By Danielle Lasher, Spectra Baby USA Pumping Mom and Blogger
Just breastfeed! It’s that simple, right? Nurse your baby and you’ll have no concerns about accidentally finding yourself expecting another one? That’s the idea, and it actually works quite well for most.
Traditionally, women who breastfeed on demand can keep their menstrual cycle suppressed and thus, are said to be protected from pregnancy at a rate of 98% through the first six months of their baby’s life. This is known as the Lactational Amenorrhea Method. Should mothers be able to trust that their bodies are capable and biology has accounted for keeping fertility at bay and milk flowing when they have a new baby? Of course, but breastfeeding isn’t just reliable birth control because it’s idyllic; it is strongly supported by repeated peer-reviewed studies.
What Is The Lactational Amenorrhea Method?
The Lactational Amenorrhea Method utilizes a few ground rules to keep it in check. First, a woman whose period has returned cannot use this method reliably.
Second, the baby must be exclusively breastfed. What does that mean exactly? It means you are only breastfeeding. No bottles, cups or spoon-feeding. No SNS. No supplementing with formula, donor milk or even your own pumped breastmilk in any form. Why not? Because it would mean baby is being fed via means that don’t fully stimulate your breasts to produce milk. That’s the root system of LAM. That constant stimulation is needed to keep those hormones in check and fertility at bay.
Last but not least, the baby must be six months old or younger. So, if your period is still MIA, you aren’t supplementing or giving solids, and baby is younger than six months, LAM is a fantastic birth control option for you with a 98 percent efficacy rate.
Does It Really Work?
Truth be told, a lot of women have doubts. It seems too good to be true, right? Many choose to use backup barrier methods because they’re heard those “I breastfed and ended up pregnant” stories. The science is pretty firm on LAM though. Yes, it works, but it has to be implemented correctly. Some women worry about that first cycle returning and possibly getting pregnant when they ovulate the first time, not knowing their first period is on the way. Still, there are fairly simple measures that can be taken to nearly foolproof your LAM plan, and they don’t need to include birth control that can hinder your supply.
So Just Breastfeed And That’s It?
Mostly. We also have to consider how women are approaching their bodies. Most of us learned about the birds and the bees and becoming a woman under similar circumstances. A lot of women aren’t aware that the way they’ve been taught to track their cycle by charting their period isn’t actually accurate.
Yes, there is a right way, and many of those “breastfeeding for birth control failed us” babies happen because moms haven’t been shown how to correctly monitor their cycle. The crux of many natural birth control options, such as Fertility Awareness Methods, starts with being aware of ovulation, not tracking the period as most women are taught.
What Is Fertility Awareness?
Fertility Awareness is an umbrella term for different methods of natural birth control practices that rely on tracking the cycle in some manner and using back-up methods of protection or abstinence during the fertile period.
While popular, period apps are only as good as the information you’re putting into them. It’s not magic. Predicted fertility estimates given by such apps are based on averages of your cycle and other users’. If you want solid predictions for fertile days and when to expect Aunt Flo, you’ll need to input data for the app to make those estimations, such as the consistency of your cervical mucus, the position of your cervix, and your basal body temperature each day.
Being an active participant in the health of your body and womb is pretty empowering, and once you learn how to do it, it all becomes second nature. There are modern-day tools to help make things easier on you, too. Products like the Caya diaphragm and many tech-friendly temping devices have taken breastfeeding and birth control to a whole new level. Gone are the days of having to wake up at the same time every day to temp, or worrying your temp is inaccurate because you’re nursing all night.
Can Breastfeeding Be Used As Birth Control?
So, can you use breastfeeding as a form of birth control? Absolutely! It really is that easy!
If you find yourself wanting the extra reassurance that you’ll catch that return in fertility, tracking ovulation and following the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding—a core tenet of Natural Family Planning—takes the Lactational Amenorrhea Method one step further. These steps include:
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months with no solids, formula or water
- No pacifiers, instead giving baby unlimited access to the breast
- Not introducing any bottles
- Co-sleeping in the room with your little one for both daytime naps and through the night
- Nursing often and on-demand—not on a schedule
- Avoiding leaving baby or engaging in anything that limits the ability to nurse
These steps make the guidelines a woman must follow to stay in line with LAM a little clearer. Remember, the more baby nurses, the more prolactin mom produces. When this hormone is high, it keeps estrogen and progesterone (the hormones primarily responsible for inducing ovulation and menses) low. Thus, lots of nursing means a lesser chance of fertility returning.
Ultimately, some women will see their cycle return within six to eight weeks after birth (even while following all the “rules”) while others won’t until they’ve weaned from nursing completely—often, well into the toddler years.