Breastfeeding (Lactation Amenorrhea)
Breastfeeding prevents ovulation and can protect against pregnancy for about 6 months after giving birth when the baby is given no other food or milk and nurses often.
Breastfeeding works for birth control when the following three things are true:
- a woman breast-feeds exclusively (does not add formula or baby food to the baby’s diet) AND
- her baby is less than 6 months old, AND
- her periods have not returned after giving birth.
What is it?
During the first six months after giving birth, breastfeeding (nursing) stops egg development within the woman and thus prevents ovulation and fertilization, and the woman does not have monthly periods.
How to Use
In general, do not feed the baby anything else besides your breast milk. If you infrequently give the baby small amounts of liquid or solid, the method is still effective as long as you breastfeed every 4 to 6 hours, including at night. As long as your baby is suckling at least every 4 to 6 hours, or you are pumping your breasts with a breast pump, ovulation will usually be suppressed. When your first period begins, it means breastfeeding no longer protects against pregnancy.
Breast milk has positive health effects for the baby including protection from many different illnesses and allergies. However, if the mother has HIV, she can pass the virus to the baby through her breast milk. Learn more at AVERT.
Breastfeeding is an option if you recently gave birth, but it can be difficult for some women to adjust. Women benefit from support of others. Fortunately, there are many resources to help. Contact your local midwife, doula or lactation consultant. Here are some resources:
- La Leche League – Mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education. Promotes a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.
- International Breastfeeding Centre – a not-for-profit breastfeeding clinic, educational facility, and research centre in Toronto, Canada, which trains health care professionals from all around the world. The world’s breastfeeding resource.
- Latching On – the Politics of Breastfeeding in America – a documentary film by Katja Esson promoted by Women Make Movies.
- Native Mothering & Native Breastfeeding Council – serving Native Americans and First Nations Women
- Breastfeeding Basics article on Breastfeeding and Birth Control
Birth Control for After 6 Months After Giving Birth
If a woman is currently breastfeeding and her baby is older than 6 months, breastfeeding becomes less reliable as a form of birth control. As she chooses another method, she may prefer a birth control method that does not contain hormones because hormones can be passed to her baby through breast milk. Furthermore, some hormonal birth control decreases milk production.
After giving birth, many women want to delay the onset of another pregnancy, or they may be finished having babies. When choosing the next birth control method, how soon you wish to become pregnant, if ever, impacts the selection of a birth control method.