Allow me to introduce you to my favourite form of birth control so far: lactational amenorrhea method, or LAM. In short, it’s using breastfeeding as birth control.
The main reason I want to talk about LAM is because before I had Lydia, I’d never even heard of it. Never! I don’t think it’s very well-known, which is, in my opinion, a huge shame, because it rocks! Now that I’ve used it, I’m an enormous fan. If you’re not familiar with the method, and you ever plan on having babies, you might be interested in this all-natural form of birth control. Read on!
(Please note: I am not, by any stretch, a medical expert; to learn more about LAM, consult a healthcare professional. I will include some informative links below. I only want to provide an introduction here to allow you to do your own research).
You may have heard women claim that you can or cannot get pregnant while breastfeeding. The thing is, it’s more complicated than that.
See, it all depends on your definition of “breastfeeding.” If you practice a certain kind of (unrestricted) breastfeeding, your chances of getting pregnant in the first six months are next to nothing – less than 2%, which is comparable to artificial forms of birth control – and only slightly higher in the next six months (source). In other words, you likely have about a year of freedom from having to use other forms of birth control. Score!
But you have to breastfeed in a certain way. (You should also be very familiar with your body and know the signs of impending fertility. Ideally, in order to feel confident in this method, you should already have been practicing fertility awareness or natural family planning before you got pregnant.)
The thing is, frequent breastfeeding suppresses ovulation. (I’m going to assume you already understand that in order to get pregnant, you have to ovulate first). By frequent, I mean breastfeeding every couple of hours during the day and at least once or twice at night – i.e., whenever your baby expresses a desire to nurse. Some experts call this “ecological breastfeeding.” If you breastfeed less often, your chances of becoming fertile again shortly after having a baby increases. The longer you wait between feeds, the sooner your fertility will probably return.
But, according to La Leche League (and others), women who practice ecological breastfeeding average 14.6 months of amenorrhea (i.e. not getting their period). Awesome, right? No periods for over a year?! This varies widely, of course. I personally got my first period shortly after Lydia’s first birthday. Some will get it a lot sooner, and others even later.
Again, if you are considering this form of birth control after having a baby, do your research and learn how to do it well. But here are a few key points to get you started:
For it to work, you don’t want your baby to sleep through the night.
I know: this goes against alllllll the conventional advice that tells you “sleeping through the night” is the pinnacle achievement of parenthood. But the milk-making hormones that suppress ovulation are highest between 1 and 6 a.m. You want to take advantage of this. As Dr. Sears puts it, “Nighttime nursing is important to the suppression of fertility.”
Thankfully, babies don’t seem to be built to sleep through the night.
That’s part of the reason I’ve never really minded Lydia’s waking up at night to nurse: she was acting as my natural birth control. And it was no real effort to just scoot her closer to me in bed and let her nurse once or twice a night. We still do it. I love the sleepy nighttime cuddles.
(In fact, the first [AND ONLY] time Lydia slept for 6 hours straight without waking at night, I shot up in bed and went, “Oh, crap!” Thankfully — for the part of me that wasn’t ready for another baby — she has never repeated this).
You don’t want to use supplements or even pacifiers too much.
All sucking, for food and comfort, should be at the breast. This also means you don’t want to pump breast milk during the day so that your husband can feed your baby at night. It needs to come straight from the source for it to work as an ovulation-suppressor. Sorry!
We personally never used bottles or pacifiers at all.
You also want to delay the introduction of solids.
We chose to introduce solids at around 6 months, though others wait even longer –up to 8 or even 12 months. The sooner your baby is eating other things instead of nursing, the sooner your fertility is likely to return.
Why I Love It
Besides the fact that it’s totally free, I love that it’s completely, 100% natural. No artificial hormones, no surgical procedures, no barriers, NOTHING. You’re just taking advantage of your body’s natural way of spacing children. I personally believe that God designed us with ecological breastfeeding in mind. Our bodies weren’t meant to have babies too close together; God built into us a natural mechanism for spacing children.
Besides that, it’s effortless! In my opinion, it’s even less work than natural family planning: you don’t even have to chart or take your temperature, if you don’t want to! (Unless you’re very concerned about getting pregnant. Then you might want to. I wasn’t.)
Okay, some people might not consider round-the-clock nursing “effortless.” But I would have done all that anyway, since I consider night-nursing WAY easier and more appealing than either sleep-training or bottle-feeding. No thanks! I also would have done it for the health benefits for my baby alone. The fact that it kept me from getting pregnant again too soon was just a fabulous bonus.
Lastly, it’s just plain nice. Having a baby’s warm little mouth on your breast is, in my experience, one of the most pleasurable feelings in the world. I’m happy to enjoy this special time with my baby many times throughout the day and night.
A Few Reflections on My Personal Experience (If You Care)
First, about charting: it’s true that the risk of getting pregnant increases slightly after the first six months, and at that point, it’s good to resume charting (if you practice natural family planning). I didn’t, though. After six months, I wasn’t as worried about getting pregnant. I was willing to take the slight increase in risk – I felt I could probably handle another baby in the unlikely chance that I got pregnant. So I didn’t start charting again until I got my period at about 13 months post-partum. You might not be that relaxed, though.
Second: Now that Lydia’s well over a year old, I confess I am starting to kind of wish that she would sleep through the night and nurse less often during the day. But mostly just because I’m starting to think I’d like another baby!
I did get my period once, over a month ago, but I don’t seem to have regained normal fertility. I think her continued nursing is partly responsible for this.
But, I mean, as long as she isn’t sleeping through the night, I’d probably rather wait with Baby #2, anyway . . . I don’t need two little ones waking me up at night on a regular basis! A woman can only do so much and remain cheerful, you know? So I might as well nurse if she’s waking up. It makes sense to me that her sleeping-through-the-night and my next pregnancy would go together, even if a part of me is ready to grow our family now already.
(If it keeps going like this for many more months, I might start looking for alternatives to nursing, though. I love babies and won’t stay young forever).
A Final Note
Please remember that no birth control is 100% effective. I feel like we need constant reminders of this fact. Before you protest, “But I know someone who got pregnant in the first 6 months, and she was breastfeeding full-time!”, keep in mind that I have friends (plural!) who got pregnant on the Pill. It happens. If you have sex, you risk getting pregnant. That’s just the nature of sex.
Anyway. If I’ve piqued your interest, check out the following links for more information!
Also, if you can get your hands on the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler goes into detail about how to do this in Appendix C (p. 351).
Image courtesy of Christy Scherrer.