Their conclusions stated that breastfeeding was indeed a barrier to conception in 98 percent of those studies and that three criteria had to exist in order for this to be true:
1) Breastfeeding should be scheduled throughout the day and night with small, regular intervals between feeding times. In addition, try to avoid using formula supplements.
2) Your menstrual periods should not have returned. If after the 56th postpartum day you experience vaginal bleeding, regardless of the length, then your fertility has most likely returned.
3) Your baby must be six months old or younger.
It is vital, however, that you understand that the less you breastfeed the more fertile you will be. So a woman who has returned to work, has begun to introduce her baby to supplementary food or drink, or is lucky enough to have their baby sleep through the night, will have a greater chance of conceiving. If you decided to continue breastfeeding your child longer than six months, your chances of conception are greatly improved even if your period has not fully returned.
How Can you improve your Chances of Pregnancy while Breastfeeding?
According to Kelly Mom, there are a variety of methods you can employ to increase the quick return of fertility while breastfeeding. These include:
- When breastfeeding, stretch out the time between feedings
- Try to cut down on nighttime feeds to where you only breastfeeding once every 6 hours; or stop breastfeeding at nights altogether
- Slowly cut down the length of time you allow your baby to breastfeed.
- Increase the amount of solid food in your baby’s diet by about 25%.
There are some important notes that the Le Leche League International urges you to consider if you do decide to practice ecological breastfeeding:
- During the first three months of breastfeeding, you have a zero chance of pregnancy; between three and six months, you have a 2 percent chance of pregnancy; and after six months, you have a 6 percent change of pregnancy assuming that your menstrual cycle has not resumed yet.
- On average, it takes approximately 14.6 months for menstrual period to resume.
- If your cycle returns earlier, then you will most likely be infertile for the first couple of cycles; however, if your cycle returns later, then it is possible that you could ovulate before you even have your first period.
By cutting down on the total amount of times you breastfeed, you will be aiding in getting your cycle back to its natural state sooner rather than later. This means that you will become more fertile and as such increase the possibility of pregnancy. Bear in mind, however, that every woman is unique and there may be a few breastfeeding mothers who will still find it difficult to conceive even after employing all the tips given.
It is also vital that you understand that even though you have decided to try to conceive again, the health of your current baby should be at the forefront of your mind. As such, feeding your baby with breast milk until at least one years of age should remain a priority. Any changes that you implement to your baby’s current diet and routine, should be done slowly and carefully so as not to upset your baby’s health and wellbeing. You will need to provide additional supplementation via formula for any missed feeds, if your baby has been weaned from your breast before their first birthday.