Breastfeeding as Birth Control

March 4, 2009

Studies confirm that breastfeeding can be a very effective form of birth control. The child -spacing effect depends primarily on the pattern of breastfeeding. Researchers developed a set of guidelines called LAM, Lactational Amenorrhea Method, to help women understand their fertility while breastfeeding.

According to the LAM guidelines a mother has less than a 2% chance of becoming pregnant if:

  • Her baby is less than six months old
  • Her menses have not returned
  • She is not supplementing her baby regularly or going longer than 4 hours during the day and 6 hours at night without breastfeeding.

Once any of the above are no longer true, a woman's chance of becoming pregnant increases. However for many women menstruation and fertility, do not return for many more months. There is a modified LAM in societies where frequent nursing is the norm for baby's entire first year, extending the infertile period from 6 months to 9.

How Can You Use Breastfeeding As Birth Control?

Here is what you can do to extend your period of infertility.

  • Nurse your baby on cue.
  • Let baby nurse for comfort as well as for food. That means that all baby's sucking takes place at the breast, not on a pacifier, thumb or bottle.
  • After six months, introduce solid foods slowly. Breastmilk should remain baby's main source of nutrition throughout his first year. Breastfeed him before offering solids.
  • Continue to let your baby nurse during the night. Menstruation and fertility often return when baby starts sleeping more than six hours straight.
  • If you must be separated from your baby, expressing your milk at least as often as your baby nurses and never less than every four hours has been found to be almost as effective. Nursing more than usual during the times that you are together will boost your milk supply and infertility.

Once a woman begins menstruating she should consider herself fertile. Often a woman's first period after birth is anovulatory, that is, it is not preceded by ovulation. Many women see this period as a warning sign. In some cases a woman will have regular periods but still not conceive due to the hormones of breastfeeding. On the other hand, a woman who goes many months with out menstruating is more likely ovulate before getting her period, meaning, without any warning at all. She can then conceive without ever having a period.

The average length of amnorreha for a woman breastfeeding according to above guidelines is around 14 months. A woman's body chemistry plays a key role in determining her fertility while breastfeeding. There are women who will follow all of the guidelines and be part of the 2% for which LAM was not effective while others use pacifiers from the day baby is born but continue on for 2 years without ever getting a period as long as their toddler nurses on occasion.

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