Breastfeeding And Birth Control – Everything You Need To Know
There comes a time after birth that moms question using birth control and how it affects breastfeeding.
You’ve probably heard that using birth control can cause your milk supply to drop. Or maybe you’ve heard that breastfeeding IS a form of birth control.
You’re in the right place because this article covers everything you need to know about breastfeeding and birth control.
Breastfeeding As Birth Control
If you’ve heard that breastfeeding can be used as birth control, that’s right! Breastfeeding can be almost 98% effective as birth control if you follow the right steps. That’s more effective that some of the other most common forms of birth control.
The reason breastfeeding can be used as birth control is all about hormones! Breastfeeding hormones suppress the hormones that lead to pregnancy.
The thing is, for breastfeeding to work as birth control you have to do certain specific things. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is my baby younger than 6 months?
- Have my periods still not returned (after the birth bleeding stopped around 6 weeks)?
- Am I breastfeeding my baby on demand throughout the day?
- Is my baby exclusively breastfed?
If the answer is yes to all of those questions than you are able to confidently use breastfeeding as birth control! I do want to make a disclaimer… all people are different so if you are the 2% that DOES get pregnant while breastfeeding, don’t blame me! I would recommend still using another form of birth control just to be safe.
What Causes Breastfeeding To Not Be Effective As Birth Control
As I said before, breastfeeding works as birth control because of hormones. So your breastfeeding hormones need to be working all the time. You need to be breastfeeding frequently enough for your body to continue making high levels of breastfeeding hormones.
Decreasing the amount or frequency of feedings can reduce effectiveness.
If your baby starts to sleep for longer stretches throughout the night, you won’t breastfeed during that time. Your body starts getting signals that it doesn’t need to continue producing breastfeeding hormones.
The same thing happens when your baby starts eating solid foods. They don’t need as much breast milk, so your body produces less hormones to decrease milk supply accordingly.
When your body gets the signal to decrease breastfeeding hormone production, your other hormones are no longer suppressed. They will cause you to ovulate, menstruate, and potentially become pregnant.
Average Time A Woman Can Become Pregnant While Breastfeeding
The average time a woman ovulates after pregnancy (while breastfeeding) is 14 months!
The guidelines are that you’re generally safe if exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months – but you likely won’t be able to get pregnant again until after.
Keep in mind that averages come from a conglomeration of data from either side. So there’s a chance that you could get pregnant before 14 months, and you might not be able to for long after.
Getting A Period While Breastfeeding: Can I Get Pregnant?
Most likely: yes! A period is a good sign that you’ve ovulated so you’re probably fertile.
That’s why it’s one of the guidelines to determine if breastfeeding is effective as birth control. If you have gotten a period, don’t rely on breastfeeding as birth control!
However, SOME women will get a period even if they haven’t ovulated since birth. So just because you started your cycle again doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ovulating and able to become pregnant.
And to make matters even more confusing…
You CAN become pregnant BEFORE you ever get a period after giving birth! Some women just happen to time things right and they become pregnant the first time they ovulate. They may not have a period after birth, but still get pregnant.
Birth Control Options While Breastfeeding
Now that we’ve covered using breastfeeding as birth control, let’s discuss other birth control options. You’ll want to know this info if you are still breastfeeding because birth control can affect breast milk supply.
Non Hormonal Birth Control
The best form of birth control to use is a non-hormonal form. Keep in mind though that these forms of birth control aren’t 100% effective (well, none truly are except for permanent methods.. and sometimes even those don’t work…).
I would recommend pairing non-hormonal forms of birth control with breastfeeding if that’s what you’re relying on to prevent pregnancy. But especially after you start answering “no” to the questions above, you’ll want to use another form!
Here are the options for non-hormonal types of birth control that won’t affect your milk supply:
- Condoms. Condoms are affordable and offer a good option for birth control. They aren’t always effective though because there are risks for human error or breaking. Because of that, condoms are about 85% successful as birth control.
- Diaphragms. Diaphragms are a good option, and are used with spermicides. Diaphragms are around 94% effective at preventing pregnancy.
- Fertility Awareness Method. If you haven’t used the Fertility Awareness Method, you might find it interesting! This is a fantastic option for birth control and it involves monitoring all sorts of your body’s natural signs for fertility. This method is effective based on how well you are able to follow your signs and abstain from sex at certain times during your cycle.
- Permanent Solutions. You could always opt for permanent solutions such as a tubal ligation or vasectomy. Be extra sure that you are done having kids if you decide to go this route. It’s a good option to prevent pregnancy and still keep your hormones optimal for breastfeeding.
Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control works by giving your body signals to prevent pregnancy. The two main hormones used in birth control are estrogen and progesterone (progestin).
Birth controls often use a combination of the two hormones, but there are some birth controls that only use forms of progesterone.
How Hormonal Birth Control Affects Breastfeeding
If possible, try to avoid birth control that contains estrogen.
Because estrogen decreases milk supply. This is true for almost every woman that starts taking hormonal birth control with estrogen in it. Try to avoid use of common estrogen containing birth controls like the combination pill, a patch (Ortho-Evra), and vaginal ring (NuvaRing).
The good news is that there are progesterone-only options. We’ll talk about all the different forms of birth control you can choose.
Progesterone Only Birth Control Options
- Implants (Norplant, Implanon, Nexplanon). These are extremely effective in preventing pregnancy. They work by slowly releasing progesterone into your body for up to 3 years.
- Mini-pills (AKA mini-pills). These are different than the regular combination pill. Mini-pills should be taken every day, without a week off. It’s extremely important to take them at the same time each day and not miss any or chance of pregnancy increases.
- IUD: (Mirena, Skyla). Delivering progesterone right to the uterus, IUDs are useful because not as much hormone enters the bloodstream. This makes it a great choice for breastfeeding moms who are worried about milk supply.
- Depo shot. A hormonal shot that lasts between 12 weeks and 1 year. I don’t recommend this one because if you find that progesterone affects your milk supply, you can’t remove it or stop taking it.
When you want to start taking birth control while breastfeeding, I would recommend starting with a mini-pill. Of course ultimately the choice is up to you…
But hear me out.
Some women experience milk supply decreases with progesterone-only birth control.
It totally depends on the woman, but some report drastic loss of their milk supply.
It’s a lot easier to stop taking a pill than it is to get an IUD or implant removed… and injections aren’t reversible!
So just a word of advice if you’re worried about your milk supply, try taking the mini-pill first to see if it has any affects on your supply.
Morning After Pill
The morning after pill should only be used if absolutely necessary. There are actually two kinds of morning after pills, and the kind you use can affect your milk supply.
There is a combination morning after pill, which is best to avoid because it contains estrogen.
The one that’s best for milk supply is the progesterone only morning after pill (Plan B One Step). It prevents pregnancy by delaying ovulation.
How Birth Control Affects Baby
You might be wondering if taking birth control can affect your breastfed baby.
Well, it does for some and not for others!
Birth control actually changes your breast milk by decreasing the levels of nitrogen, protein and lactose. Some babies seem to get fussy when their mom starts birth control, which is probably due to the changes in mom’s breast milk.
Fussiness could also result from the hormonal changes. Babies have difficulty metabolizing birth control hormones from the breast milk before they’re 6 weeks old.
Because hormonal birth control can affect your supply and your baby has difficulty metabolizing it, wait 6 weeks before starting birth control.
How Birth Control Affects Breast Milk Supply
I’ve touched on this throughout the article but thought it deserved a dedicated section!
Birth control can affect your milk supply depending on what type you use.
It’s so important to pay attention to birth control while breastfeeding. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions and pay attention to your body.
Non-hormonal methods are the best option for breast milk supply. They aren’t always the most effective though. But if you want to have the best chance at maintaining your milk supply, go with types that don’t use hormones.
Progesterone-only birth control methods have mixed results. It seems entirely dependent on each mommy and baby what the effects are. Some moms notice an extreme drop in their breast milk supply. Others don’t notice a difference at all.
Estrogen-containing birth control (combination options) WILL affect your milk supply. It’s extremely common for breast milk supply to drop if these birth control methods are started. Try to avoid use if possible and go for a different option instead.
To Sum It Up: Breastfeeding and Birth Control
There are a ton of different things to consider when it comes to birth control and breastfeeding! You have to think about your milk supply, whether breastfeeding can be used as birth control, and how birth control might affect your baby.
I hope this information was helpful to you, because it’s my passion to help moms on their breastfeeding journey!
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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