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If you read my recent post on breastfeeding myths, you know one common misconception is that women can not get pregnant when breastfeeding.
This myth is rooted in some truth, however. This topic is so complicated though, it deserves it’s own post! Breastfeeding absolutely can be an effective method of birth control but it must be done in a purposeful, specific, mindful way. If you take away nothing else, please remember this: Please do not blindly have sex while breastfeeding and assume pregnancy is impossible.
Here’s my personal story to get the conversation started…
I’ve had very bad experiences with hormonal birth control in the past, and learning more about Natural Family Planning (NFP) during our marriage preparation classes, we decided this would be the approach we would take toward contraception.
This meant after my son was born, I declined hormonal birth control and planned to use breastfeeding as birth control, as I was familiar with the LAM (Lactational Ammenhorea) concept. I used LAM in conjunction with NFP to avoid pregnancy until we decided to try for my second son. I *was* still breastfeeding when we conceived our second Little Bear and continued to nurse the Bigger Little Bear through about half of my pregnancy… We’ll talk about breastfeeding during pregnancy another time..
Okay, so I know you’re wondering: What is Lactational Ammenhorea? This term refers to the lack of menstruation during lactation. The hormones produced during breastfeeding suppress the hormones necessary for ovulation and menstruation in the majority of women. According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), when practiced properly, LAM is approximately 99% effective! Before you say it...Yes, you can get pregnant while utilizing LAM. I also know many women who have gotten pregnant on the pill, with an IUD, on the shot, and while using condoms.
What is meant by “practicing LAM properly”? I’m glad you asked! A woman can effectively use LAM if her period has not returned, she breastfeeds on demand without utilizing supplements that replace at breast feeds, and baby is less than 6 months old. Some resources like Taking Charge of Your Fertility assert that intervals between feeds should be no longer than 4 hours during the day and 6 hours at night.
If any of these three conditions changed, women are encouraged to use an additional form of birth control. If you are familiar with NFP practices you may find that your postpartum experience is extremely confusing. In order to avoid pregnancy, you may want to be more conservative or strict with following the rules, but NFP is not out of the question if it is your choice to avoid other forms of birth control.
Breastfeeding can provide a degree of protection against pregnancy for even longer than 6 months for some women. Women who practice ecological breastfeeding often experienced prolonged time frames of infertility while breastfeeding. I have one friend who was menstruation free for 2 years after her son’s birth, while he breastfed, and conceived purposely before menses returned. While 24 months of infertility is on the less common side, many women can successfully use Ecological Breastfeeding to suspend fertility for at least a year. Personally, I returned to fertility around 9 or 12 months, and purposefully conceived while breastfeeding at 15 months postpartum.
Once your cycle does return, you may be surprised to find that doesn’t necessarily mean you are fertile. For some women, they will ovulate before their first period. For others, they will begin with anovulatory cycles before experiencing a true return to fertility.
The key is to remember that breastfeeding can be an effective method of child spacing as long as you are using this method mindfully. Carelessly having sex and assuming pregnancy is not possible isn’t very wise.
There are many women who have experienced falling pregnant unexpectedly while breastfeeding. In the majority of these scenarios, the women were not practicing breastfeeding in a manner that would support infertility, and those who were, were part of the 2%.
So yes. You can use breastfeeding as birth control. And Yes. You can get pregnant while breastfeeding. And Yes. You can get pregnant on the pill, the shot, with an IUD, or with condoms. The decision for postpartum contraception ultimately comes down to mindfulness.
If you want to avoid birth control and pregnancy while you’re breastfeeding, I highly suggest you understand and learn how to use Fertility Awareness to avoid pregnancy. Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a great resource for this. The Couple to Couple league also offers classes for Natural Family Planning that focus on the postpartum challenges you might face.
Did you use breastfeeding as a tool to avoid pregnancy? Share your experiences in the comments! And as always, please share this post with your friends and family! You never know who might have the same questions as you!