Myth! One of motherhood’s greatest myths is that you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. Although, there is a clinically proven contraceptive method that derives from exclusive breastfeeding, generally it is still possible to conceive.
To understand this, we will need to know how our body works. During our menstrual cycle, our body will start to ovulate about 14 days into the cycle. During ovulation, one of your ovaries will release an egg that is ready for fertilisation. When your egg has been fertilised at the fallopian tube, it will travel down to your uterine lining and attach itself to it and that’s where your baby will grow. However, when there’s no fertilisation, the uterine wall will break down hence resulting in your period.
During breastfeeding, we release essential hormones - prolactin and oxytocin - which are essential for milk production and let-down reflex. When the production of these hormones increases, our brain reduces the production of the main hormones that stimulate the ovaries from growing an egg. This results in no ovulation and no period for the month.
As each woman's body is different, upon giving birth, our body will start ovulating and start menstruating at different times. Hence, we can’t exactly gauge when our ovulation will start. This might cause us to conceive during that period unknowingly.
To reiterate, as ovulation takes place prior to your period - up to 2 weeks prior- the absence of your period does not eliminate the chance you are actually ovulating. When a mom breastfeeds exclusively or consistently, it is less likely that they will ovulate until she starts to wean or if she is exclusively feeding the baby with expressed milk. However, using breastfeeding as contraceptive protection will get less effective as time goes by. So, if you’re trying to not conceive, do consider other contraceptive methods aside from just depending on the arrival of your period.
There is a clinically effective form of breastfeeding contraception which is Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM), however there is a long list of criteria that needs to be fulfilled in order for the method to be effective.
Some of the criteria is to ensure exclusive breastfeeding of
- Nursing at least 4 hours during daytime
- Nursing at least six hours every night
- This needs to be consistent for at least 6 months post delivery
Outside of these criteria, once you start to supplement with formula or solid food, even if your period has yet to make an appearance, it still affects the level of contraception.
Do consult your Lactation Consultants or Gynae / OBGYN if you’d like to know more about alternative contraceptives.