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Does breastfeeding really work as a contraceptive?

You might have heard that breastfeeding can be used as a natural contraceptive, which is known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). But what’s the science behind this?

The theory is that if you’re exclusively breastfeeding your baby, you probably won’t ovulate and won’t have a period. This is called lactational amenorrhea, which literally means the absence of menstruation due to producing breastmilk. Of course if you don’t ovulate, you cannot conceive a baby.

It’s debated how effective this method is, but some suggest a 98% effectiveness if done perfectly. There are various factors that influence how thorough the protective of the LAM is.

Firstly, you must be exclusively breastfeeding. This very specifically means that you must be breastfeeding your baby at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night. The evidence on whether LAM works as a contraceptive if you’re expressing milk is patchy at best.

You also can’t know whether LAM is working based on whether or not you’ve had a period. This is because you can ovulate - and therefore can get pregnant - without having a period.

If you are not looking to get pregnant, you should start an alternative method of contraceptive if:

  1. Your baby is more than six months old
  2. You give them a dummy
  3. You give them formula
  4. Your period starts
  5. You stop night feeding or breastfeeding as often

If you’re unsure what contraceptive might suit you, make an appointment with you GP.