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Breastfeeding and fertility

It is possible to get pregnant while you are breastfeeding. Read about fertility when breastfeeding and how to increase your chances of getting pregnant.

You're unlikely to have periods if you are exclusively breastfeeding and your baby is under 6 months.

Exclusively breastfeeding means that you are:

  • giving your baby no other food or drinks
  • feeding on demand (including during the night)
  • not using a pacifier (soother)

Your chances of becoming pregnant in this case are around 3%.

If you're not ready to conceive, use contraception because fertility can return when you are breastfeeding.

Contraception and breastfeeding

Your chances of getting pregnant may increase when your baby is about 6 months old.

This is when your baby starts to take food and drinks other than breast milk.

You may trigger ovulation earlier if:

  • you leave gaps of 6 hours or longer between breastfeeds
  • you miss feeds during the night. Prolactin (the milk-making hormone) levels are usually higher at night. Prolactin can suppress (stop) ovulation

Fertility

You will generally know when your fertility returns because you will have your first period after pregnancy. This means that you have already ovulated.

Every woman is unique and your fertility will return in its own time. Some mothers get periods very early on while breastfeeding. Others may only get their periods back after the first year of breastfeeding.

Bringing fertility back sooner

To bring back your fertility sooner, try changing your breastfeeding pattern. There is no general rule around breastfeeding frequency that leads to the return of fertility.

Abrupt changes in breastfeeding generally brings back fertility quicker. Keep in mind that you and your baby would have to be ready for this change. Suddenly stopping breastfeeding can impact the bond your baby is enjoying.

Getting pregnant before your first period

It is possible to get pregnant before your first period after pregnancy. But, it is unlikely that the first egg released will result in conception. Generally, you must have a regular cycle of ovulation and menstruation to sustain a pregnancy.

Increasing your chance of pregnancy

The best way to become pregnant is to have regular sexual intercourse. This should be at times where you both feel ready to be intimate.

If you're feeling an increased desire to have sex, this may be a clue to your fertility returning.

Return of menstrual cycle

If you are having regular menstrual cycles it is likely you have returned to fertility.

Long, short, or irregular cycles can be a sign that your cycles are not yet fertile. Keeping a record of your cycles can help you to identify that your body is ovulating.

How to tell if you're fertile

If you want to know more about your fertility status, you can use simple family planning methods. Learn more about natural fertility on the Natural Family Planning Teachers Association of Ireland's website.

Toni Weschler, MPH (Master of Public Health), includes a section on charting during breastfeeding in her guide Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

Fertility treatment and breast milk

Fertility treatments are generally safe for your breast milk.

If you're worried about how a particular drug affects breastfeeding, talk to your GP.

Page last reviewed: 19/03/2019
Next review due: 19/03/2022