Contraceptive Benefits of Breastfeeding

If you are pregnant or have just given birth, you may be considering breastfeeding your child. Breastfeeding is one of the healthiest things that you can do for your baby. Your breast milk is designed specially to provide your baby with all of the vitamins, nutrients, and antibodies that she needs to stay healthy. But breastfeeding is not only beneficial to your baby. It can also be very healthy for you as well. In addition to helping you recover from pregnancy more quickly, breastfeeding can also be used as a natural family planning method. Known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), this method is highly effective in preventing pregnancy in the months after childbirth.

What is the Lactational Amenorrhea Method?
The lactational amenorrhea method is just one of a variety of highly effective natural family planning methods. This method is used after childbirth, and involves breastfeeding your child exclusively for at least six months in order to prevent pregnancy. The LAM method has been around for thousands of years but declined greatly in popularity over the past century. In 1988, however, the LAM method was reintroduced thanks to new studies that proved its effectiveness in preventing pregnancies during the postpartum period.

How Does the Lactational Amenorrhea Method Work?
The LAM method works by changing the way in which your body produces your reproductive hormones. In order to ovulate and menstruate, your pituitary gland (a small gland inside of your brain) produces two hormones: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). These hormones send signals to your eggs to mature and subsequently be released during ovulation. When you breastfeed, though, this process gets interrupted, thereby interfering with the production of both FSH and GnRH.

As your baby suckles, nerve impulses travel through your body and are received by your brain. This signals the production of a hormone called prolactin, which works to inhibit both FSH and GnRH. As a result, ovulation does not occur and menstruation stops, making it almost impossible to become pregnant.

Who Can Use the Lactational Amenorrhea Method?
Any woman who is dedicated to exclusively breastfeeding her child after birth can use the LAM method to protect against pregnancy. It is most effective in women who:

  • are exclusively or almost exclusively (85% of feeds) breastfeeding
  • have not experienced the return of their menstrual periods
  • are less than six months postpartum

How Do You Use the Lactational Amenorrhea Method?
LAM is one of the simplest natural family planning methods to use. It involves no complex calculations or calendars and requires little preparation or planning. Simply follow these steps when feeding your baby for the first six months of life:

  • begin breastfeeding as soon as possible after delivery
  • breastfeed between six and ten times a day, upon request
  • avoid long intervals between feeds
  • avoid the use of bottles and pacifiers
  • don't give any supplemental food or liquids to your baby (such as juice or water)

How Effective is the Lactational Amenorrhea Method?
The LAM method is actually highly effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly during the first six months of the postpartum period. If you continue to breastfeed regularly and exclusively and your periods do not return, LAM is between 98% and 99% effective. Most women have trouble maintaining such a rigorous breastfeeding schedule, though. These women should use an alternate form of birth control in addition to LAM.

Advantages of the Lactational Amenorrhea Method
There are a number of advantages of breastfeeding for contraceptive purposes:

  • LAM is highly effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly.
  • LAM is easy and simple to use.
  • LAM is inexpensive and causes no side effects.
  • LAM doesn't interfere with intercourse.
  • LAM is acceptable in most cultures.
  • There are numerous health benefits of breastfeeding for both you and baby.

Disadvantages to the Lactational Amenorrhea Method
As with any birth control method, LAM is not without its drawbacks:

  • LAM is most effective in the first six months of postpartum. After six months, LAM becomes less effective.
  • It can be difficult to maintain regular breastfeeding schedules, especially for working mothers.
  • LAM does not protect against STDS.

Lactational Amenorrhea Method after Six Months
LAM can be continued after your baby has turned six months of age, though it will be less effective than it is during the early postpartum period. After six months, your baby will require supplemental feeding, and this may interfere with breastfeeding. As long as your baby continues to breastfeed for more than 65 minutes a day, and your periods have not returned, LAM should still be quite effective in preventing pregnancy.

With perfect use, the LAM method is between 90% and 96% effective in guarding against pregnancy after six months. However, it is recommended that women use an additional type of birth control after their baby turns six months of age.

Chat with other breastfeeding moms and get the answers to all of your breastfeeding questions in our pregnancy forum.

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