Used even by the ancient civilizations, breastfeeding as a contraception method is a well known practice. Still, many women get contradictory information when it comes to the effect of lactation on fertility.
The truth is, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding, but only if you do not follow the precise rules of the contraceptive technique known as LAM.
What is LAM and how does it work?
The Lactational Amenorrhea Method of birth control, or LAM, is a temporary contraceptive method that can be used up to 6 months after you give birth to your baby. During the period of lactational amenorrhea, your body produces prolactin, a hormone that helps your body produce milk.
This hormone prevents the body from producing other hormones like estrogen and progesterone, both of which make the ovulation possible. When you breastfeed exclusively, your body produces the exact level of prolactin it needs in order to prevent ovulation, and therefore pregnancy.
As this method relies on breastfeeding, there are certain criteria that you must meet in order for this method to be effective.
- Your baby must be less than six months old
After the sixth month, the baby’s diet changes and includes more foods and liquids, leading to inconsistent breastfeeding frequency. This makes LAM less effective as it breaks the suckling pattern, which is essential for the production of prolactin.
- Your menstrual periods have not yet returned after childbirth
The moment you get your period (even stains), you should start using another method of birth control. In average, women start menstruating again in about 28 weeks after they give birth. However, your period can return anywhere between 15 and 48 weeks after having a baby, meaning that your period can return anywhere between 3 and 11 months.
- You must exclusively breastfeed your baby
This means that you should breastfeed your baby with only breast milk, at least every 4 to 6 hours during the day and night. No pumping instead of nursing, and no supplementing with formula or other foods.
How effective is the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM)?
Statistics show that with perfect use, LAM Is 99.5% effective at preventing pregnancy, and with normal use that percentage is 98%.
However, if any of the aforementioned criteria changes, that means that LAM does not work anymore and you need to find another reliable contraception method.
On average, the menstrual cycle returns later in women who practice the Seven Standards of ecological breastfeeding, meaning that the effectiveness of the lactational amenorrhea method increases. These standards include:
- Breastfeed exclusively for 6 months
- Pacify your baby at your breasts
- Don’t use bottles or pacifiers
- Sleep with your baby for night feedings
- Sleep with your baby for the daily-nap feedings
- Avoid breastfeeding schedules and nurse frequently
- Avoid any practice that restricts nursing
The advantages and disadvantages of LAM
Some women find it difficult to breastfeed their baby that often, and the method is not reliable if you feed your baby formula. It also lasts only six months or even shorter if you get your period during those first six months.
On the bright side, it doesn’t cost anything and it is easy to understand and use it. In addition, it cannot interrupt the intercourse and you will be safe from other hormones interfering with the breastfeeding or other problems that can be caused by the pill.
To sum it up…
If you want to use breastfeeding as contraception, we strongly advise you to talk to your doctor about it. It would be ideal if you choose the contraceptive method before you give birth, so you will have enough time to get informed, consider all the options, and choose the right one according to your lifestyle.