Get the facts on the best postpartum birth control options—because you could get pregnant again sooner than you may think.
By Sarah Z. Wexler
Are you reading for a forehead-slappingly-unfair fact? Some women can get pregnant as little as three weeks after birth, even if their period hasn’t returned yet. Three weeks!
At your six-week postpartum appointment, hopefully your OB/GYN talked with you about a birth control plan (yes, even if sex feels like a million miles away at this point). Your doc isn’t jumping the gun—after all, a whopping 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States each year are unintended.
Read on for how to protect yourself from an unplanned pregnancy and to learn about different birth control options.
If you know you want to grow your family: Even if you know you want another baby, research suggests waiting at least 18 months before attempting your next pregnancy. That gives your body a chance to rebound and build back stores of the nutrients you may have lost during your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum span. Waiting at least 18 months between one birth and your next pregnancy reduces the risk of you having pregnancy complications and other health problems.
Don’t count on infertility: Knowing the facts means you won’t fall into a common–but false!–belief. A big myth is that because you had a difficult time getting pregnant in the past, it will be the same going forward. Because that can totally change, even for couples who spent years trying to conceive or used IUI or IVF. In fact, a fertility doc adage is “Don’t let your past infertility be your future birth control.”
Don’t rely only on breastfeeding: Another myth is that if you’re breastfeeding, you can’t get pregnant. In truth, the contraceptive effectiveness of breastfeeding varies from woman to woman. For breastfeeding to work as birth control, you must do it exclusively (no formula—and not even any pumping!), nursing every four hours during the day and every six hours through the night...and even following all of these things perfectly, it only works for the first six months or until you get your first period, whichever comes first. So since this is a pretty high threshold to make it work, and it’s only a short-term solution, it’s good not to rely on breastfeeding as birth control and to look into longer-term solutions.
Birth control options: Even if you’re breastfeeding, it’s safe to use birth control (for options that contain estrogen, like the pill, patch, or ring, wait until you’re three weeks postpartum). Hormonal birth control won’t hurt you or your baby. Types of hormonal options include: a shot, an implant, Skyla and Mirena IUDs, birth control pill or mini-pills, the patch, or the ring. One thing to consider is that with sleep deprivation and all of the very many things you need to remember as a parent to a baby, taking your birth control pill (especially around the same time every day) may not be that feasible for you. In that case, you may want to opt for an IUD, which is “set it and forget it,” as once it’s inserted, it lasts for several years (the Mirena lasts for five years and the copper IUD for 12).
If you know you’re done having kids: You can get your tubes tied (aka sterilization) or your partner can have a vasectomy, but both methods are only for people who are absolutely positive they don’t want any more kids. Another option that’s long-term “set it and forget it” but not permanent is an IUD, as the Mirena lasts for five years and the copper IUD for 12.
So even before sex is on your radar, it’s good to talk with your doctor about birth control before you jump back between the sheets.