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Does breastfeeding work as a contraceptive?

When you do it perfectly! After pregnancy, your period will return at your body’s own pace. For some individuals, it will return within a few weeks. For others, it may take several months before returning. It can take time for your hormones to get back to normal, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

How does the method work?

LAM which stands for Lactation Amenorrhea Method, is the method that prevents a woman from getting pregnant through breastfeeding. Lactation means breastfeeding or milk formation. Amenorrhea means without bleeding. Your ovulation can cease during the breastfeeding period due to the hormones inhibiting ovulation stimulation.

Breastfeeding has been studied as a contraceptive in several different studies. Exclusive Breastfeeding or LAM is 98% effective in preventing pregnancy as long as all of the following conditions are met:

  • Have you had menstruation after your pregnancy? (even light spotting counts)
  • Have you given your baby anything other than breast milk? It can be, for example, taste portions, occasional formula supplement, breast milk -substitutes or water.
  • Is your child older than 6 months?
  • Have you stopped night feeding?
  • Do you breastfeed less often?
  • Are there longer intervals between feeds, both during the day and at night?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions and you want to prevent getting pregnant, you should use another method. You can get pregnant as little as 3 weeks after giving birth, even if you're breastfeeding and your periods haven't started again. Unless you want to get pregnant again, it's important to use some kind of contraception every time you have sex including the first time.

Why should my baby not be older than 6 months?

This is one of the criteria that has been discussed and questioned. LAM probably works even after your baby is 6 months old. WHO recommendations are to breastfeed the baby until it is 6 months old, that is as far as the LAM studies are based. When the baby is 6 months old, it often starts to wean to solid foods which can trigger ovulation.

However, studies indicate that if a woman succeeds with LAM for 6 months and chooses to breastfeed at the same time as solid food is introduced, then LAM can still have an effect. It is worth remembering that ovulation occurs before the bleeding, which means that you can get pregnant before a menstrual period.

Sources: - Australian Breastfeeding Association. (Juni 2020) https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/lactational-amenorrhea-method-lam-postpartum-contraception - WHO- World Health Organization. (9 juni 2021). Infant and young child feeding https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding