Is breastfeeding a form of birth control?
Breastfeeding isn’t just a healthy way to feed your baby. It can also be a form of birth control — but only done in a certain way.
How does breastfeeding prevent pregnancy?
When you exclusively breastfeed — meaning you nurse at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night, and feed your baby only breast milk — your body naturally stops ovulating. You can’t get pregnant if you don’t ovulate.
No ovulation means you won’t have your period, either. That’s why breastfeeding-as-birth control is also called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). “Lactational” refers to breastfeeding, and “amenorrhea” means not having your period.
How effective is breastfeeding as birth control?
When you do it perfectly, the LAM birth control method can be about as effective as hormonal contraceptives (like the pill). About 2 out of 100 people who use breastfeeding as birth control get pregnant in the 6 months it can be used after a baby is born.
Breastfeeding won’t prevent pregnancy if you feed your baby anything other than breast milk. So if you breastfeed but also use formula, LAM isn’t a great birth control method for you. It also doesn’t work if you use a breast pump — you need to nurse your baby if you want your breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy.
It’s important to remember that breastfeeding can only be used as birth control for the first 6 months of a baby’s life, or until your period returns. After that, breastfeeding is way less effective — especially as the baby begins to eat solid foods and sleeps longer at night. Be ready to use another birth control method at 6 months, when your period returns, or if you start feeding your baby food or formula.
How do I start using breastfeeding as birth control?
You can start using LAM as soon as your baby is born. It may take a little while for you to get used to breastfeeding. Lots of people need help in the beginning, especially if it’s your first baby. Most hospitals have people who can help. And you can check out La Leche League for information, resources and support.