Breastfeeding as birth control

Breastfeeding as birth control

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We like to think we’re so smart. And for the most part, we are. I mean, we grew a human, didn’t we? We have this otherworldly intuition that tells us when something is wrong with our babies – and when they’re bigger, it tells us when they’re lying to us. That’s a cool part of being a mom. But when it comes to breastfeeding, and especially breastfeeding as birth control, our intuition fails us. We tend to fall for a few myths.

breastfeeding as birth control

Myth 1: Breastfeeding will absolutely prevent pregnancy.

Myth 2: Breastfeeding will absolutely NOT prevent pregnancy.

And myth 3: You can’t get pregnant until your period returns.

Related Post: We gave breastfeeding too much credit. It’s not a magic pill!

I fell for one of these myself. And I got another bouncing baby boy as a result. Now, none of these myths are total lies, but they’re close. Let me explain how they’re right – and how they’re wrong.

Busting the myths

There’s nothing like a little myth-busting to get me excited. I love to prove people wrong! I think it comes from all the times I’ve been wrong…

The myths around using breastfeeding as a kind of contraceptive are especially tricky because they’re not totally wrong – just wrong enough to seriously let you down if you believe them.

First, let’s look at the “breastfeeding will absolutely prevent pregnancy” myth. It’s not true. No form of birth control is 100% effective. Even if you use more than one method, it’s not 100% reliable. Ask me how I know. Breastfeeding can be a decent method to prevent pregnancy, and sometimes it’s an excellent form of birth control — but certain guidelines have to be met for that to be the case. In other words, the simple fact that you’re breastfeeding won’t stop you from getting pregnant.

Next, let’s look at the “breastfeeding will absolutely NOT prevent pregnancy” myth. Once again, not necessarily. As I mentioned above, if the right guidelines are met, breastfeeding is an excellent form or birth control and more than 98% effective. So there are scenarios where you could rely solely on breastfeeding as a contraceptive and not get pregnant. You just have to know what you’re doing and understand that it won’t keep working for as long as you’re lactating.

How you can get pregnant before your period returns

Finally, let’s bust that myth about not getting pregnant until after your period shows up. What you should have learned in sex ed class is that your period occurs approximately every 28 days if you didn’t conceive when you ovulated. Which means, ovulation happens first. Then the period.

What comes first, the period or the egg? The egg. Always the egg.

So while having a period is a good indication that you’re fertile, the first ovulation after you have a baby will happen before your period.

Is breastfeeding reliable as birth control?

It can be. There’s a method called LAM ( which stands for Lactation Amenorrhea Method, a fancy way of saying the no-period-because-I’m- breastfeeding-method). If you follow the method closely, you’ll have less than a 2% chance of getting pregnant. Which is about the same as what you’d get with birth control pills.

Related Post: Question your doctor: 5 Questions breastfeeding moms must ask about new prescriptions

The benefits of the LAM method are that:

  • it’s free
  • it’s easy
  • you’re not putting chemicals into your body
  • it helps keep your milk supply strong

The LAM method works by using your body’s natural hormon systems in your favor. With regular, exclusive breastfeeding, your body produces constant levels of prolactin. This is the milk-making hormone. Prolactin inhibits the amount of estrogen your body makes. By holding back your estrogen levels, your body suppresses ovulation. Which means, no pregnancy!

The most effective way to use breastfeeding as a contraceptive

In order to be effective, the LAM method – or the method of using breastfeeding as birth control – requires that a few criteria are met.

  • Your baby is less than six months old
  • You are exclusively breastfeeding
  • You are feeding on demand with no scheduling of feedings
  • No long intervals between feedings
  • You haven’t had any spotting or bleeding since your postpartum period

And if you’re seriously gung-ho, offering the breast for comfort instead of pacifiers could increase the effectiveness of breastfeeding as birth control. That’s not an easy road to travel though.

Does pumping give the same protection against pregnancy?

No.

Pumping, whether exclusively or not, doesn’t provide the same contraceptive protection that breastfeeding straight from the breast provides. When you pump, you still produce prolactin – but for almost all women, it’s less prolactin than when their baby latches to the breast.

If pumping is a significant part of your breastfeeding, you should definitely use a backup form of birth control.

When to get a backup birth control method

While exclusively breastfeeding is an excellent form of birth control for a while, you’ll eventually need to use another form of contraceptive. When any of these things happen, it’s time to look into adding another form of birth control:

  • Your baby starts sleeping through the night
  • When your baby turns 6 months old
  • Your baby begins eating solid foods (more than just an occasional bite)
  • You’re frequently pumping milk
  • You have stretches of more than 4 hours in the day or 6 hours at night where your baby isn’t on the breast
  • You go back to work (unless you work from home)
  • You’ve started supplementing with formula
  • Your period returns or you begin spotting blood

When you see even one of these signs, that’s your cue that breastfeeding is losing its effectiveness as birth control. Now it’ll still suppress your ovulation somewhat, but not enough that it’s reliable as your sole form of birth control. So unless you’re ready for another baby, use backup!

Do you need to stop breastfeeding to get pregnant?

When you’re ready to try for another baby, you don’t have to stop breastfeeding in order to get pregnant. If your baby is less than six months old, it’s probably going to be difficult to get pregnant. Notice I didn’t say impossible.

Truthfully, your body needs a few months to recover. Pregnancy affects more than just your uterus and abdominal muscles! Your hormones, nutritional stores, and musculoskeletal system are all impacted by pregnancy. Waiting until at least 6 months postpartum to try for another pregnancy is the kindest thing you can do for your body.

If you’re more than 6 months postpartum, exclusively breastfeeding, and struggling to get pregnant, there are a few techniques you can try to help:

  • give your baby pumped milk
  • start offering your baby solid foods
  • supplement with formula

Related Post: 5 Easy ways to make your doctor visit a success

If doing this doesn’t work — or doesn’t feel like something you want to try — talk to your doctor about ways to increase fertility while breastfeeding.

The best birth control

The best birth control out there is the method you’re going to use most reliably. For the first six months postpartum, that can absolutely be breastfeeding if your baby is fed exclusively at the breast, exclusively on demand with no big intervals between feedings, and your period hasn’t returned.

Don’t fall prey to the myth that breastfeeding is 100% reliable, that it’s not reliable at all, or that you’re safe until your period returns. Use the guidelines above to make sure your choice for birth control is as effective as possible.

Did you use breastfeeding as birth control? What’s your experience? Please comment below and tell me!

Resources

https://www.birthcontrol.com/options/breastfeeding-as-birth-control/

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Multicenter-study-of-the-Lactational-Amenorrhea-I.-Labbok-Hight-Laukaran/7f0ef1cc4d2a5fdbde0a6bb761ab2b183c08f830

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7942265

https://flo.health/being-a-mom/adjusting-to-motherhood/contraception/breastfeeding-as-a-contraception-method

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/self-care/sexual-health/article/breastfeeding-birth-control

https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/birth-control/

https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw131799

https://abm.memberclicks.net/assets/DOCUMENTS/PROTOCOLS/13-contraception-and-breastfeeding-protocol-english.pdf

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