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Breastfeeding And Birth Control

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by Pamela Kock

If you’ve recently given birth, preventing a subsequent pregnancy is probably the last thing on your mind. It’s never too soon to start thinking about birth control, however.

Here’s a summary of birth control options, and the things to consider for each.

Breastfeeding as Birth Control

After childbirth, most women will have a brief intermission before their periods return. This is usually much longer for women who are nursing a baby. This is called lactational amennorhea, and can last quite a long time – months, or even years! The Lactation Amennorhea Method of birth control is 98% effective when the following conditions are met:

* Periods have not yet returned (spotting during the first two months doesn’t count).

* The baby is exclusively breastfed, with no supplementation.

* The baby is less than six months old.

Effectiveness of the LAM method drops if the baby receives supplementation of any kind during this time, either by formula or solid foods. The interval between feedings should not be any longer than four hours during the day, and six hours during the night. For further information about the LAM method, visit the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action site.

“Rhythm Method” or Natural Family Planning

Breastfeeding disrupts the signs and symptoms of fertility, and can cause periods to be very irregular. Charting temperature fluctuations to determine fertile times may be extremely difficult. Therefore, these methods are generally not recommended while breastfeeding.

Barrier Methods

Condoms are the best protection against sexually transmitted diseases, and are completely safe for use while nursing. Diaphragms are also safe and effective, but should be re-fitted following childbirth. They are most effective when combined with a spermicidal foam or gel, which is also safe while nursing.

IUD

IUD’s are generally considered safe while nursing, as long as they contain no hormones.

Hormonal Implants (such as Norplant®) or Injectables (such as Depo-Provera®)

Implants and injectable birth control medications are generally considered safe while nursing, but can in some cases reduce the milk supply. It’s best to wait at least six weeks before using them. Before choosing, consider the fact that injectable birth control is effective at least three months at a time. If it does cause a decrease in milk supply, it cannot be stopped or removed.

Oral Contraceptives

Birth control pills come in two basic varieties. The combined form (the “regular” pill) contains estrogen and often reduces the milk supply markedly. The estrogen can also transfer to the baby in mother’s milk, so it’s usually not recommended for use during breastfeeding. The “minipill”, however, only contains progesterone, and is less likely to reduce the milk supply. This formulation is generally safe while nursing, though women must be careful to take it exactly as directed, within one hour of the same time each day.

Each option has its share of benefits and drawbacks. Be sure to discuss the choices with your caregiver, to determine the method that is best for you.

Pamela Kock is a freelance writer from Ohio.

© Pamela Kock


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