There are a lot of myths about preventing pregnancy that you might have heard over the years. In some cases, you might dismiss them as outlandish. But in other cases, you might wonder if there’s a grain of truth to them.
For example, is it true that you can’t get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding? No. Although you might have heard otherwise, it’s actually possible to get pregnant when breastfeeding.
Keep reading to learn about some of the popular myths about birth control following childbirth — and get the facts you need to debunk them.
The simple fact is that you can get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding.
However, this popular misconception does have a small grain of truth to it.
Breastfeeding can potentially lower your chances of getting pregnant by suppressing the hormones that trigger ovulation. However, it’s only an effective form of birth control if you meet all of the following criteria:
- you nurse at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night
- you don’t feed your baby anything other than breast milk
- you don’t use a breast milk pump
- you gave birth no more than 6 months ago
- you haven’t had a period since giving birth
If you can’t check off all of those items, breastfeeding won’t stop you from getting pregnant if you have unprotected sex.
Even if you do meet all of those criteria, there’s still a chance that you could conceive. According to Planned Parenthood, about 2 out of 100 people who use exclusive breastfeeding as birth control get pregnant in the 6 months after their baby is born.
The reality is, unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy even if you’ve recently given birth. So if you don’t want to get pregnant again right away, it’s a good idea to plan what type of birth control you will use after childbirth.
Your doctor will likely recommend waiting for a period of time after you give birth before you start having sex again. For example, some healthcare providers recommend waiting 4 to 6 weeks before having sex. This can give your body time to heal from possible complications of pregnancy and childbirth, such as vaginal tears.
To prepare for the day when you’re ready to have sex again after giving birth, talk to your doctor about putting a birth control plan in place. That way, you won’t be caught unprepared when the moment strikes.
Hormonal birth control methods are generally safe for nursing mothers and babies. However, some types of hormonal birth control are more suitable than others in the early weeks of breastfeeding.
There’s a very small chance that hormonal birth control methods that contain estrogen may interfere with your breast milk supply, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). So if you plan to breastfeed your baby, your doctor may advise you to wait for up to 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth before using birth control methods that contain estrogen. These methods include combination birth control pills, the ring, and the patch.
Birth control methods that contain estrogen also raise your risk of developing blood clots in veins that are located deep inside your body. Your risk of developing such clots is higher when you’ve recently given birth.
To avoid these potential risks in the weeks following childbirth, your doctor may encourage you to use progestin-only hormonal birth control.
According to ACOG, progestin-only methods can be used right away and may provide the following potential benefits:
- they are safe to take during all stages of breastfeeding
- they may reduce menstrual bleeding or stop your period entirely
- they may be safely used even if you have a history of blood clots or heart disease
Even if you’re planning to have more children in the near future, you can still use long-acting birth control methods after giving birth.
For example, you may choose to have an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted in your uterus after delivering your baby. In fact, if you plan ahead, an IUD can be placed in your uterus just 10 minutes after giving birth and delivering the placenta.
When you’re ready to try to get pregnant again, your doctor can remove the IUD. After this device is removed, you can try to conceive again right away.
Another long-acting reversible method of birth control is the birth control implant. If you choose to get this implant, your doctor can insert it into your arm immediately after childbirth. They can remove the implant at any time to immediately reverse its effects.
The birth control shot also lasts for longer than some types of birth control, but it takes time for the hormones in the shot to leave your system. If you decide to use the birth control shot, the effects of each shot typically last for about three months. But according to the Mayo Clinic, it may take up to 10 months or more before you’re able to get pregnant after your last shot.
If you want to have more children in the future, talk to your doctor about your family planning goals and timeline. They can help you learn which birth control options best fit your situation.
You might have heard that your body needs time to adjust before you start taking birth control after giving birth. But that’s a misconception.
In fact, ACOG recommends that you start using birth control immediately following childbirth to help prevent unplanned pregnancies.
The organization also recommends that you talk to your doctor about the best birth control options for you. That’s because some birth control options may be more effective or suitable than others following the birth of a baby.
For example, the sponge, cervical cap, and diaphragm are less effective than usual after childbirth because the cervix needs time to return to its normal size and shape. You should wait for 6 weeks after childbirth before using any of these birth control methods, ACOG advises. If you used a cervical cap or diaphragm before giving birth, the device may need to be refitted after birth.
Other birth control methods may be used immediately after childbirth. These include IUDs, the birth control implant, the birth control shot, progestin-only birth control pills, and condoms. If you don’t want to have any more children, you might also consider sterilization.
Your doctor can help you learn more about the potential benefits and risks of different birth control methods.
There are several other myths that you might have come across while talking to friends or family or researching birth control online.
For example, the following misconceptions are untrue:
- You can’t get pregnant in certain positions. (The reality is, you can get pregnant after having unprotected sex in any position.)
- You can’t get pregnant if your partner pulls out when they ejaculate. (The truth is, semen can find its way to an egg in your body, even if your partner pulls their penis out during sex.)
- You can’t get pregnant if you only have sex when you’re not ovulating. (In fact, it’s difficult to know with certainty when you’re ovulating, and sperm can survive in your body for days leading up to ovulation.)
If you have any questions or doubts about what you’ve heard or read about birth control, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you choose a method that will fit your lifestyle and health needs.
To avoid unwanted pregnancy after giving birth, it’s best to start thinking about birth control options while your baby is still in your womb.
It’s possible to get pregnant very soon after having a baby. That’s why you should talk to your doctor about your family planning goals and birth control options. They can help you learn which birth control options are best for you, including which methods can be used right after giving birth.
Jenna is the mom to an imaginative daughter who truly believes she’s a princess unicorn and that her younger brother is a dinosaur. Jenna’s other son was a perfect baby boy, born sleeping. Jenna writes extensively about health and wellness, parenting, and lifestyles. In a past life, Jenna worked as a certified personal trainer, Pilates and group fitness instructor, and dance teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.