The Truth About Breastfeeding As Birth Control
The other day, one of my friends confided that in me that she thought she might be expecting.
“What? No way!” I exclaimed. “Your baby is only a couple months old, that's just not possible!”
For many moms, the thought of getting pregnant while we're still breastfeeding just seems wrong, like our bodies couldn't possibly be so sneaky as to do that to us. Many women who are exclusively breastfeeding don't get their periods back for many months — some even past a year — so there isn't a reliable indicator of when fertility returns, making it hard to prevent or predict pregnancy.
When it comes to birth control while breastfeeding, finding a good solution can be a challenge. Not all hormonal contraceptives are safe for breastfeeding and others can lower milk supply, so many women may choose a lower dose or skip them altogether.
But still, many of us seem to think of breastfeeding as somewhat of a protection against getting pregnant again, so what's the truth about breastfeeding as birth control?
According to the La Leche League International, lactational amenorrhea, the term for breastfeeding delaying a woman's cycle, is most effective with exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is 6 months old. Every woman is different, with some women getting their periods back after having a baby within weeks and some going for as long as a year or more. With me, I've been able to ward off the return of Aunt Flo for as long as I breastfeed exclusively. But usually once my babies start eating solid foods, around 7 or 8 months, back she comes. And I would be lying if I said I didn't worry every month until her return if that bulge in my stomach was just leftover baby weight or a new baby bump!
- Baby is under 6 months old
- Baby is exclusively breastfed — no bottles or pacifiers or any other food
- Baby nurses on demand and is still nursing at night
While the delay of fertility is effective under the best conditions, other factors can change that. If you have a baby who sleeps through the night, for instance (lucky you!), your body may start kicking into baby-making mode again.
Cassi Thomas is a mom who got pregnant while breastfeeding her 6-month-old before her cycle had even returned. And while the new mom was breastfeeding exclusively, she was not relying on nursing as a form of birth control. She was also on the mini-pill.
“My sweet Callie had other plans,” Cassi said about her unexpected surprise pregnancy. “I didn't realize I was pregnant until I was eight weeks along … I felt tired (but who doesn't with a new baby?), and a friend of mine told me my boobs looked pregnant-size big.” Cassi laughed the comments off, but when her friend went and got a pregnancy test just for a joke, Cassi stopped laughing. “The joke was on me,” she said. “Two lines appeared instantly. I'll never ever forget that day!”
The bottom line is that while exclusive breastfeeding is a great way to delay the chances of getting pregnant, especially if your baby is under 6 months old, every woman is different, and it can happen. To prevent pregnancy if you are exclusively breastfeeding, your best bet is to look for other signs in your body that could indicate the return of fertility besides your period and talk with your care provider about family planning options that work for you.
What do you do for birth control while breastfeeding?