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Breastfeeding as a Contraceptive: What You Need to Know

For many new mums, the journey of breastfeeding has many benefits—not only for your baby but also for yourself. One of the lesser-known advantages of breastfeeding is its role as a natural form of contraception. This method, known as the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM), can be a highly effective way to prevent pregnancy during the early months postpartum. You may or may not have heard of this so here’s what you need to know about using breastfeeding as a contraceptive.

How Does Breastfeeding Act as a Contraceptive?

The Lactational Amenorrhea Method works by utilising the natural hormonal changes that occur when breastfeeding. When a baby suckles at the breast, it stimulates the production of prolactin, a hormone that promotes milk production. High levels of prolactin suppress the release of the hormones required for ovulation. Without ovulation, pregnancy cannot occur.

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When Is Breastfeeding an Effective Contraceptive Method?

For breastfeeding to be an effective contraceptive, certain things must be met:

  1. Your baby must be exclusively breastfeeding, receiving no other foods or liquids.

  2. Breastfeeding should occur at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night.

  3. This method is most effective during the first six months postpartum.

  4. You should not have experienced the return of your menstrual period.

When these things are met, LAM is more than 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.

When Is Breastfeeding No Longer a Safe Contraceptive Option?

As time progresses, several factors can reduce the effectiveness of LAM:

  1. Once your baby starts eating solid foods or consuming other liquids, the frequency and exclusivity of breastfeeding decrease.

  2. If your baby starts sleeping through the night or if you begin to skip nursing sessions, prolactin levels may drop, leading to the return of ovulation.

  3. The return of your menstrual periods is a clear indicator that ovulation has resumed.

How to Track for Ovulation Signs

Many women will often ask the question on how reliable this method of contraception is, given it can be challenging to know when you are ovulating. If you are relying on breastfeeding as a contraceptive method, it’s essential to monitor your body for signs of ovulation. Common indicators include:

Changes in cervical mucous - cervical mucus is typically clear, stretchy, and resembles egg whites when a woman is ovulating.

Basal body temperature - a slight increase in basal body temperature can indicate ovulation. You would need to track your temperature daily.

Ovulation pain - some women experience mild pain or discomfort on one side of the lower abdomen during ovulation.

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What to Consider When Using This Method

While LAM can be highly effective, it is essential to be aware of its limitations and plan accordingly. Always consider having a backup contraceptive method ready for when breastfeeding alone is no longer sufficient, and ensure you have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider (GP) to help ensure you are using the most effective contraceptive method for your situation at the time.

What to Do When Wanting Another Baby

If you are considering expanding your family and want to conceive again, gradually reducing breastfeeding can help restore your menstrual cycle. From six months you can start introducing solid foods and other liquids to your baby’s diet, which may reduce the amount of breastfeeds your baby demands. Pay close attention to the return of ovulation indicators as listed above and consult with your healthcare provider to discuss your plans and ensure a healthy transition for both you and your baby.

In summary, breastfeeding can be an effective natural contraceptive method during the first six months postpartum. However, it’s essential to understand the criteria for its effectiveness, monitor for signs of returning fertility, and have a plan in place for when you wish to conceive again. By staying informed and proactive, you can make the best choices for your family planning needs.

My name is Vanessa Barnard, and I am the founder of Illoura Birth. I am a Childbirth and Newborn Educator, Doula and Paediatric Nurse. My mission is to support families on the journey to meeting their babies and thereafter with holistic and evidence-based information. My focus is to inspire and boost your confidence on this journey through pregnancy, birth & postpartum. 



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