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Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding?
I have an 18-month-old son, who has always breastfed enthusiastically and still nurses frequently. My menstrual periods have only just returned and I’d like to try for another baby. However, I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to conceive with such a keen nursling! Is it likely that I will be able to get pregnant without weaning my son? He’s really not ready to give up breastfeeding and I don’t want to rush him.
Your question reminded me of an LLL meeting I attended with a mother having exactly the same concern. Our wonderful and experienced Leader just asked, “How many of you got pregnant while breastfeeding?” Out of about 15 mothers more than half raised their hand (Including me!)
Loreto Iglesias-Rubianes, Tokyo, Japan
How lovely that your son has a mum who understands his needs and allows him to set his own pace through something that provides so many benefits and is important to him.
The answer to this question is never clear cut, as it varies from woman to woman. Some conceive again very quickly and for others it takes longer. Your hormone levels and what works for your body are unique to you. The key is to observe fertility signs to determine if you are ovulating and whether your luteal phase is long enough.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Wechsler is an excellent resource. The section on observing cervical fluid and cervical changes will help you to pinpoint ovulation and assess the length of your luteal phase. Charting your temperature will help to determine if ovulation has occurred. Some women can conceive with a luteal phase of only ten days. I have twice but others find that they need 12–14 days, it is very individual.
You may find when charting your fertility signs that you are at full fertility already, in which case breastfeeding will not affect conception, or you may find you need a bit longer to reach full fertility. If you do, this can be frustrating but you’ll likely get there in time.
Know that you are meeting your son’s needs in a wonderful way by breastfeeding him.
Michelle Scott, Chilterns, UK
I conceived all but the first (of course!) of my five children while breastfeeding older siblings. In each case, the older child was still an enthusiastic nursling, but this obviously did not prevent conception. In fact, each child took less time to conceive than the one before, with our youngest being conceived in the first cycle tried (despite the fact that his older sibling was only 15 months old and that I was already 42). I highly recommend reading Adventures in Tandem Nursing. Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond by Hilary Flower if you get the chance.
Gwyneth Little, East Lothian, Scotland, UK
I think it varies from woman to woman. Some women don’t seem to conceive when breastfeeding, others do. I conceived the first month of trying when my eldest was 18 months old, and still a frequent nurser, and conceived again first time trying when my middle son was ten months old, even though I was tandem-feeding my two boys at the time.
If your periods have returned I don’t see there is any reason why you should not conceive again while nursing.
Sarah Shaw, USA
My toddler was feeding very frequently, including a lot at night, when I fell pregnant with my second child. He was 20 months then. I was particularly delighted to fall pregnant quickly, as it had taken us over six years to get pregnant first time round.
The literature seems to suggest that if you’ve got your periods back you can assume you are fully fertile.
Good luck with feeding through pregnancy. I found it challenging, but I know not everyone does. If you haven’t already read Adventures in Tandem Nursing. Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond you might want to read it now.
Carol Merrin, Derby, UK
It took me 28 months for my periods to return, and then a further four or five months until my periods were actually ‘normal’ with a long enough luteal phase (the bit after ovulation) to sustain a fertilized egg.
Our son was conceived when my daughter was 33 months old and still an avid breastfeeder— particularly at night time and lots in the morning. She is almost four years old now and breastfed through my pregnancy and is still feeding avidly and waking at nighttime! I think hormone levels are particularly affected by breastfeeding at nighttime so sometimes ceasing to breastfeed at night will help a mum to conceive.
The book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler was particularly helpful. It really helps women to understand their bodies and their fertility as well as the time margin that there is every month for conceiving. Hope this helps!
Teika Bellamy, Nottingham, UK
When my daughter Lily-Rose was one year old my menstrual periods came back despite still nursing her frequently.
She would usually have a good stretch during the night when she would not feed, around six hours. I thought that if my periods were back then my body must be ready for another pregnancy. We decided to try for a second baby. I became pregnant when Lily-Rose was 17 months old.
Lily-Rose was always such a keen nursling that I couldn’t imagine stopping her nursing. I decided to carry on and see how it went. The only difficulties I found were that my nipples became very sensitive and my milk supply reduced as the pregnancy went on. Lily-Rose never seemed to notice any difference and was happy as long as she could still have her milk. We talked a lot about how she would share Mummy’s milk with the new baby.
When I went into labor I was still able to feed Lily-Rose at bedtime, then went into hospital during the night. Our son Theo was born in the early hours and we went home later that day, so I was still able to feed Lily-Rose that night as well. I then fed the two of them with no problems.
Lily-Rose found it very strange when my milk came in again and she was suddenly getting lots out but she adjusted to it. She was always very accepting of Theo and that he had to have his milk first and throughout the day. She would then happily have her milk at night and in the morning and carried on until she was three and a half.
Deborah Kitchiner, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, UK
I sympathize with your situation as I too have an enthusiastic breastfeeding son, aged almost three, who is definitely not ready to give up. I’ve come to believe very strongly in letting him wean at his own pace as I can see how much the breastfeeding relationship benefits both of us, especially at times of illness, upheaval and anxiety.
However, the answer to your question is an emphatic yes. As I write this, I am five months pregnant and conceived without placing any restrictions on my son’s feeding. I was also lucky enough to become good friends with four wonderful women whom I met through various local antenatal/mother and baby groups, all of whom conceived their second child while breastfeeding their first. They also breastfed, as I have, for at least the first few months of pregnancy, with one mother initiating weaning, one toddler weaning spontaneously and the other two continuing after their new siblings were born. I feel really privileged to have been able to see my friends go through this experience before embarking on it myself.
In societies like ours where extended breastfeeding is unusual, it is easy to assume it may be to blame for any problems we encounter along the way. It was hugely reassuring to see with my own eyes that nursing is not necessarily an obstacle to getting pregnant and to compare notes with friends on whether it seemed to increase the length of time taken to conceive; it didn’t for any of us. The severity of morning sickness and other pregnancy-related complaints varied from mother to mother. Some had easier second pregnancies while some found it more difficult. I realize having such close support may be a rarity today, but I am sure LLL members in your area will be willing to share their stories with you.
Every woman is different and it seems that some do experience lower fertility during nursing, but there are plenty of women who have—accidentally or not—found their fertility perfectly adequate regardless of regular breastfeeding! I hope you will be one of them.
Member, London, UK
I conceived my second child while still nursing my 15-month-old son. My third was conceived when my second nursling was about 25 months. In both cases it only took a few months of “trying.” If you are getting your periods, you are quite likely ovulating! Good luck to you!
Leah Pro, Skippack, PA, USA
Mother’s New Situation
My son is 11 months old and breastfeeds happily day and night. I’m enjoying this time together and happy with how things are going. He’s reaching all his developmental milestones, is eating well and is healthy. My only difficulty is my mom and sister saying, “Why are you still doing that?!” They keep telling me he doesn’t need my milk any more and that he should move on to “proper” cows’ milk by the time he’s one.
How have other moms dealt with close family being critical of breastfeeding beyond 12 months and do I really need to give my son a pint of cows’ milk daily after his first birthday?
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