Breastfeeding does not prevent pregnancy. If you do not want to get pregnant while breastfeeding, here are some options for birth control while breastfeeding.
Birth Control While Breastfeeding – What’s Best for You?
Are you concerned about getting pregnant too soon after delivering your baby? After the six-week period of recommended abstinence, some new mothers depend on breastfeeding alone to stop them from conceiving. While that is an option with low risk for some mothers, it has left others with unexpected pregnancies less than a year after giving birth.
Keep reading to learn why that breastfeeding may work better as a birth control method for some mothers than others. We’ll also discuss other birth control options that are effective and safe for mother and baby. This knowledge can help you manage your fertility to create the family you want with ideal timing.
Is Breastfeeding an Effective Birth Control Method?
If you rely on breastfeeding to control your hormones to prevent pregnancy, you’re practicing the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM). According to La Leche League International, it is effective for women who meet the following three criteria:
- Your baby is less than six months old
- You’re breastfeeding exclusively or nearly exclusively
- Your periods have not resumed since you gave birth to your baby
It’s important to assess your suitability to LAM in all three of these areas before deciding to use this method as your primary or sole birth control method. Once you stop bleeding from childbirth, even light spotting is a signal that your menstrual cycle is returning and you can no longer depend on breastfeeding alone to prevent pregnancy.
In that case, you will need to transition to another form of birth control quickly. Remember, it can take some time for some birth control methods to take effective. You may need to practice the pull-out method or abstinence if your cycle returns suddenly and you need time to get established with a new birth control method.
You should also consider other birth control strategies once your baby turns six months old. That’s a good point to think about when you might like to have another child and how far into the future you will depend on your next birth control method. Familiarize yourself now with the other birth control choices on this page. That knowledge will help you pick your next strategy when the time is right.
There is never a complete guarantee that you won’t get pregnant while using LAM as your primary birth control plan. Even if you meet all three criteria, there’s a chance you could become pregnant. That’s especially true if your period returns unexpectedly because you could conceive before realizing you’re fertile again. If there is a serious concern about future pregnancies, talk to your doctor about the risks involved with LAM before making your final choice.
Natural Birth Control While Breastfeeding
One way to make LAM more effective is to back it up with natural birth control strategies that don’t impact your hormones like birth control pills or shots. The simplest methods involve your habits and behaviors surrounding sex, including:
- Pull-Out Method – Simply pulling out to prevent semen from entering the vagina is close 80% effective. While you don’t want to depend on that entirely for birth control, it is a good back up to LAM and many other strategies.
- Cycle Tracking – Tracking your cycle to determine when you’re fertile is a good idea for any woman who feels getting pregnant would become a serious problem or inconvenience. You can take extra precautions during your fertile periods to prevent pregnancy, either with the pull-out method, condoms or complete abstinence. You can download cycle tracking apps through your cellphone, and most are free.
- Spermicides – You apply a spermicide before having intercourse. It will kill most if not all of the sperm before they have a chance to reach your egg. They’re not always convenient during impromptu lovemaking sessions, but it’s something you might want to use when you know or suspect you’re fertile.
- Condoms – Covering up is still one of the simplest forms of birth control. If your partner prefers not to wear a condom, openly discuss your reasons for wanting to protect yourself against unplanned pregnancy. You should work out your approach to birth control together.
The benefit to using these natural birth control strategies is the ability to quickly discontinue use if you decide it’s time to have another baby. You don’t have to wait for your hormones to return to their natural levels and cycles before you can conceive your next baby.
The downside is that these methods aren’t always as effective as the other birth control strategies featured below. They’re more effective when used together or in addition to LAM and some less natural birth control options.
Barrier Birth Control Methods
A barrier method literally puts up a barrier to block sperm from reaching your eggs and leading to pregnancy. Condoms are the simplest barrier method, but you have some other options:
- Cervical Cap – Cervical caps are fitted by a medical doctor to cover your cervix and block sperm from reaching the uterus. They’re available by prescription only, and you must use them with spermicide for full protection. Caps are effective more than 80% of the time as long as they’re used properly and consistently. They’re similar to diaphragms, but they’re different in design.
- Contraceptive Sponge – A sponge is a disc-shaped or rounded piece of foam that you insert over your cervix before intercourse. They’re different from diaphragms and cervical caps because they already contain spermicide, which saves you a step when getting ready for sex. They’re effective close to 90% of the time when inserted properly.
- Diaphragm – A diaphragm looks like small cup that is made from rubber or silicone. You insert it over your cervix along with spermicide before intercourse. When used properly and consistently, diaphragms are effective more than 80% of the time. They have no impact on your hormones and won’t prevent you from starting to conceive quickly when the time is right.
- IUD – IUDs are effective more than 95% of the time, so they’re one of your most effective options. The catch is that your doctor will insert the IUD in your uterus, and you can’t take it out on your own. That eliminates the inconvenience of inserting it yourself prior to intercourse. Many types do interfere with hormones, but the new copper design known as ParaGuard is the exception. It uses your immune system rather than your hormones, so you can start trying to have a new baby right away once it is removed.
All of these barrier devices come with some potential side effects, including an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections. They can dry out the vagina and interfere with the natural balance of vaginal bacteria, causing discomfort and a variety of infections. While some women find these risks unbearable, others have no problems and notice no change in their vaginal health.
If you have a history of urinary or vaginal infections, talk to your doctor before using any of these barrier methods. A medical professional who is aware of your medical history can help you determine how likely you are to suffer from infections when using various forms of birth control.
Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills, implants, injections, patches and rings will interfere with your hormonal balance, which in turn may have an impact on your breast milk supply. The presence of estrogen is culprit, but many women find progestin-only birth control products effective without the hormonal interference.
Progestin and estrogen are both female hormones that are included together in other birth control pills. Those pills are often referred to as combination birth control pills, and we’ll discuss them in more detail below.
When the estrogen is eliminated, birth control pills become safer for breastfeeding women. They’re slightly less effective than combination birth control products, so many medical professionals recommend women switch to combination pills when they stop breastfeeding or their menstrual cycle returns.
In addition to pills, you can get progestin-only arm implants. You can discuss options in other forms with your doctor. All of these methods will require a waiting period between stopping the birth control and conceiving a new baby due to the hormonal changes.
Combination Birth Control Products
Birth control products that contain estrogen and progestin may come in the following forms:
- Daily pills
- Skin patch
Talk to your doctor about low-dose birth control products that don’t contain as much estrogen as some other products. Make sure your milk is fully established and your baby is breastfeeding successfully before using this type of birth control. You may also want to establish a freezer stash of breast milk just in case your supply does decrease a bit when you start taking the birth control.
When to See Your Doctor
The information contained on this page should help you discuss your birth control options with your family doctor or gynecologist after giving birth to your new baby. It’s easier to discuss what your best options if you have at least a basic understanding of what’s safe for breastfeeding mothers. Open communication about your birth control efforts will give you the best results with healthy family planning.
It’s not easy to time pregnancies so that they’re convenient for every member of your household. Some birth control methods are easier to discontinue and rebound from faster than others. If you know you want to have more children within a year or two of giving birth, you should make sure your medical team is aware of your goals. They can help you select birth control options that won’t delay or interfere with those goals.
It is a Personal Choice
You have many choices for birth control while breastfeeding that are safe and effective while breastfeeding a baby. For optimal health for both you and your children, it is recommended that pregnancies be spaced at least two years apart.
Make sure to discuss your plans for birth control or pregnancy spacing with your doctor. Between you, your partner and your doctor, you are sure to find a choice that will work best for you.
If You Get Pregnant Anyway
Even the best birth control methods can fail sometimes…if you don’t believe me I will introduce you to my 3rd child!
…and you don’t have to wean a breastfeeding child once you are pregnant. Many women continue to successfully breastfeed while pregnant.
- Birth Control, Le Leche League International, Accessed May 12, 2020. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/birth-control/
- Pull Out Withdrawl, WebMD, Accessed May 12, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/pull-out-withdrawal
- Contraception During Breastfeeding, Cleveland Clinic, Accessed May 12, 2020. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/15280-contraception-during-breastfeeding