Yes, you can get pregnant before your period returns post-baby

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When Kate* was 28 she became nauseous and started vomiting. When the vomiting continued for over 24 hours, she decided to see her GP for what she thought was food poisoning.

Kate was still breastfeeding her 17-month-old daughter, Lily*, at the time, and had not yet had her period since giving birth. As a result, Kate assumed there was no way she could be pregnant.

"My GP insisted on a pregnancy test even though I thought it was pointless," she says. "I was stunned when I found out I was pregnant - but also elated."

The news came as such a surprise, Kate says, because she "had no idea" it was even possible to get pregnant before your period returned.

Kate was already 10 weeks along by the time she found out she was expecting. Though surprised, she was also ecstatic. "I thought it was an amazing occurrence, that it was meant to be."

While unplanned pregnancies happen all the time, they can be even more unexpected when you don't think it's even possible. This is the case for many women who assume that, because their periods haven't come back after giving birth, they don't need to worry about using contraception.

The truth is, having your period means that you've ovulated (released an egg). Ovulation occurs roughly two weeks before your period arrives. If you ovulate and your egg remains unfertilised (as in, you don't get pregnant), your uterus then sheds the lining it had built up as a potential 'home' for a baby - that is, you get your period.

So while you may not see much 'proof' your body is back in business until you get your period, by the time your period arrives, ovulation has already occurred - which is when you can conceive your next baby.

While some women have symptoms of ovulation, they can be subtle and easy to miss, especially when you're not expecting them.  

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That was what happened to Kate. "In retrospect, I had some slight ovulation pains around the time I got pregnant, but I didn't recognise them at the time," she says. After 26 months without a period (from pregnancy through her time breastfeeding Lily), Kate simply wasn't in tune with those symptoms anymore.

While it's extremely unlikely to fall pregnant mere weeks after giving birth (and it's probably just as unlikely that you'll be ready for sex then!), you need to use contraception if you don't want to get pregnant again.  

Yes, breastfeeding can reduce the chances of that happening. But breastfeeding can only work as a contraceptive if you are doing it exclusively (no formula feeds, no solid food) and if the feeds are close enough together. While Kate was breastfeeding when she fell pregnant the second time, Lily was already on solid feeds.

Once you're ready to have sex again, it can be helpful to see your doctor to discuss your contraceptive choices.

Remember, you can't use the regular pill while breastfeeding, but you can use the mini-pill. There are also longer-term contraceptives available like Implanon (which can be effective for up to 3 years) and IUDs (which can be effective for up to 10 years, depending on the type you use). Condoms are also an option.

After the birth of her second child, Kate was more careful with contraception, using both condoms and the mini-pill long before her period returned.

Mind you, while her second pregnancy was unexpected, it was also a source of great joy. "I don't have any regrets, of course," she says. "I see my son as a miracle and am grateful every day that he came into existence."

* Not their real names

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