With a new baby in your arms, getting pregnant again is probably not very high up on your wish list. Well, maybe sex isn’t very high up either, so the risk of getting pregnant might not be so high, but eventually birth control will be an important issue. Then if you breastfeed, have you considered using breastfeeding as birth control?
Breastfeeding is a well-known, albeit seemingly controversial form of birth control. This is also known as the lactational amenorrhea method or LAM. While a lot of women consider it, in the end most opt for a more traditional form of birth control. Why? Simple, women have been told that breastfeeding is an unreliable form of birth control.
Is it an unsafe method?
The truth of the matter is that breastfeeding as a form of birth control is just as effective as most other birth control methods providing it is done correctly.
Breastfeeding As Birth Control
- Why is Fertility Reduced by Breastfeeding?
- How Certain is it as a Birth Control Method?
- Tips to Enhance Breastfeeding as Natural Method of Birth Control
Why is Fertility Reduced by Breastfeeding?
The complex medical explanation of how breastfeeding works to decrease infertility is this:
“The mechanism linking the two is believed to be a neurally mediated hormonal reflex initiated by the suckling stimulus, whereby increases in the pituitary hormone prolactin act either upon the hypothalamus or directly on the ovaries to prevent ovulation.” (Alan Macfarlane – 2002)
In other words the sucking that takes place during breastfeeding stimulates an automatic trigger that produces a hormonal reaction, so that the level of prolactin increases. Interestingly, studies have shown that levels of prolactin increase as the level of nutrition decreases in the mother as well, so this could be due to an automatic contraception “device” that the female body has innately and is used in times of hardship. (No food = not a good time to have a baby)
The contraceptive effect (or the decrease in fertility) while breastfeeding is directly linked to an increase in prolactin.
How Certain is it as a Birth Control Method?
When breastfeeding is done correctly is has been shown to be at least 98% effective in preventing pregnancy; 99% according to some studies. This can be compared with condoms (85% prevention) and birth control pills (92-99.7% depending on type).
So what does doing LAM correctly entail? First you have to be doing breastfeeding exclusively; you cannot use formula as a supplement. Now there are other criteria that also need to be met.
First your baby has to be younger than six months old. Second, your period cannot have returned yet and your baby must be breastfeed on cue both morning and night.
In comparison to other forms of birth control the lactational amenorrhea method is second in the most effective in preventing pregnancy. The only forms of birth control that have slight better results are some birth control pills and the Mirena IUD. Keeping in mind that this is under “typical use” of the various birth control methods. LAM resulted in 2 pregnancies out of a hundred and Mirena resulted in 0.1 pregnancies out of 100 in studies.
Tips to Enhance Breastfeeding as Natural Method of Birth Control
It is important to understand that the return of fertility will vary from woman to woman. Your own physiology coupled with the nursing patterns of your baby will determine when your fertility will return to “normal.” There are few things that you can do to help you get the most out of breastfeeding as a reliable and natural form of birth control.
The total amount of time that is spent breastfeeding in a 24 hour period along with the frequency at which you are breastfeeding are the two strongest factors that determine the return of fertility. Should your baby start nursing less often or for a decreased amount of time the effectiveness of LAM is reduced. To help maintain both of these circumstances, consider doing what is called ecological breastfeeding.
The seven standards of ecological breastfeeding are the following:
- Breastfeed exclusively for 6 months.
- Breastfeed on demand all day and night
- Use breastfeeding as a way to comfort baby when he is upset
- Use a lying down position for breastfeeding at during nap time
- Stay close to your baby and avoid any schedules that will separate you.
- Co-sleep for nighttime feedings
- Avoid pacifiers and bottles
Ecological breastfeeding is actually more strict than LAM, which doesn’t mention lying down for breastfeeding or co-sleeping as requirements. But it is effective! The average return of menstruation for ecologically breastfeeding mothers is between 14 and 15 months postpartum.
The bottom line is that breastfeeding is an excellent form of birth control when done correctly. During the first three months the chance of pregnancy is almost zero, less than two percent from three to six months and after six months the risk goes to 6%.
Have you considered or tried breastfeeding to protect from pregnancy? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.