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You might have heard people say that breastfeeding is a great natural contraceptive and wondered if it is true. While many women do not menstruate while they are breastfeeding, this does not mean that they are not fertile during this time. Using some means of contraception is essential if you are keen on avoiding pregnancy during your breastfeeding days.
Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Yes, it is possible to be breastfeeding and get pregnant at the same time. A mother whose infant is under the age of six months and is exclusively breastfed might not menstruate during this period. But there is no way of determining when her body might release an egg, leading to ovulation. So, the chances of becoming pregnant during breastfeeding do exist, though it might be marginally lower.
How Does Breastfeeding Affect Pregnancy?
There is increased production of the hormone prolactin in your body as a result of the nipples being stimulated during breastfeeding. Higher levels of prolactin mean a decrease in your fertility. This hormone prevents ovulation and keeps menstruation from happening. Prolactin levels are at their highest during night-time and soon after you wake up. But, it is important to remember that there can be ovulation even if you do not experience any menstrual flow yet.
Baseline Prolactin Levels in Women
The amount of prolactin in a woman’s body will vary depending on whether she is pregnant or not, as well as the postpartum period and whether she’s lactating. Here is a sample table to give you an idea of normal prolactin levels:
|Your Condition||Prolactin (mg/ml)|
|Not pregnant and not lactating||<25|
|Pregnant (Full Term)||200|
|Postpartum (7 days) and lactating||100|
|Postpartum (3 months) and lactating||100|
|Postpartum (6 months), lactating, no menstruation||110|
|Postpartum (6 months), lactating, menstruating||70|
|Postpartum (9 months) and lactating||50|
Common Signs of Pregnancy While You Are Breastfeeding
If you become pregnant while breastfeeding, there are some symptoms that you might experience:
1. Excessive Thirst
You might start to feel quite thirsty frequently, and this is common during breastfeeding as your baby will be consuming a major chunk of the fluids you take in. But if you are pregnant while breastfeeding, it could heighten your thirst as the new baby will also require fluids and will be drawing this from your body.
Being fatigued is one of the common symptoms of pregnancy while breastfeeding. Just as you think you are getting your energy levels back to normal, you are likely to feel exhausted at the slightest effort. Simply doing the laundry or washing the dishes might prove to be too much for you. While fatigue usually sets in towards the end of the first trimester, with breastfeeding mothers, this can happen early on.
3. Tender and Painful Breasts
This is one symptom that you are likely to attribute to breastfeeding your baby. However, if you suddenly experience increased nipple sensitivity or find your nipples extra painful and sore after breastfeeding, then you might want to take a pregnancy test.
4. Reduced Milk Production
If you feel that your milk production has significantly decreased and your baby remains hungry even after a normal feed, then it might be due to pregnancy. This usually occurs after about two months of pregnancy but cannot be completely ruled out in the early stages of your pregnancy either. Also, the taste of your breast milk is likely to change if you are pregnant and this might become evident when your baby refuses to feed or seems to feed with some hesitation. Some babies might also start weaning themselves from breast milk as a result of these changes.
The cramping that occurs if you are pregnant can be quite severe. It might feel as if your period is about to start, but that never happens, and only the cramping persists. This could be a strong indicator of the possibility of pregnancy especially if it is accompanied by spotting while breastfeeding.
6. Nausea or Morning Sickness
If you are pregnant while breastfeeding, it is likely that nausea and morning sickness will be greater this time around. Hence, it is important that you ensure it does not prevent you from eating well as you will need to provide nourishment to two babies simultaneously as well as sustain your own energy and health.
7. Increased Levels of Hunger
As a breastfeeding mother, your hunger is bound to have increased significantly. But if there is a sudden spike in your hunger levels accompanied by some of the other symptoms of pregnancy, then there is a good chance that you have conceived once again.
8. Lumps in Your Breasts
Pregnancy, as well as the many hormonal changes that occur postpartum, can lead to the formation of different types of lumps in your breasts. These can range from blocked milk sacs known as galactoceles to fluid-filled cysts and fibrous tissue also known as fibroadenoma.
Health Tips for a Breastfeeding Mother, Unborn Child, and Newborn Baby
If you find out that you are pregnant while you are still breastfeeding your infant, there is nothing to be anxious about. Just following a few simple tips will help ensure that your infant, your unborn baby, and you all stay healthy and well.
1. Eat a Balanced Diet
It is important to eat well and plan your diet properly to ensure that your daily nutrition requirements are fulfilled. You have to nourish not just yourself, but two other growing individuals at the same time. Besides eating a balanced diet, you must take a prenatal vitamin and add at least 500 calories to your daily dietary intake. This is because the foetus will need at least 300 calories to grow adequately. The rest is essential to prevent any interruption in your milk supply for your infant.
2. Rest Well
Your energy levels are likely to be much lower than it would be during a regular pregnancy. This is because your body is involved in nurturing a foetus while it is also nourishing a newborn. This will result in double the effort on your part, and you will be prone to fatigue without doing much. Resting well will help you cope with it all much better.
3. Choose a Comfortable Position
You can choose to either lie down or sit up in a comfortable position when you’re breastfeeding. This will help you catch up on some well-deserved rest, something that you’ll need in abundance while taking care of an infant, that too with a new baby on the way. However, if you do choose to lie down, make sure you don’t fall asleep while breastfeeding your baby.
4. Stay Hydrated
Breastfeeding can rob your body of fluids, and it is important to stay hydrated at all times. When pregnant, this becomes even more important as dehydration can lead to spells of dizziness and prove detrimental to the growth of the foetus. So, make sure you drink lots of water, fruit juices, milkshakes, and other such healthy fluids every day, especially in summer.
5. Ensure Appropriate Nipple Care
The increase in hormone levels, especially of oestrogen and progesterone, can make your nipples sore. Add to this the breastfeeding, and there are higher chances of your nipples becoming dry or cracking. This can lead to bacterial infections if the nipples don’t get adequate care. Using a nipple shield or specific ointments intended for the purpose might give you some relief. The soreness might decrease as the pregnancy progresses and you might feel better in a few weeks’ time.
6. Wean If Required
If you find your pregnancy symptoms worsening or causing you extreme discomfort and having an adverse impact on your health, you might want to consider weaning your child off breastfeeding. You could reduce the number of feeds and supplement with formula the rest of the time. If your child is more than half a year old, you can slowly start increasing the intake of solids and thus, gradually stop breastfeeding altogether. Some children might have an emotional attachment to breastfeeding rather than it being a nutritional need. In this case, increase emotional bonding with your child in other ways to make up for the lack of breastfeeding. Hugs and cuddles aside, make sure to spend more time with your child doing fun activities that will help the two of you bond, thus meeting his emotional requirements.
Is It Safe to Breastfeed While You Are Pregnant?
You might wonder about the safety of breastfeeding while pregnant as it is common knowledge that breastfeeding can cause uterine contractions. Uterine contractions can induce preterm labour in some instances. But you don’t have to worry much about this as it is not a problem in a healthy pregnancy. Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which is what leads to uterine contractions. However, since the hormone is released in very small amounts, it is highly unlikely to lead to contractions that can induce preterm labour. Such mild contractions are harmless to the unborn baby and also unlikely to cause a miscarriage.
However, there are some cases in which your doctor might advise you to stop breastfeeding. These are as follows:
- In the case there is a risk of suffering a miscarriage
- If there is documented cervical incompetence
- After the second trimester of pregnancy, when the needs of the unborn baby increase significantly and can easily tire you out
- During the last trimester of pregnancy when nipple stimulation can lead to contractions
If you get pregnant while breastfeeding, it’s important to weigh the needs and requirements of your nursing child and your unborn child against each other. The decision of whether it is best to continue with breastfeeding or not is something that you must make after evaluating all aspects. Your individual circumstances will also play a crucial role in the decisions you take and the choices you make. Ultimately, it is important not to have any guilt or regrets about any of these later in life.