Why Is Postpartum Birth Control Important?
The simplest reason is there is a higher probability of pregnancy in the postpartum period.
Many people believe that it is impossible to get pregnant again if you are breastfeeding, or until a certain number of weeks after giving birth. Neither is true. If you have unprotected sex at any time after giving birth, there is a chance for another pregnancy. It is possible to get pregnant even if your normal menstrual cycle has not started again.
Not only can that be exhausting on a new mother, but in addition, it can be unsafe to get pregnant right after giving birth. This is especially true within the first six months.
Your body needs time to heal and to adjust. Ideally, you should abstain from having sex at least until you discuss contraception options with your healthcare provider at your postpartum appointment. As far as pregnancy goes, the optimal time to wait before getting pregnant again is 18-24 months.
While plenty of women get pregnant again before that time and go on to have healthy and happy babies, that is not always the case. The closer your pregnancies are spaced together, the more chance there is that something can go wrong.
What Are the Risks of Getting Pregnant Shortly After Giving Birth?
There are several risks associated with getting pregnant too soon after giving birth. These risks are believed to be associated with increased inflammation in the pelvic area, potentially unhealed internal damage, and a depletion of vitamins (such as folate) and minerals. Some of these risks include:
- Premature birth
- Placental abruption
- Low birth weight
- Congenital disorders
- Maternal anemia
It is important to note that these risks do not apply to women who have miscarried. There is no set amount of time that you should wait after a miscarriage, if you feel healthy, and your healthcare provider has given their approval.
Different Types of Birth Control and How to Choose
There is a variety of birth control options to choose from depending on your needs and your desire for future pregnancies. Some offer only a one-time protection while others can last for months or years, and in some cases can even be permanent.
When choosing a birth control method to use after you have a baby, think about the following:
- Timing—Some birth control methods can be started right after childbirth. With other methods, you need to wait a few weeks to start.
- Breastfeeding—All methods are safe to use while breastfeeding. But there are a few methods that are not recommended during the first weeks of breastfeeding because there is a very small risk that they can affect your milk supply.
- Effectiveness—The method you used before pregnancy may not be the best choice to use after pregnancy. For example, the sponge and cervical cap are much less effective in women who have given birth. This is due to the changes in the size and shape of your cervix after giving birth.
Daily and One Time Use
These are the most common methods of prevention and include condoms, internal or female condoms, and sponges. These are great if you don’t plan on limiting your chances of getting pregnant for an extended period or if you are sensitive to other forms of birth control.
Combined Birth Control
These are your most common options, and come in the form of birth control pills, patches, and vaginal rings. It can be difficult to remember to take them daily, weekly, or monthly as required when you have a newborn to take care of.
These are generally not recommended for use right after giving birth as they can contribute to an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). You should wait at least 3 weeks to begin using any of these.
Additionally, if you plan to breastfeed, these can interfere with the establishment of milk production. In case of breastfeeding, you should wait at least 4-6 weeks after giving birth before using these options.
Finally, these methods of birth control are not recommended if you:
- Are over the age of 35
- Have high blood pressure
- Have migraines with aura
- Have breast cancer
- Have a history of stroke, heart attack, or breast cancer
Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
IUDs are quickly becoming the most popular form of birth control because once they’re placed you don’t have to worry about them or do anything else to prevent pregnancy. They can be placed immediately after giving birth or at your first postpartum appointment.
The majority are approved for use for 3-6 years, but the copper ones can be left for up to 10 years. They work by stopping the sperm from getting anywhere near your eggs so that they can’t be fertilized. They are comfortable once placed and don’t interfere with sex.
There are significantly fewer side effects with most IUDs than with other forms of birth control, however roughly 5% of people have reported that their IUD slipped out of place within the first year. This can cause pain or infection. Some women report some spotting and irregular bleeding within the first few months.
These include medications such as Depo Provera and can be used immediately after giving birth. Injections work by preventing ovulation and are typically given either in the arm or the buttock every 3 months.
You should not take these if you are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. In addition, potential side effects include bone loss, irregular bleeding, headaches, and weight gain. This is also one of the few options where fertility may take a few months to begin again after you discontinue treatment.
A thin, approximately inch long flexible tube is placed directly into your upper arm and works by continuously releasing the hormone progestin into your body. This method can be placed immediately after giving birth and is effective for up to three years before it needs to be replaced.
The good thing about the birth control implant is that it can be removed by a healthcare provider at any time, and your normal cycle will begin again almost immediately. If you are looking for a flexible option for birth control, then this is a good choice.
Side effects can include unpredictable bleeding, mood changes, headaches, acne, and depression.
If you have recently given birth, don’t add more unnecessary stress into your life by worrying about getting pregnant again before you are ready. Consult your healthcare provider to understand which postpartum birth control option is best for you.