Is breastfeeding an effective form of birth control?

Some people use breastfeeding to delay ovulation after giving birth because they believe it leads to a lower chance of pregnancy. Breastfeeding often, but not always, delays ovulation and lowers fertility.
Some people use breastfeeding to delay ovulation after giving birth because they believe it leads to a lower chance of pregnancy. Breastfeeding often, but not always, delays ovulation and lowers fertility.

While getting pregnant as soon as three weeks after giving birth is possible, some experts recommend waiting as long as 18 months. This allows your body to heal and can decrease the risk of premature birth and low birth weight.

Some people use breastfeeding to delay ovulation after giving birth because they believe it leads to a lower chance of pregnancy. However, whether or not it slows ovulation depends on several factors.

The lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) uses breastfeeding as a form of birth control. Breastfeeding often, but not always, delays ovulation and lowers fertility. When the following conditions are met, breastfeeding as a form of birth control is 98% successful, the same as hormonal birth control:

  • You have not gotten your period since giving birth.
  • Your baby is breastfed only (no formula or pumped breastmilk and does not use a pacifier).
  • Your baby is less than six months old 

If these conditions apply, your chances of pregnancy are about 2%. You can start using breastfeeding as a form of birth control as soon as your baby is born.

The less your baby breastfeeds, the less effective this method is. If you feed your baby a combination of breastmilk and formula, or they start eating solid foods or sleeping for longer periods, you are more likely to get pregnant unless you use other birth control.

Why does breastfeeding delay ovulation and menstruation?

Ovulation is when your ovaries release an egg. If you have sex around this time, you can get pregnant. When your ovulation is delayed, no pregnancy can occur. If no fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining after ovulation, it will shed, resulting in you getting your period.

Experts are not sure exactly why breastfeeding delays ovulation. However, they know that breastfeeding mothers have higher prolactin levels than those who do not. A baby sucking on the breast releases dopamine in the mother, resulting in more prolactin. This hormone interacts with the hypothalamus and affects other hormones, delaying ovulation. Your baby should get all their sucking needs met by breastfeeding, so you should not give them a pacifier if you plan to use breastfeeding to avoid pregnancy.

How long can you use breastfeeding as a form of birth control?

You can generally use breastfeeding as birth control for the first six months of your baby's life. After six months, most babies sleep throughout the night, start trying solid foods, and breastfeed less. Your period and ovulation can return. If you get your period before your baby is six months old, you will need to use another method of birth control.

Benefits of the lactational amenorrhea method

LAM has benefits for both you and your baby, including:

  • It is free
  • You can have sex easily
  • It delays ovulation as soon as you begin
  • You can start as soon as your baby is born
  • It may reduce postpartum bleeding
  • You don't need a prescription or procedure
  • Breastfeeding gives your baby essential nutrients and antibodies

Are there any drawbacks to the lactational amenorrhea method?

The main disadvantage is that you must exclusively breastfeed your baby. Pumping breastmilk to bottle-feed your baby later will not be effective. So LAM is not possible for working parents who must be away from their babies for 8 hours or more. Additionally, some babies have difficulty breastfeeding. If your baby cannot breastfeed, you will not be able to use this method of birth control.

Another drawback is that you can use it for only six months or until you get your period, whichever comes first. It is not a long-term solution.

Finally, if you want to become pregnant again shortly after giving birth, breastfeeding would prevent that. You would not be able to grow your family as quickly as you might want.

Can you use other forms of birth control after giving birth?

Directly after giving birth, you can use:

You can get any of these while still in the hospital or at your postpartum appointment.

For the first three weeks after giving birth, you cannot use any methods of birth control containing estrogen, including:

Otherwise, you can use non-hormonal birth control options like:

If you use a diaphragm or cervical cap, it might be best to wait until after your postpartum appointment to see if you need a different size. Your vagina may feel different after giving birth.

Many doctors recommend avoiding sex for the first four or six weeks after giving birth. They also recommend avoiding putting anything in your vagina until after your postpartum appointment, which also usually occurs between four and six weeks after giving birth.

If you don't plan on having any more children, you can also get your "tubes tied." During this procedure, your fallopian tubes are blocked or cut so that an egg can not reach your uterus to get fertilized. This method is permanent, so you should be sure of your decision if you decide to get a tubal ligation.

QUESTION

The first sign of pregnancy is most often: See Answer

Can you get pregnant while breastfeeding?

Yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding if you are not solely breastfeeding. Babies who use a combination of breast milk and formula, or even breastfeeding and pumping, do not breastfeed enough to make it an effective form of birth control. However, if your baby is fully breastfeeding, you have just a 2% chance of becoming pregnant for the first six months. 

This news can disappoint parents who want to grow their families quickly and want to breastfeed. However, this free birth control method not only prevents pregnancy but also nourishes babies and creates a strong and lasting bond.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/30/2022
References
SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: "Bonding Benefits of Breastfeeding Extend Years Beyond Infancy."

Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing: "The Use of Breastfeeding as a Contraceptive." la leche league international: "Fertility."

March of Dimes: "HOW LONG SHOULD YOU WAIT BEFORE GETTING PREGNANT AGAIN?"

Mayo Clinic: "Fertility," "Sex after pregnancy: Set your own timeline."

NHS: "Sex and contraception after birth."

Planned Parenthood: "Breastfeeding," "What are the benefits of using breastfeeding as birth control?" "What are the disadvantages of using breastfeeding as birth control?" "What's the best birth control option while breastfeeding?"