How soon can you get pregnant after childbirth?

Written by emily weaver
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How soon can you get pregnant after childbirth?
(Photos8: Photos8.com)

After the birth of a baby, many women wonder when their menstrual cycles and subsequently, fertility, will return. The answer to this depends on several factors, including whether or not the mother is breastfeeding her baby. Childbirth takes a toll on the mother's body, and therefore, achieving pregnancy in the weeks immediately following the birth of your baby is not recommended by most health care professionals. Because of this, it is important for mothers to know when they could become fertile again and take precautions to avoid pregnancy.

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Ovulation after Childbirth

Most women experience three to eight weeks of bleeding following childbirth. In the first days immediately following the birth of your baby, this bleeding is bright red in colour. As time passes, this bleeding, also known as lochia, will become lighter in flow and colour, signalling the mother's uterus is nearly fully healed. The chances that a mother will ovulate during the first six weeks after giving birth is relatively low, although not impossible.

Once the postpartum bleeding has stopped and if the mother is not exclusively breastfeeding, she likely will resume ovulation around 10 weeks after childbirth. In fact, 80 per cent of all women who do not breastfeed report that their period has returned by this time. Because of this fact, it is possible for a woman to become pregnant before she ever has a period. If a woman is not exclusively breastfeeding, she should talk to her health care provider about contraceptive options at her six-week postpartum checkup.

Breastfeeding

If a mother exclusively breastfeeds her baby, her chances of ovulating soon after giving birth decrease tremendously. In order for this to occur a mother must nurse her baby on demand and limit the amount of supplementation with a bottle. This method, known as the lactational amenorrhoea method, has been proven to be 98 per cent effective in preventing ovulation when used in this way.

The reason breastfeeding is so effective at preventing ovulation is because the hormone prolactin is produced in large amounts every time the baby suckles at the breast. Prolactin naturally suppresses ovulation. Mothers should be aware that this method will only work as long as they continue exclusively breastfeeding. Once the baby begins to take more solid foods, or begins sleeping through the night thereby increasing the amount of time between feedings, mothers should begin to use another form of birth control because ovulation could resume at any time.

Resuming Sex

Most doctors advise mothers to wait at least six weeks after child birth has occurred before resuming sexual activity. This is because the mother's body takes at least this long to heal and recover from the trauma of childbirth. Many woman find sex to be uncomfortable for several months to a year following the birth of their baby. This is very normal, but women should discuss any concerns they have with their doctors.

Around six weeks after giving birth, most women will return to their doctor for a postpartum checkup. At this visit, the doctor will examine the patient and make sure she is healing properly. Around this time, most doctors give the green light to resume intercourse and also will discuss appropriate birth control options.

Looking Ahead

A study in the British Medical Journal has found that women who wait less than six months between pregnancies are at an increased risk of complications in the subsequent pregnancy including miscarriage, preterm labour or neonatal death. Because of these heightened risks, most health care providers advise women to wait at least six months before trying to conceive again.

If a woman is still breastfeeding her baby, it is recommended she wean her child once she becomes pregnant again, a consideration mothers should make when deciding when to begin trying to conceive.

Considerations

Because every woman and situation is unique, remember that it is possible at any point after giving birth to become pregnant if you have unprotected sexual intercourse. If ovulation occurs and birth control is not used, pregnancy is a distinct possibility. Therefore it is important to discuss birth control options with your health care provider and partner if another pregnancy is not immediately desired.

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