Breastfeeding as Birth Control: Does It Work?
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Mamas, you just welcomed your little human into the world, and getting pregnant may be the farthest thing on your mind. As it should because your body needs time to heal. Did you know that breastfeeding your baby could be a form of birth control?
There is actual science behind breastfeeding your baby exclusively.
But first, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want breastfeeding as a form of birth control to work for you.
Related Read: TIPS ABOUT BREASTFEEDING: A FULL GUIDE
A little bit about the science behind breastfeeding as birth control
If you want to enjoy breastfeeding as a means of birth control, you have to breastfeed your baby on demand. Do not follow a schedule, particularly at night.
The milk-making hormone prolactin that stops ovulation is highest between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Because prolactin clears so rapidly from the blood, frequent feedings are necessary to keep it high enough to suppress ovulation.
If you follow this, you may enjoy a period of lactation amenorrhea (no menstrual periods).
What is the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM)?
LAM is essentially the absence of your period while exclusively breastfeeding.
Though, for LAM to work effectively, you must keep these three things in mind:
- Your baby must be less than 6 months old.
- Your period must not have returned (amenorrhea).
- Your little one MUST receive ONLY breast milk. And you have to breastfeed day and night, with short breaks between feedings. Do not go longer than 4 hours between feedings during the day and 6 hours at night.
When you meet these requirements, LAM is about 98% effective.
What are your chances of getting pregnant while using breastfeeding as birth control?
If you have ever wondered if you can get pregnant while breastfeeding, the simple answer is yes!
When your baby starts solid foods and breastfeeds less frequently, your prolactin levels drop. This results in a rise in your reproductive hormones and your fertility.
However, you should give it time before you get pregnant again. It is safer and healthier for you and your baby.
Getting pregnant, especially while breastfeeding, could be confusing. Early pregnancy symptoms like tiredness, sore breasts, and nausea are similar to those of PMS. So, a pregnancy test will be helpful.
What are the signs of ovulation while breastfeeding?
You can ovulate while breastfeeding, but sometimes it’s difficult to detect, especially if your periods are not regular.
Here are signs of ovulation to look out for:
- Your Period returns from its temporary break. Getting your period is a clear sign of returning fertility while breastfeeding.
- Your cervical mucus gets lighter, making you feel wet.
- Your basal body temperature slightly increases. This could be one of the signs of ovulation while breastfeeding.
- You start feeling cramps in your lower abdomen.
- Your libido increases.
- Your breasts become tender.
Risks of getting pregnant so quickly if breastfeeding as birth control fails
You should not rely only on breastfeeding as birth control as you could still get pregnant.
Getting pregnant so soon after childbirth might not give your body enough time to recover and is not safe for both you and your baby. For example, pregnancy and breastfeeding can deplete your nutrient stores, particularly iron and folate.
Studies suggest that beginning a pregnancy so quickly within 6 months of giving birth is associated with an increased risk to your baby. Such as:
- Premature birth and low birth weight
- The placenta partially or completely peeling away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery (placental abruption)
- Congenital disorders, etc.
It is safer to wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. This means your baby will be at least 1½ years old before getting pregnant with another baby. But as we know, accidents often happen, and it’s okay.
Related Read: TOP 10 FERTILITY & PREGNANCY QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Alternative options for moms using breastfeeding as birth control
If preventing pregnancy concerns you, speak to your doctor about your options.
There are plenty of birth control solutions available to you.
Option #1: Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
You can have an IUD placed immediately after delivery. They are more than 99 percent effective. There are two different types of IUDs available, hormonal and non-hormonal.
Option #2: Mini-pill
The mini-pill is an oral contraceptive containing only progestin. It is a better option as it does not affect breast milk supply like the combination pills that contain a mixture of estrogen and progestin. So, it is safer for breastfeeding mothers.
Option #3: Barrier methods
As the name implies, a barrier method prevents sperm from entering the uterus and fertilizing the egg. There are a variety of options available.
- Condoms are also the only form of birth control that helps protect against STIs.
- A cervical cap, or diaphragm
For better contraception, use barrier methods with other forms of birth control, like a spermicide, mini-pill, or natural family planning.
Option #4: Implant
The implant birth control is a small, rod-shaped device about the size of a matchstick that contains the hormone progestin.
Your doctor will insert the implant underneath the skin on your upper arm. It prevents pregnancy for up to four years, and you can also have it removed once you are ready to get pregnant again.
Option #5: Depo-Provera shot
The Depo-Provera shot is a long-lasting form of prescription birth control. It uses the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. This birth control method provides three months of protection at a time, so you have to keep your quarterly follow-up appointments.
Note it may take 10 months or longer for your fertility to return after discontinuing use.
Option #6: Sterilization
Tubal ligation, or getting your tubes tied, is a permanent form of birth control.
You should only explore this option if you are sure you are done giving birth.
What about the morning-after pill?
If you find yourself in a situation where you think your birth control has failed, you can use the morning-after pill while breastfeeding.
This pill should only be used as a last resort and not as a regular form of birth control.
A note on the Natural Family Planning (NFP) method also called Fertility Awareness
Fertility awareness is a natural method to prevent or increase your chances of getting pregnant.
The days close to when you ovulate are the fertile days when you are most likely to get pregnant. So if you plan to use this method to prevent pregnancy, use another birth control method (like condoms) on those unsafe days.
What you need to learn to use this method are:
- The length of your menstrual cycle: A new phase starts on the first day of your menstrual period. Your period lasts for 2-7 days, and once it’s over, your hormone levels rise. Ovulation occurs around day 14. Your ovaries release an egg, and the days around ovulation are considered your most fertile. If the egg is not fertilized, your hormone levels decline during the luteal phase, and you have your next menstrual period.
- Daily readings of your body temperature: Your body temperature rises slightly when you ovulate. You need to track it for at least three months to give you an idea of when you are most fertile.
- Changes to your cervical mucus: Just before you ovulate, your mucus gets slippery. This is your most fertile time, and you should use protection if you want to prevent pregnancy. After several days, the secretions get thick, and you are least likely to get pregnant.
For fertility awareness to work, you need to combine all 3 listed above.
However, it is not a reliable form of birth control during breastfeeding can lead to pregnancy. Especially if you have irregular periods because your cycle may be somewhat unpredictable while breastfeeding.
The bottom line
Exclusively breastfeeding your baby delays the return of your menstrual periods and also your fertility. This is your body’s way of preventing early pregnancy.
Have you tried breastfeeding as birth control before? Did it work for you? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below!