Trying to Conceive while Breastfeeding

An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:

I am the mother of a breastfed six month old. We would like to conceive another baby as soon as possible, and I have heard of other breastfeeding mothers becoming pregnant. Do you have any suggestions?

Here’s what our natural parenting mentors had to say:

Jennifer: Hi Amanda! I need to disclose that I am in no way, shape or form a medical professional. This information is based on conversations with other mothers trying to conceive and learning what worked for them.

First and foremost, you need to make sure that your body is as healthy as possible. Most doctors and professionals suggest waiting two years between pregnancies so your body has ample time to recover and restore all of the nutrients that the previous pregnancy depleted from it. Since you are wanting to become pregnant prior to the two year marker, you need to be eating lots of healthy fats (see this blog post for more info on fats) and eating a very balanced diet. You need your body to be strong. You also need to be at a healthy weight. If you are too thin, you may have a more difficult time conceiving.

Now for some tips and tricks. According to my La Leche League leader, if you have not gotten your period back yet, or if you have and are trying to conceive, you will have a greater chance of success if you have a six hour period between the hours of 9:00pm and 6:00am (with midnight to 6am being the optimal window) where you are not breastfeeding. So far, this has sealed the deal for everyone in my local LLL group. When everything else was failing, this worked, so you might want to give it some consideration. I have not yet had a six hour rest period from breastfeeding and have not gotten my period back yet, so I personally think that there is some merit to this.

Once your period has returned you will want to check your basal body temperature and cervical mucus regularly to determine your most fertile days (or use an ovulation predictor kit). You and your partner will want to take advantage of this time at least once daily. The best sexual position for trying to conceive is with the woman on the bottom. It may also be helpful for you to lay on your back after intercourse with your knees to your chest for fifteen minutes.

Try using a Softcup. Several of my friends swear by these. Softcups are inserted and placed close to the cervix after intercourse to help hold semen close to the cervix.

The following supplements are known to help increase fertility:
• Fermented Cod Liver Oil: This will keep your entire body strong. It is highly recommended for fertility, breastfeeding, and pregnancy.
• Vitamin C: This helps to make blood vessel walls stronger, fight infections, and speed the healing of wounds. In addition, Vitamin C is thought to increase the amount of water in your cervical mucus, which will help cervical mucus to be more plentiful. This, in turn, will help you to be able to conceive.
• Nitric Oxide: This can help your blood vessels to dilate. This allows blood to flow more freely to your reproductive organs. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that Nitric Oxide can also help to increase your cervical mucus.
• Lactobacilli: This is a kind of bacteria that is an important part of your overall health. They help to keep the vaginal environment less acidic and more hospitable to sperm.
• Grapeseed Extract: The most nutritious part of a grape is the seed. In this case, grapeseed works especially well with Vitamin C to increase its effectiveness. This is also a wonderful antioxidant that can help your overall health.
• Evening Primrose Oil: This herb is used for the purpose of helping to make your cervical mucus more plentiful. It is an essential fatty acid, and it also has some anti-inflammatory properties.

Vitamin B6, Chasteberry, Flaxseed Oil, and CoEnzyme Q10 are also known to be effective.

There are also a lot of supplement combos and teas in health food stores or online that claim to increase fertility. Before taking any supplement, check with your doctor to make sure it is safe to take while breastfeeding and to determine the correct dosage.

I hope that this information helps! Good luck to you, mama.

Sheryl: Hi Amanda! It is definitely possible to become pregnant while breastfeeding. Before you can become pregnant, your body has to return to a fertile state. This can happen at any point in time and varies greatly from mother to mother. It depends on a baby’s nursing patterns and how sensitive a mother’s body is to hormones involved with breastfeeding.

If you want to become pregnant, there are some things you can do. A mother is more likely to return to fertility when a baby’s nursing frequency and/or duration is reduced. A return to fertility is more likely to happen when the change to your nursing pattern is abrupt – for example, if your baby starts eating a lot of solids and nursing much less, or if your baby nightweans and sleeps through the night.

You mention that your current baby is six months old. Some mothers find that their milk supply drastically reduces or completely dries up during pregnancy. If you become pregnant before your baby is a year old you will likely have to supplement with formula, so this is something to consider.

For more information, check out the page on Breastfeeding and Fertility. Good luck!

Melissa: Congratulations on your plans to try and conceive another baby! I know of several women who have become pregnant while breastfeeding, including myself, although it is rare with a six-month-old nursling. I think the main reason that it is uncommon to hear of women becoming pregnant six months after the birth of their previous child is that most families prefer more generous spacing between babies. However, not everyone wishes to space their children more widely for a variety of reasons, and getting pregnant while nursing is possible!

The answer to your question is dependant on several variables. If your menstrual cycle has returned since the birth of your child, it is safe to assume that getting pregnant again will not be challenging, although breastfeeding does affect fertility even with the return of ovulation and menstruation. If your cycle has not returned, or has returned but is sporadic and unpredictable, trying to conceive can be more of a challenge. According to Dr. Sears, “when menstrual periods return, the first one is often anovulatory, meaning that it is not preceded by ovulation (the release of an egg), and thus you could not have gotten pregnant before this first period. However, about 5 percent of women do ovulate before having their first period, and the longer you have gone without having periods, the more likely this is to happen. Thus it’s possible to become pregnant while breastfeeding, even if you are not menstruating.”

La Leche League published an article “Boosting Fertility While Breastfeeding,” which addresses the issue of trying to conceive while nursing. One of the responders states that, while menstruation may make fertilization possible, “the luteal phase must last at least 10 days to allow a fertilized egg to implant.” It is this phase which can be affected by breastfeeding even if a woman’s cycles have returned.

Cutting back on night nursing is a common method to try and improve one’s chances to conceive. Depending upon your sleeping arrangements and your six month old’s personality, this may or may not be an option for you. Babies who co-sleep, which is an arrangement encouraged by attachment parents and natural parenting advocates, could be harder to night wean if they are not yet ready. An alternative is to replace daytime nursings with solid foods. At six months of age your baby is just beginning to be physiologically ready for solid food, and many babies this age are learning about and playing with food more than they are ingesting it! The goal, if fertility is being affected by breastfeeding, is simply to cut back on the amount of time your baby spends at the breast. This often happens naturally around six months of age, so you may find that your baby doesn’t need any encouragement to reduce the amount of time spent nursing. It appears from the research that it is not the total volume of milk removed but rather the amount of time spent suckling which affects prolactin levels and, therefore, fertility cycles. Six month old babies still need a fairly high volume of breastmilk to meet their nutritional needs, so anything which encourages more efficient nursing is best. For example, try to nurse with fewer distractions so your baby will settle and nurse quickly rather than pop on and off for a more extended period of time. Assure a deep latch each time for more efficient milk removal. Try using breast compression while nursing to maximize efficiency of milk removal and shorten overall suckling time (see Dr. Jack Newman’s tutorial on breast compression for further information).

Charting your ovulation cycles can be very helpful, and several resources have been cited as helpful for learning more about fertility and tuning in to your body’s cycles. In particular, the La Leche League article states: “Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a comprehensive guide to many aspects of fertility and includes a positive and encouraging chapter on breastfeeding and fertility. Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon explores how food choices and combinations can increase or decrease a woman’s ability to become pregnant with a supportive stance concerning breastfeeding. Your Fertility Signals: Using Them to Achieve or Avoid Pregnancy by Merryl Winstein provides basic fertility information and also discusses fertility concerns while breastfeeding. Nikky Wesson’s Enhancing Fertility Naturally: Holistic Therapies for a Successful Pregnancy takes the basics one step further by incorporating information on acupuncture, aromatherapy, and relaxation as it relates to fertility. Of course, the classic book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley, continues to be a valuable resource for a clear understanding of the impact of breastfeeding on fertility.”

It can be a delicate balance, maintaining a breastfeeding relationship and trying to conceive. Each family will work out a system that works best for them. Keep in mind that pregnancy can often affect milk supply. The placenta produces hormones that suppress lactation, so if your nursling is as young as six months, supplemental feedings may be necessary if your milk supply drops. It is possible to continue breastfeeding throughout pregnancy and to tandem nurse both children after your second baby is born, and some women experience no drop in milk supply while pregnant. Keep in mind that a drop is a possibility. Human Milk For Human Babies is a good resource for human milk sharing in both the U.S.A. and Canada if you are concerned about your milk supply after you experience success with trying to conceive! Other good resources include Kellymom and Dr. Sears’ Breastfeeding & Fertility.

Above all, be patient! Trying to conceive can take time. Best of luck!

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