Myths about postpartum fertility are widespread. From rumors that it is impossible to get pregnant while breastfeeding to beliefs that the body will not get pregnant until it is “ready,” it can be hard to get the facts.
While unlikely, it is possible to get pregnant less than 6 weeks after having a baby. However, it is impossible until a woman ovulates again. The point at which ovulation happens varies from person to person, which means some women could get pregnant earlier than others.
Sometimes, ovulation happens before a period, so it is also possible for a woman to get pregnant before having the first postpartum period.
In this article, learn more about how soon a woman can get pregnant after having a baby, as well as how long to wait, and the possible risks of pregnancies that are too close together.
Ovulation occurs when an ovary releases an egg for fertilization. If the egg is unfertilized, the body expels the egg, the uterine lining, and blood in a menstrual period. Ovulation must occur for a woman to get pregnant, and regular periods are a sign that a woman has ovulated.
A 2011 review of previous studies found that women ovulate for the first time between 45 to 94 days after giving birth. Most women did not begin ovulating until at least 6 weeks after childbirth, but a few ovulated sooner.
Usually, women who are not breastfeeding ovulate sooner after giving birth than women who do breastfeed.
However, a woman’s first ovulation cycle might occur before she gets her first postpartum period. This means that it is possible for a woman to get pregnant before menstruation begins again.
Pregnancy causes many hormonal shifts, and it takes the body time to get back to normal. For many women, their first few postpartum periods are irregular.
Breastfeeding often prevents ovulation, but this is not always the case. However, women who breastfeed their infants exclusively for 6 months are less likely to ovulate during this time than women who do not breastfeed.
Some women use breastfeeding as a birth control method. Doctors call this the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). Amenorrhea means a lack of menstruation.
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- The baby must be younger than 6 months old. After 6 months, breastfeeding often becomes less frequent, increasing the risk that ovulation will return.
- The mother must be exclusively or almost exclusively breastfeeding. Giving formula or other foods to the baby increases the time between breastfeeding sessions. Breastfeeding on demand with intervals of no more than 4–6 hours between feedings is the most effective strategy.
- The woman’s period must not have returned. While not all menstruating women are fertile, the return of a woman’s period suggests the body is preparing to ovulate.
Research on the effectiveness of the LAM is mixed. One major challenge of this method is that it is difficult to use correctly. Traveling away from the baby overnight or spending long days at work can create gaps in breastfeeding that make this method less effective.
According to Planned Parenthood, LAM is about 98 percent effective when people use this method in the first 6 months after the baby is born.
After 6 months postpartum, LAM is less effective. Women who are not considering another pregnancy might think about starting to use another contraceptive method.
Getting pregnant again too soon after giving birth increases the risk of adverse outcomes for both the woman and baby. Recovering from birth takes time, especially if there were complications.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the safest option is to wait 24 months before trying for another baby. The charity March of Dimes suggests waiting at least 18 months.
Women who have had a pregnancy loss, stillbirth, hemorrhage, or surgical birth may need to wait longer. Talk to a midwife or doctor for help timing the next pregnancy.
Some women cannot imagine having another baby after giving birth, while others cannot wait to start planning for another.
There is no right or wrong way to feel about getting pregnant after childbirth. But practical considerations — including whether pregnancy might disrupt breastfeeding, and the safety of a pregnancy soon after birth — should play a role in the decision.
Also, recommendations for when it is safe to have sex after giving birth vary. In general, it is best to wait until postpartum bleeding has stopped, pain has disappeared, and a woman wants to have sex.
Consider using the final postpartum doctor’s visit as a chance to discuss birth control options and ask questions about fertility, as well as any concerns about having sex.
Women have many options for preventing pregnancy, including condoms and hormonal contraceptives that are safe to use while breastfeeding. In many cases, the LAM method will be effective for the first 6 months postpartum.