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Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?

Is it really true that you cannot get pregnant while breastfeeding? We find out.

"I never knew I could get pregnant while I was breastfeeding as I thought that you can't," says Rashmi, mother of nine-month-old baby girl who is five months pregnant again. In fact, many of her other friends were quite shocked to know that Rashmi conceived while breastfeeding as there is a general perception that you can't.

Like Rashmi (and her friends), some mothers believe that you cannot get pregnant while you are breastfeeding, especially if you still haven't got your period after delivery. Medically, this condition is known as lactational amenorrhea, which means that new mothers have little to no menstruation.

What is lactation amenorrhea?

Lactational amenorrhea is the temporary postnatal infertility that occurs when a woman is amaenorrheic (not menstruating) and fully breastfeeding.

But does it mean that you can't get pregnant at all? Looks like you can because while you are not menstruating, you might be ovulating.

"As a doctor's point of view, the chances of your becoming pregnant while you are breastfeeding are much less. This is because of the hormonal imbalance that happens in your body when you are breastfeeding, which delays ovulation. And, of course you need to ovulate to get pregnant, " says Dr Rahul Manchanda, a leading consultant Gynaecologist Endoscopic surgeon at Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute (PSRI) in New Delhi, India.

breastfeeding week Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Science says that new mothers usually do not ovulate until 6 weeks postpartum. A small number of women will ovulate earlier, potentially putting them at risk for pregnancy sooner, although the fertility of these early ovulations is not well-established.

However, as the mother is not getting her period she might miss on the signs of ovulation. This is how some women like Rashmi can get pregnant without even having their periods back between pregnancies.

Breastfeeding and fertility

Normally it is said that exclusive breastfeeding prolongs the return of a woman's cycle, especially in the first six months postpartum. This means that a woman who is exclusive breastfeeding her infant would have a low fertility for the first few weeks. But no one can really tell you how long will that infertility last.

Continue reading on the next page to know what you should do to not get pregnant while breastfeeding!

"There is no guarantee that you won't get pregnant because there have been people who have gotten pregnant during breastfeeding. So, it is 100 per cent safe? No it isn't. Therefore you are safer using precautions while having sex than not using any protection at all," adds Dr. Manchanda.

There are many factors that come into play here, which affect your fertility after delivery as well such as how often your baby nurses, environmental stressors and how many times does the baby feeds at night. It also depends from woman to woman. For example, I got my period after seven months of delivery but one of my friend got her after eight weeks.

The bottomline

Dr Manchanda agrees that it is in fact a myth that you cannot get pregnant while breastfeeding. While your chances of getting pregnant are extremely low while breastfeeding, there is no guarantee that you won't as there are a number of factors that determine your fertility. Therefore, it's always best to be on the safer side!

READ: 7 Things all nursing moms should do in the first few months of breastfeeding

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