Fact vs Fiction: Is Breastfeeding Birth Control?
After having a baby, women are often overwhelmed with questions about this new phase of life. Separating fact from fiction can be a challenge. One of the most common comments new moms hear is that breastfeeding can act as a form of birth control. Is this true? How does breastfeeding affect ovulation? And how does this change when a woman can get pregnant again?
There is a possibility that a woman can get pregnant even within a couple of months of giving birth. However, for pregnancy to occur, the woman must be ovulating. Ovulation is the process that happens when an ovary releases an egg for fertilization. If the egg does not get fertilized, then the body sheds the egg and the uterine lining. How does breastfeeding affect this process?
How breastfeeding fits in
Research has found that most women ovulate within 45-90 days of giving birth. However, breastfeeding can interfere with this timeline. Women who do breastfeed are less likely to get a period. Breastfeeding is even included in lists of birth control methods and is called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).
How does LAM work?
Breastfeeding alone does not mean that a woman is following LAM. There are 3 factors that must be present for LAM to work:
- The baby must be under 6 months old.
- The mother must be exclusively or nearly exclusively breastfeeding, going no more than 4-6 hours between feedings.
- The mother must not be menstruating.
The effectiveness of LAM
Just like all birth control methods, LAM is highly effective when used correctly. If the 3 conditions of LAM are not present, then this birth control method will be less successful. Once a woman is past the 6-month postpartum period, other forms of birth control should be considered to avoid pregnancy.
When can I get pregnant again?
Getting pregnant too quickly after giving birth can increase the risks for both mom and baby. Waiting at least 2 years to try again is considered best practice. Other reports recommend at least 18 months. Healing from birth takes time, and women who have had any health complications associated with pregnancy may need to wait longer.
Communicate with your doctor and partner
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting pregnant again. General recommendations advise that women wait until postpartum bleeding and pain have both stopped before having sex again. Couples should communicate about the safest and best options for trying to get pregnant again. For more questions about fertility, speak with a healthcare provider or fertility specialist.