Have you been exploring options for preventing pregnancy while breastfeeding? Are you concerned some types of birth control might not be safe for your baby?
Join the club — many women are unsure of what exactly is safe or recommended when it comes to using birth control after their baby is born.
By educating yourself on the dos and don’ts of birth control, breastfeeding, and planning for your future, you can take control over your body and find a perfect option that fits you!
Is Birth Control Safe While Breastfeeding?
The short answer? Yes! Many methods of birth control, including implants, are safe for breastfeeding mothers, and won’t hurt you or the baby. Learning about the advantages of each method of birth control can help you decide which one to choose.
With the hustle and bustle that comes with raising a baby, you might not have thought of pregnancy prevention yet. You’re in the middle of the newborn stage, recovering from birth, and just trying to figure out your new daily routine.
The last thing you’ve even started to worry about is doing it all again! And sex may be the furthest thing from your mind.
Even so, birth control after pregnancy is critical. We don’t stop being fertile just because we finally have a baby in our arms. Staying on top of pregnancy prevention an important focus.
Is Breastfeeding Reliable Birth Control?
Breastfeeding can be a reliable form of birth control, but there is a special way to go about the process that makes it a natural defense against pregnancy. Lactational Amenorrhea, otherwise referred to as LAM, is the term used for using breastfeeding as a form of birth control.
Exclusive breastfeeding — without formula supplements, starting solids, or pumping — tells your body you need to focus on the new baby and nothing else. This will prevent you from ovulating, making another pregnancy highly improbable during this period.
Three conditions need to be true for LAM to prevent pregnancy (1):
- Your periods have not returned.
- You are breastfeeding without supplementing, and your baby is feeding often.
- Your baby is younger than 6 months.
If you can say ‘yes’ to all three of these conditions, then LAM is as effective as other forms of birth control. As soon as any of the answers change to ‘no,’ you need to use a backup form of birth control.
Using Nursing As Birth Control
As long as you keep up with frequent feedings, and don’t go more than 4-6 hours without your baby on the breast, you will be at a reduced chance of pregnancy. However, there’s always more you can do to maximize this natural infertility stage.
A few ways to ensure the reliability of using breastfeeding as your birth control can be:
- Avoid a pacifier: By encouraging your baby to turn to you for comfort when they need to suck, you make your body more receptive to their needs, and you keep your hormones at a level that will inhibit ovulation.
- Breastfeed at night: This one is extremely important to maintaining the efficiency of this method. A handy rule of thumb to remember is that the more time spent nursing, the more protected you’ll be.
Drawbacks of Nursing As Birth Control
Moms and experts agree that breastfeeding is amazing! It kick-starts your little one’s life with all the nutrients they need, helps your body recover faster from the birthing process, and as you now know, can even prevent pregnancy.
Since it’s a cost-free option, and something you’re already doing, it might seem like an obvious (and easy) choice. With all the great things breastfeeding does, it’s hard to imagine it could come with any disadvantages.
However, It’s important to keep in mind how precise you must be if you choose breastfeeding as your birth control option. The best way to ensure its effectiveness is diligence and consistency. Missing too many feedings in a short period can increase your pregnancy risk.
Tired moms who are working hard to breastfeed and facing their struggles through this journey may not be able to nurse often enough to make the method effective.
As we mentioned — if you aren’t breastfeeding exclusively every 4 to 6 hours, you’re losing reliability. And once you become sexually active again and resume regular periods, you’ll need to switch to another form of birth control (2).
Additionally, nursing to prevent pregnancy will only be effective for about 6 months. Once your baby stops eating as much, and moves on to their first solid food, it’s time to look into another birth control method.
Breastfeeding naturally suppresses your estrogen levels – and this can lead to a decreased libido and vaginal dryness, making sex not as comfortable as you’d like. A water-based lubricant can help. As far as ramping up your sex drive, that may just take time.
Find other ways to be intimate and be open with your partner about the changes you’re experiencing. It may just be that you feel ‘touched out’ after having a baby attached to you all the time. Or maybe baby’s 24/7 needs leave you feeling too tired for intimacy. These changes are normal and temporary.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
Absolutely — your fertility can return, even if you breastfeed a lot. All it takes is a sudden change in your breastfeeding routine to kickstart the baby-making hormones.
As soon as your periods have returned to their usual routine, it’s safe to assume you are fertile and can conceive.
Another concern that breastfeeding moms often have is whether or not breastfeeding will affect their pregnancy tests. Once again, you don’t have to worry. A pregnancy test will only pick up the hormones released in the event of a pregnancy.
They can detect the difference between old hormones from your last pregnancy and those that are released when a new life begins.
If you’re trying to get pregnant while breastfeeding a toddler and still struggling, it may be time to start introducing more solid foods, and having your baby spend less time at the breast. This will help your body return to normal, making it easier to host an egg and allow for fertilization.
Birth Control Pills And Milk Supply
Birth control pills containing hormones are a popular choice because of their effectiveness and simplicity. They’re easy to start, easy to stop, and perfect for a low-stress, low-cost way to avoid pregnancy.
However, the estrogen in these pills may make it harder to produce milk for your baby. Many birth control pills contain both estrogen and progestin, so make sure you ask your doctor for ones that are progestin-only if you’re planning to breastfeed (3).
It takes around 6 weeks for your milk supply to settle in to perfectly match your baby’s needs, and some doctors may feel comfortable prescribing a birth control method that contains estrogen around that time.
Discuss alternatives with your doctor if you want to begin birth control sooner than 6 weeks postpartum.
How Does Progestin Work?
Progestin increases the amount and thickness of the mucus in your vagina, making it impossible for sperm to pass through. No sperm reaching your eggs means no baby! It also helps your body skip releasing an egg during ovulation.
In the case of progestin birth control pills, you do have regular periods, you just aren’t able to get pregnant because of the physical changes it causes in your body.
Using Birth Control After Birth
Since doctors strongly recommend women wait at least 6 weeks after giving birth before having sex, you don’t need to begin any birth control medication until about a month after birth. This gives your body time to recover and prepare for another hormonal change to be introduced.
Breastfeeding immediately begins acting as birth control from the first latch, so if this is the path you’re taking, you don’t have to worry about doing anything different once you resume normal sexual activity.
If you choose to begin another birth control method, it’s a good idea to start using it shortly before you think you’ll be sexually active again.
Birth control pills take about 7 days to become active in their protection against pregnancy, so plan ahead with your partner if you don’t trust nursing as your only method. Other options like implants are often suggested at the 6-week postpartum checkup.
Talk to your doctor around this time to agree on what’s best.
Your 3 Best Birth Control Options
There many options out there when it comes to finding a birth control method. Every option has advantages, and disadvantages — these are some of the best choices for breastfeeding moms:
Considered by many as the most effective form of birth control, many women opt for the intrauterine device, also known as an IUD. One type contains absolutely no hormones and is instead made of copper, which intervenes with the sperm’s ability to reach the uterus.
Another type of the IUD is made with progestin levels so low they likely won’t affect your milk supply, especially if placed after 6 weeks. There is, however, a small risk that milk supply can be decreased, just as with the pill. Both IUDs are safe for breastfeeding women, and are over 99 percent effective (4).
Different IUDs last for certain periods of time. You’ll be protected for up to 3-5 years if you use the progestin kind, or up to 10 years with the copper IUD. Plus, it can be removed if you decide you want to expand your family before that time runs out.
2. Nexplanon Implant
Though this is another option where a device is inserted into the body, this birth control implant is much less invasive than the IUD. A small rod — about the size of a matchstick — is placed in your upper arm. It releases progestin into your body to prevent pregnancy from occurring.
Again, since this option only uses progestin, most women don’t see any impact on their milk supplies (though the theoretical risk still exists). The only risk that the Nexplanon implant presents is a slight chance for infection since it is a foreign object being placed into the body.
The success rate with the birth control implant is the same as the IUD, and these two see higher results because of their simplicity to use. You don’t have to remember to do anything special, like take your pills, because the device does the work for you. If your milk supply is impacted, however, itis more difficult to remove than the IUD and not as easy as stopping the pill.
3. Progestin Birth Control Pills
Since it’s important for breastfeeding moms to avoid estrogen, scientists have innovated an options known as the ‘mini pill.’ These are a form of birth control that only contains progestin, and works just as well as mainstream combination pills.
Taking oral contraceptives comes with a bit of a risk, especially for distracted new moms. They’re only effective if taken correctly and consistently every time. Each missed or delayed dose puts you at further risk for pregnancy, so the 99 percent success rate is based only on methodical habits.
This method is so widely enjoyed because it’s the easiest to start and stop using. Plus, it comes with zero risks for infection since nothing is inserted. Birth control is also used to regulate your cycle, so you’ll experience less cramping and more consistent flow activity on your period.
While the research about progestin-only pills’ impact on milk supply is contradictory, if you notice that your milk supply is affected once you start the ‘mini pill’ you can always stop and use a backup form of birth control.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Morning After Pills And Milk Supply
Like birth control pills, the morning after pill comes in two different types. One contains progestin and the other is a combination pill with both hormones you’d find in name-brand oral contraceptives.
If you take the progestin-only pill, you won’t see a difference in how your body produces milk for your baby.
If your only option is the combination morning after pill, you may get away without a single change in milk production. For women who aren’t so lucky, the negative effect on your supply should only last a day or two at most (5).
When Can I Get Pregnant Again?
After my son was born, I first thought I’d never want to go through the exhaustion of birth, newborns, and breastfeeding again! To my surprise, it wasn’t long before I started thinking back fondly to my pregnancy memories. I was ready to do it all again sooner than I ever imagined.
Most obstetricians and midwives recommend waiting 6 weeks before resuming intercourse. This gives your body time to heal. Even then, you may not be interested in sex. On the other hand, some women feel great after birth and want to resume their relationship sooner.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
You shouldn’t be too eager to jump back into maternity clothes, though. Experts recommend 18 months between pregnancies. The shorter the time between pregnancies, the higher the chances are for premature birth and other problems.
Basically, you haven’t given your body adequate time to return to normal. Pregnancies too close together will create more potential risks and stress on your body.
This is why finding a reliable and safe birth control method is so important for both you and your future children.
Which Method Worked Best For You?
Choosing the safest and most effective method of birth control for you is an important postpartum step. It’s a choice that can be made by every mom as soon as her sexual activity resumes.
With options such as progestin-only pills and hormonal implants, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you have any questions or concerns, it’s key to discuss this with your doctor.
Do you have any stories to share on using breastfeeding as a birth control method? Have any questions about the subject? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Or if you know another mother who has been wondering about her contraceptive options, share this with her!