Is Breastfeeding An Effective Form of Birth Control?

Breastfeeding Baby

If you’re a new mommy and have passed your postpartum period of pelvic rest, you may be wondering how effective breastfeeding is as birth control. While you and your partner may be eager to be intimate once again, you are likely not looking to add another baby to the family anytime soon. Fortunately, exclusive breastfeeding is actually a highly effective method of birth control during the first six months postpartum and sometimes even beyond. Here’s how to make the most of your lactational amenorrhea.

What is the Lactational Amenorrhea Method?

Lactational amenorrhea is the term used to refer to the natural period of infertility that occurs after giving birth when a woman is breastfeeding her baby and is not menstruating. This period of infertility occurs because the hormones necessary for milk production actually suppress the hormones necessary for ovulation. Consequently, the Lactational Amenorrhea Method refers to when a couple uses exclusive breastfeeding as a form of birth control. You may be wondering just how effective simply breastfeeding your baby can possibly be at preventing pregnancy. The answer to that question is very effective, if a few important criteria are met. 

In order for the Lactational Amenorrhea Method to be as much as 98-99.5 percent effective, the following factors must be present:

  • Your baby must be 6 months or younger
  • You must be breastfeeding on demand during both day and nighttime
  • Your menstrual cycle has not yet returned
  • Your baby must be exclusively breastfed with no formula supplementation or introduction of solid foods to his diet

Even after six months of age, moms who frequently breastfeed their babies and who have not had the return of their menstrual cycle are only 6 percent likely to become pregnant.

What Factors will Affect the Return of My Fertility?

Although the average time for nursing mothers to experience a return of their menses is 14.6 months, there are a number of factors that may cause you to become fertile before then. These factors known to impact fertility include:

  • The introduction of solids to baby’s diet
  • A reduction in the number or duration of nursing sessions per day
  • Your baby beginning to sleep through the night
  • Regularly pumping in lieu of breastfeeding

Every woman is different and experiences sensitivity to hormones to varying degrees. Overall, the amount of time your baby spends at the breast each day will be the biggest factor contributing to the duration of your lactational amenorrhea. If your period has returned, breastfeeding is no longer impacting your fertility and you should not rely on this method for birth control. 

Can I Increase the Length of my Lactational Amenorrhea to Prevent Pregnancy?

Yes! There are several simple ways that you can attempt to maximize your lactational amenorrhea while breastfeeding. These include:

  • Continuing to breastfeed on demand past six months. Aim to put your baby to the breast at least every 4-6 hours, day and night.
  • Cosleeping to increase night nursing. Fertility hormone production is highest during the nighttime hours making night nursing a primary factor in preventing the return of fertility.
  • Delaying solids until 6 months and offering the breast before each meal.
  • Using nursing to comfort your baby.
  • Offering breastmilk exclusively. Do not supplement with formula.
  • Skipping pacifiers and postponing the introduction of bottles until necessary.
  • Keeping your baby close to encourage frequent nursing by babywearing.
  • Nursing lying down for naps and at night.

Using breastfeeding as birth control is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy during the first six months postpartum and even beyond under certain circumstances. Most importantly, your baby will enjoy the limitless health and emotional benefits of exclusive breastfeeding during this critical time in her development. For questions about lactational amenorrhea or for anything related to pregnancy and natural birth, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.