You’ve just come off a rollercoaster ride of 9 months, and breastfeeding the baby you’ve been carrying is another adventure in itself. Whether or not you want to get pregnant again, you can put some space between this and the next baby.
Instead of taking the pill or choosing another method of birth control, you might wonder if breastfeeding alone can keep you from getting pregnant again after 2 months or 2 years of breastfeeding. Here’s what you need to know.
What are the chances of getting pregnant while breastfeeding?
Most importantly, exclusive breastfeeding is a good temporary form of birth control. (See how carefully we checked this?)
In fact, this form of birth control has its own name: the lactating menstrual contraceptive birth control method (LAM). (Don’t let the name fool you. Amenorrhea is simply the absence of periods.)
How good is pretty good? According to one source, only 1-2 out of 100 women who use LAM correctly during the first 6 months after giving birth may become pregnant.
If you want to be among the majority of women who use LAM and don’t get pregnant while breastfeeding, here’s what you need to do:
Practice of exceptional nursing. This means you should delay introducing solids and avoid supplementing with formula or anything else.
Nurse on request. Follow your baby’s instructions and breastfeed as often as you want – at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night. Compression is not an adequate substitute when using LAM.
Avoid using pacifiers. Instead, satisfy your need to breastfeed by holding and nursing your baby.
Remember that for LAM to be effective, your periods (including spotting) must not return and your baby must be under 6 months old. (This is a temporary form of birth control.)
Why does exclusive breastfeeding work as a contraceptive?
This is where hormones come in, especially oxytocin. This multi-tasking hormone doesn’t just make you feel relaxed and generally happy. It’s also responsible for your let-down reflex (the feeling you feel right before milk comes out).
Oxytocin also prevents ovulation. It does this by sending signals to the brain to suppress the key hormones that stimulate ovulation. No ovulation, no pregnancy.
When your baby breastfeeds, the nipple and surrounding nerves are stimulated in exactly the right way, sending this message to your brain. Expressing milk using a pump does not have the same effect.
What increases the chances of pregnancy while breastfeeding?
If you are breastfeeding and hope to be among the 98 percent of women who successfully use LAM as a birth control method, here are some things you should know.
You only need to breastfeed for LAM to work. If you supplement your baby’s diet with formula or even breast milk, the chances of ovulation and pregnancy increase.
The same is true for solids. Once your baby reaches 6 months and starts eating solid food, chances of ovulation increase. Some early research suggests that by gradually introducing food and gradually reducing the amount of breastfeeding, ovulation can be delayed a little longer. However, updated research is needed.
Be careful when you return to work. One study found that women who returned to work and used LAM to exclusively breastfeed their babies were more likely to become pregnant than non-working mothers who used LAM.
It may seem like a no-brainer: When you’re on your period, you’re more likely to get pregnant. However, keep in mind that some women ovulate before their first period postpartum. Others have periods before ovulation. There are no strict rules here.
What if you want to get pregnant and breastfeed?
Do you want to get pregnant but don’t want to stop breastfeeding? The good news is that even if you’re breastfeeding, your chances of getting pregnant increase as you get closer to your baby’s due date.
If you want to further increase your chances of ovulating, try a drastic change. Some people find that suddenly cutting off one nursing session instead of extending the time between feedings increases the chance of ovulation. Remember that your baby may not understand the sudden change in his feeding schedule.
No need to breastfeed your baby: You can breastfeed and prepare for your next pregnancy at the same time. After most breastfeeding moms return to work or a full night’s sleep becomes a reality, ovulation begins and periods begin again.
not yet? Hang in there – most people know that their period starts between 9 and 18 months after giving birth, even if they’re breastfeeding.