Mothers who exclusively breastfeed following certain criteria have a 98% effective form of birth control during the first six months of their baby’s life.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s researchers from around the world began publishing studies demonstrating a contraceptive effect of breastfeeding. In 1988 many of these researchers met in Italy at the Rockefeller Bellagio Conference Center. The findings they presented resulted in the codification of a family planning method known as the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM).
In 1995 many of the same researchers met once again in Bellagio to share additional information and further confirm their previous findings. Now health professionals around the world teach mothers how to correctly use this method.. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine also recognizes the Lactational Amenorrhea method as a highly effective form of birth control.
Requirements for LAM Success
Many mothers do get pregnant while they are still nursing. Therefore, the misconception exists that breastfeeding can’t help prevent pregnancy. The following three conditions must exist for a mother to use this method:
- The mother must not have resumed menstruation. Any bleeding after 56 days postpartum is considered a return of menstruation.
- The infant must be exclusively breastfed…no supplements, no water, no juice, no solids. He must receive all his meals from his mother’s breast on demand, both day and night. Nighttime nursing is an important part of LAM.
- The infant must not be more than 6 months old.
When all of these criteria are met, LAM is as effective as the birth control pill. With no more than a 1-2% chance of pregnancy, a new mother can feel confident in her choice. However, as soon as her period returns or she begins to give her baby any kind of supplement, she must find another form of birth control.
Why LAM Works
When a mother nurses her baby, his suckling actually suppresses the release of hormones that cause ovulation. The more frequently she nurses, and the more vigorously her infant suckles, the less likely she is to ovulate. According to one study, mothers who exclusively pump do not have the same protection. Their protection level is only about 96%.
When to Find Another Birth Control Option
Each of the three criteria listed above must be in place for LAM to be effective. Therefore, parents need to think about what options they will use when LAM is no longer a possibility. They should talk with their health care provider in advance about their decision so that they will be ready with a backup plan.
As soon as a mother has her first period postpartum, she will not be able to rely on LAM anymore. Usually the first menstrual cycle is anovulatory (ovulation doesn’t take place before the period strarts), especially for women who are exclusively breastfeeding. However, after she has had her first cycle, a woman must consider herself fertile.
When the infant begins solid food or begins taking any kind of juice or supplement, he is no longer exclusively breastfeeding. At that point the mother can no longer rely on LAM to protect her from pregnancy. Furthermore, if he is no longer nursing at least six or seven times every twenty-four hours, the likelihood of menstrual cycles returning increases.
LAM is a highly effective form of birth control for mothers in the first half year after giving birth. During this time mothers who meet the LAM criteria can be confident that their risk of pregnancy is as low as it would be (perhaps lower) with any other method of birth control.