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Breastfeeding as Contraception By Dr. Krishnapriya Loganathan

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Breastfeeding as contraception?

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a recently delivered mom wished and cared for, for the last 10 months to give birth to a healthy and happy baby in a safe manner. One is not alone when one expected that life is going to be back to normal after giving birth but the reality was different and nowhere near to what one had expected. The first few weeks for a Mom with a newborn can be tough as she has the sole responsibility to nourish her newborn while her body and mind are still recovering from the life-changing event that has occurred to her. Going through sleepless nights and exhaustion, resuming back to sex life is going to be last on the list. Although it is said six weeks postpartum is ideal for a couple to get back to their sex life, it greatly varies and depends entirely on the couple’s physical and emotional status, especially the mother’s. Even when they are ready, a very common concern among couples is ‘What birth control/contraception method would work best to avoid unexpected or immediate pregnancy?’ Synthetic hormones? Intrauterine devices? Condoms? Or are there any other ways? Many factors come into play when choosing the right contraception method. Safety, effectiveness, side effects, and expense are a few to name. But what many couples are unaware of is that by nature, a breastfeeding mom soon after giving birth experiences a temporary infertility period accompanied by the absence of a monthly period. In medical terms, it is referred to as lactational amenorrhea (LAM).
Breastfeeding as a contraception tool?
Due to a lack of information, Breastfeeding is considered as a not-so-reliable method when it comes to birth control. However, knowing the physiology behind lactational amenorrhea can help a couple who have turned parents in recent times to use breastfeeding as an effective contraceptive tool. A baby breastfeeding at the breasts stimulates the nerves sending messages to the mother’s brain. In the brain, hormonal alteration is induced via the hypothalamus-pituitary region over the ovaries, resulting in suppression of ovulation (release of eggs). Ovulation is a crucial step in the reproductive cycle, which when stopped can prevent an unexpected pregnancy as there is no egg to fertilize and form an embryo. Three RULES to abide by when using breastfeeding as contraception Researchers state that the following criteria need to be strictly ticked in order for LAM to be used as an effective contraception method. A simple flow chart below can tell us if or not LAM can be an effective method for the couple based on these three rules- How to increase the efficiency of LAM? Similar to any other contraception method, LAM also does not provide 100% birth control but comes with 98% efficacy in preventing pregnancy happening. However, a mom with LAM can enhance the use of LAM as effective birth control by ‘exclusive’ breastfeeding. ‘Exclusive’ Breastfeeding: This refers to not using formula or bottle feeding (even if it is expressed breast milk) other than breastfeeding, as the duration and intensity of stimulation caused by physical sucking by the baby at the breast greatly correlates to the effectiveness of LAM. So it is advised that Mom breastfeeds her baby as frequently as the baby demands, allowing the Baby to decide the end timing of the feeding, avoiding longer breaks, especially during night feeds, avoiding or taking breaks between feedings as abrupt changes to the nursing pattern can bring on ovulation more quickly and also waiting until 6months to start solids for the baby. This way together with achieving birth control, Mom also reaps the benefits of breastfeeding such as protection from certain cancers/diseases like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, while the Baby gets to enjoy its fair share of benefits from breastmilk including protection from certain respiratory illnesses and infections. It also helps the baby achieve and maintain a healthy weight gain and development.
Is LAM for everyone?
Although LAM as birth control is a cost-effective method and does not involve any synthetic hormones or devices or side effects or affect milk supply, it cannot be used as an effective birth control for many due to practical situations that might not allow them to breastfeed exclusively and opting other methods of contraception would be a wiser decision as they all have their own set of benefits and have shown to be effective when chosen with the right knowledge.
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