Breastfeeding for Birth Control
The Lactational Amenorrhea Method
What is the lactational amenorrhea method?
The Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) is the practice of using breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy. Breastfeeding is the oldest and most widely used natural contraceptive worldwide.
How does it work?
The act of nursing a baby generates hormones in the mother that supresses ovulation. This is the body's natural mechanism for preventing women from having too many children at one time. If the body is in the process of providing mink for an infant, then the assumption is that another pregnancy would be physically taxing, therefore the reproductive system temporarily remains inactive .
How effective is breastfeeding for birth control?
The lactational amenorrhea method is extremely effective under the following circumstances:
Six Month Failure Rate
- The mother is breastfeeding exclusively — that is, no other foods or beverages are being given to the infant
- The infant nurses frequently throughout the day (every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night)
- It has been less than six months since childbirth
- Menstruation has not resumed
LAM is 98% effective when used as directed, although its effectiveness starts to drop after six months, thus it should only be considered a temporary method. The bad news is that for working women, pumping the milk is not as effective in preventing pregnancy. A study of working women found that those practicing LAM had a higher pregnancy rate.
Side-effects and health risks of breastfeeding
Like other methods of natural family planning, there are no side effects or health risks because the user does not put anything into her body. Better yet, the baby gets the most nutritious food possible, its own mother's milk.
Considerations for Christians about breastfeeding
Most Christians do not have any moral objections to this type of temporary natural birth control. Breastfeeding is also acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church.
What your doctor may say
Most medical professionals are skeptical of natural methods of birth control, and LAM in particular, due to their own ignorance about the proper use of these techniques. Combined oral contraceptives, the contraceptive patch, the vaginal ring, and other methods that contain estrogen are a poor choice for lactating women because they reduce the supply of milk. Your doctor may recommend an estrogen-free hormonal method like the mini-pill (progestin-only pills) or Depo Provera, as these do not have such a profound effect on milk supply. However, these drugs do appear in the breast milk, which means that the infant is being fed unnecessary synthetic sex hormones. This concern has lead some organizations to urge caution in using these drugs during pregnancy.
- Is Your Baby on Steriods?: What every nursing mother needs to know about hormonal contraceptives
- Christian Family Planning Network: Provides education for Christian couples about natural birth control (ChristianFamilyPlanning.net)
- Lactational Method: Contraceptive Information Resource (Contracept.org)
Source: Hatcher et al, Contraceptive Technology, Ardent Media, 2005.