Birth Control While Breastfeeding

It is a common question whether women need to use birth control while breastfeeding. There are many “wives tales” that you cannot get pregnant during breastfeeding. This is because during breastfeeding, you may have fewer or even no periods. Nature does have a way of making sure the breastfeeding infant does not have to compete for nutrients with a growing fetus, but studies show that even though there are no periods women can still ovulate during this time. Let’s explore the possibility of a second pregnancy during the breastfeeding phase and the best options for birth control during this time.

Do I Need Birth Control While Breastfeeding?

The possibility of getting pregnant while you’re breastfeeding does in fact exist. While breastfeeding does suppress some of the hormones in your body that causes ovulation, the more you are breastfeeding the more they are suppressed. If your baby starts feeding for longer periods and sleeping for longer periods, this may cause ovulation.

In the early months, babies are feeding enough so that ovulation may be suppressed. When they start sleeping through the night and you have less feedings, this is when ovulation is most likely to happen again. Ovulation will happen two weeks ahead of when your periods are due to start up again and you may not know you ovulated. This can happen anywhere from weeks to months after your baby is born and very unpredictable.

Chances of Pregnancy During Breastfeeding

The good news is, during the first three months of breastfeeding the chances of pregnancy are close to 0%. Breastfeeding alone can be 98 to 99.5% effective if you meet the following criteria:

  • Baby is under 6 months of age
  • You have not had a period yet (Remember that you will ovulate two weeks before)
  • Your baby gets only breast milk and still feeds during the night. The more solid foods they eat the less often you will breastfeed and this increases the chance of ovulation.

In conclusion, the decision to use birth control while breastfeeding must be made very carefully.Yes, you may need some form of birth control at some point during nursing.  There are certain types of birth control pills the doctor can prescribe that are safer for nursing mothers and please note that certain hormones in birth control pills can actually suppress your milk supply.

Safe Birth Control Methods for Breastfeeding

If you want to make sure that you do not have an unexpected pregnancy during breastfeeding, there are a few options to choose from. The first is breastfeeding alone, which has no guarantee. The second is a “non-hormonal” birth control method that are more effective than the first option. The third is hormonal birth control pills, which would be the most effective.

Breastfeeding

As stated above, when you exclusively breastfeed during the first 6 months, this can be 98% effective as a method of birth control. The catch is you must be nursing your baby both day and night without using supplemental formula or solid foods. It is also more effective if you do not use a pacifier for your baby. As your baby weans and feeds less, the effectiveness diminishes. Once you begin having periods again, there is no protection from breastfeeding. Watch for light spotting, which could signal ovulation.

Non-Hormonal Methods

If you want to avoid the hormone estrogen that can diminish milk supply, one option is to use a non-hormonal method of birth control. These include usingcondoms, spermicidal jelly or foam, a diaphragm that covers the cervix, or an IUD which is inserted into the uterus. Another radical form of birth control is having either a vasectomy in males or your tubes tied after the baby is born. If you don’t want to use any of the above, you can also try your hand at the NFP (Natural Family Planning) method. This one is a bit tricky and not completely effective if your cycles are unpredictable. You will need to monitor your cycles and know when your “fertile period” occurs and abstain from sex at that time.

Hormonal Birth Control

This involves taking actual hormones to suppress ovulation in your body. Most forms of birth control involve taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone. As stated above, estrogen can reduce the milk supply. There is a form of birth control that uses progesterone only and is known as the “mini-pill.” Depo-Provera injections can also be used while breastfeeding. Doctor’s do recommend nursing mothers wait at least 3 weeks after a baby is born to begin using birth control. Birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone should not be used until six months after birth.

Tips for Using Birth Control While Breastfeeding

  • Try to hold off on intercourse at least six weeks after having your baby. Give your body time to heal. Per your doctor’s advice, you need to wait at least six weeks after your baby’s birth to have intercourse. This is the recommended time period to give everything a chance to heal up. It is understandable that sometimes things happen, so use a condom only during this time. This will also help protect you from infections while everything is still trying to heal.
  • Avoid the “morning after” pill while breastfeeding. Some may feel the need to resort to the “morning after” pill in an emergency. Just know that there are two different types. One has both estrogen and progesterone and one is progesterone only. If you need to use this method, make sure to let the pharmacy know you are a nursing mother and ask for progesterone only.
  • Your doctor or lactation consultant know best. If you have any question as to which method of birth control to use while breastfeeding, ask your doctor, midwife or lactation consultant for advice. They know best. 

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