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Can Breastfeeding be Used for Birth Control?

By Akwaowo Akpan 

Breastfeeding is natural and provides health benefits to the mother and the baby. In addition to its most important role in providing essential nutrients to the infant, it can also be a form of birth control.

Known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), breastfeeding can prevent pregnancy postpartum when exclusive breastfeeding is practiced. 

The LAM method is a natural and effective form of birth control. It can be an excellent option for women who wish to space out their pregnancies but want to avoid using hormonal or other birth control methods.  

In this article, we will examine how breastfeeding works as a birth control method, its effectiveness, and the factors that can impact its reliability.  

How Breastfeeding Prevents Pregnancy  

When a baby suckles during breastfeeding the hormone prolactin is released, which stimulates milk production and suppresses ovulation (the process of the release of the egg from the ovaries). Continuous breastfeeding signals the body to produce more prolactin, which reduces and suppresses the production of other reproductive hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone and estrogen are essential for ovulation and the preparation of the uterine lining for pregnancy. However, their reduced levels during breastfeeding make it difficult for the woman to get pregnant.

Therefore, regular and exclusive breastfeeding can be a natural birth control method for up to six months after childbirth.

How LAM Works

Lactational Amenorrhea Method is based on the principle of exclusive and frequent breastfeeding. The effectiveness of LAM as a contraceptive method must meet the following criteria:

• The baby is less than six months old

• The mother is exclusively breastfeeding

• The baby is breastfed at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night.

• The mother has not had a menstrual cycle since childbirth

It is important to note that a reduced frequency of breastfeeding due to the introduction of formula, or complementary foods, can decrease the levels of prolactin hormones and increase the risk of ovulation. Once the mother’s menstrual cycle returns, LAM is no longer effective.

The Effectiveness of Breastfeeding for Birth Control  

The lactational amenorrhea method is an effective birth control when practiced correctly. According to International Journal of Reproduction, Contraception, Obstetrics and Gynecology, this method is part of the World Health Organization’s list of accepted and effective methods of family planning with studies showing LAM to be 98% effective. LAM’s effectiveness is attributed to the frequency and intensity of breastfeeding, which must be exclusive, and suckling, which must be at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night. 

Benefits of LAM

  • Non-hormonal: LAM is a natural, non-hormonal method of birth control, with no associated side effects.
  • Convenient and saves money: Breastfeeding is a convenient and low-cost method of birth control. It does not require special preparation, making it an affordable option compared to contraceptive devices or birth control medication.
  • Promotes bonding essential nutrients: Breastfeeding helps promote bonding between the mother and the baby. It provides numerous health benefits for the baby such as essential nutrients, and can help strengthen their immune system.
  • Spacing of pregnancies: LAM can help space out pregnancies, giving the mother’s body time to recover before they are ready to conceive again.  
  • Longer Breastfeeding Duration: LAM can encourage mothers to breastfeed for longer, as they do not need to use any other birth control method during the first six months.
  • Promotes Good Health: LAM can help the mother recover after childbirth by providing natural, healthy weight loss and reducing the risk of postpartum depression.

Factors that Affect the Reliability of LAM

For breastfeeding to be an effective form of birth control, the following conditions must be met:

  • The baby must be exclusively breastfed; no other food or liquids should be given including water.  
  • Frequent suckling is essential and must be at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night.  
  • LAM is most effective in the first six months postpartum because this is the period of exclusive breastfeeding. 
  • Absence of menstruation; if the mother has had a menstrual period, there is a chance that she may ovulate, even if she is exclusively breastfeeding.
  • Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disease or polycystic ovary syndrome, can affect hormone levels and disrupt breastfeeding’s contraceptive effects. 

Tips for Successful LAM

To use LAM as a birth control method, the mother should:

  • Breastfeed exclusively and frequently, every four hours during the day and every six hours at night.
  • Do not introduce formula or complementary foods in the first six months postpartum, as this can breastfeeding frequency and affect the levels of prolactin hormones in the body.
  • Do not use any other birth control method during the first six months.
  • Monitor menstrual cycle postpartum; once menstruation returns, LAM is no longer effective.
  • Discuss breastfeeding and LAM with a healthcare provider to ensure it is a suitable method.

The bottom line

Breastfeeding is a natural and effective form of birth control known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). LAM is an effective method of birth control when specific criteria are met, including exclusive breastfeeding, frequent feeding, and no menstrual periods. LAM has many benefits, including being non-hormonal, convenient, promoting bonding, and helping space out pregnancies.  While LAM may not be suitable for all women, it can be an option for those who want a natural and non-invasive form of birth control. Women who choose LAM should still consider other forms of birth control as a backup plan, especially when exclusive breastfeeding is no longer practiced. As healthcare providers, it is essential to educate women about LAM’s use and help them make informed choices about their reproductive health.

Akwaowo Akpan is a talented health writer on the topic of sexual health. You can reach him here.  

Here are some resources to learn more about breastfeeding as a contraceptive: 

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