Does Breastfeeding Work as Birth Control?
Most people think that barrier methods and hormones are the only option for preventing an unwanted pregnancy. The truth is that if you’re breastfeeding, nursing your baby offers a completely natural–but temporary–form of birth control. That’s because early in the life of your baby, breastfeeding prevents you from ovulating. When used correctly, this birth control method is about 98 percent effective.
If you want to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, here’s what you need to know about breastfeeding as birth control.
Lactational Amenorrhea: What is It?
Lactational amenorrhea is evolution’s way of ensuring a woman doesn’t have babies dangerously close together, before her body has healed from birth. Regular, frequent nursing prevents the body from ovulating. This prevents pregnancy, and means that you won’t get your period.
If your period does return, that means you are ovulating, so you’ll need to begin using a back-up method if you don’t want to get pregnant.
How to Correctly Use Breastfeeding as Birth Control
For your body to suppress ovulation, it has to consistently get a hormonal signal that there is a nursing baby. For this to happen, you must meet all of these conditions:
- You must nurse your baby on demand, when your baby wants to eat. This doesn’t mean you have to nurse every 10 minutes, but if you do sleep training, do not nurse at night, or are away from your baby many hours each day without pumping, your cycles will return more quickly.
- You must nurse roughly every 3 hours during the day, and at least once at night–more if your baby wakes more frequently.
- If you substitute pumping for nursing, you must pump as frequently as you would otherwise nurse.
- Your baby must be younger than 6 months old.
- Breast milk must be your baby’s sole source of nutrition. If you feed formula or solid food, you will not nurse frequently enough to suppress ovulation.
Some women remain infertile longer than 6 months, or even if they do not frequently nurse. The only way to guarantee infertility, though, is to consistently nurse at frequent intervals. If you want extra assurance, try buying a cheap pack of ovulation tests and testing daily. At the first sign of a positive result, lactational amenorrhea is no longer working.