Many mothers are told that a perk of breastfeeding is that it will stop them from getting pregnant. While there is truth in that statement, it’s a myth that breastfeeding as birth control is a fool-proof method.
WHY IT MATTERS
Becoming pregnant too soon after birth has risks. As the World Health Organization points out, not allowing around 24 months between births increases the risk of premature birth, miscarriage, low birth weight, and maternal death.
NO PERIOD, NO PREGNANCY? NOT ALWAYS!
Natasha Lewry Beauvais, a Family Medicine doctor from Northern Virginia, says that the suppression of fertility varies from woman to woman, even when exclusively breastfeeding.
It may surprise you that even if you haven’t had your first postpartum period, it’s still possible to be fertile.
“Since ovulation always precedes a menstrual period, there is always a chance of becoming pregnant before she ever gets a period after the baby is born,” explains Dr. Lewry Beauvais.
That’s why healthcare professionals recommend starting birth control as soon as possible after giving birth, and before you resume sexual activity.
THE FACTS ABOUT BREASTFEEDING AS BIRTH CONTROL
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) (i.e., breastfeeding as birth control) is quite effective at preventing pregnancy—if practiced correctly. Only 1 or 2 out of every 100 mothers will become pregnant using LAM.
However, for LAM to be effective, there are three rules that must be strictly followed:
- You exclusively breastfeeding on a strict schedule (More detail on this below)
- You have not had a postpartum menstrual period
- Your baby under 6 months of age
BUT IN REAL LIFE…
Many breastfeeding mothers are not able to follow the LAM guidelines as they’re strictly laid out, which is why breastfeeding as birth control is not always a reliable method.
Part of the problem is that moms are often confused about what “exclusive breastfeeding” means.
“Many moms think that if they are breastfeeding at all it will provide them with some protection against pregnancy,” says Andrea Tran, a Lactation Consultant and Registered Nurse. “But only exclusive breastfeeding will provide that high level of protection. That means no supplementation [with formula], and baby is still feeding at night.”
In addition, as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services points out, LAM is only effective if babies breastfeed at least every 4 hours during the day, and every 6 hours at night. That means if your baby is capable of sleeping longer than 6 hours, you have to wake yourself and wake them to feed for LAM to be effective.
Further, all of the feeding must happen directly at the breast. That means pumping, while a wonderful tool to help moms exclusively feed their baby with breastmilk, does not count as LAM and will not prevent you from getting pregnant. For many moms, this guideline isn’t practical IRL.
All of this may sound very discouraging to a mom who supplements with formula or pumps to support their breastfeeding! Rest assured, even if you don’t meet the requirements to use breastfeeding as birth control as a reliable method, nursing still has countless benefits for you and your baby, including fewer common childhood illnesses, decreased risk of SIDS, and lifelong protection from disease. Feel great about that, and talk to your doctor about finding a birth control method that’s safe and effective for breastfeeding moms. The good news is that there are many others if LAM is not for you.
EXCLUSIVE FOR OUR MEMBERS: Take our Breastfeeding Basics class, and we’ll reward you with a sweepstakes entry to win a year of FREE birth control thanks to our proud sponsor Nurx, who shares our goal of supporting breastfeeding moms. (Got insurance? Great news! You already qualify for free birth control + free delivery via Nurx. We’ll direct you there when you complete the class!)