The Fertility awareness method and breastfeeding are perfectly compatible. It’s a brilliant method of contraception as there are no hormones involved. You do, however, need to have an intimate understanding of the fertility awareness method before you can use it exclusively as birth control. If you didn’t use the fertility awareness method before pregnancy, finding an educator or enrolling in a course will be valuable.
One of the biggest myths is that you can’t get pregnant whilst you’re breastfeeding, but this isn’t true and I’m going to explain why.
How breastfeeding impacts fertility
The hormones that are stimulated during breastfeeding suppress ovulation. Immediately after birth, there is a phase of infertility, which is nature’s way of protecting you from becoming pregnant too quickly so that you have all your resources available to nurture and nourish your newborn.
Depending on how often and how long you breastfeed this natural state of infertility can last for months or even years. If you are not breastfeeding at all or irregularly, fertility will typically return after 6 weeks.
When your baby suckles, the hormones prolactin and oxytocin are stimulated. Prolactin stimulates the breast tissue to create milk and oxytocin releases the milk. Oxytocin is also a hormone of bonding, connection, love and relaxation.
The key point to remember here is that:
If you’re exclusively breastfeeding you’ll have a higher likelihood of not ovulating. The “Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding” are a set of natural family planning guidelines that define what “exclusive” looks like:
- Exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life; don’t use other liquids or solids.
- Pacify your baby at your breasts.
- Don’t use bottles and pacifiers (dummies as they’re known in Australia).
- Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
- Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
- Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules.
- Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
If you’re partially breastfeeding or beginning to wean, even consecutive hours of not having oxytocin of prolactin in high enough levels in the body are enough to stimulate the cascade of ovulation hormones.
Another important thing to remember is that your period doesn’t represent the return of your fertility! Your period can only return after you’ve already ovulated. Tracking your cervical mucus and basal body temperature will give you real-time information about your fertility which is why it’s important to chart your cycle.
What is LAM?
If you’ve done any reading or research into using the fertility awareness method and breastfeeding, you probably have come across the word LAM, which stands for Lactational Amenorrhea Method, which is a fancy medical term for not having your period whilst you’re breastfeeding.
There are three main criteria to qualify for this:
Your period hasn’t yet returned
You are exclusively breastfeeding (no supplementary food or formula)
Your baby is less than 6 months old
The Fertility Awareness Method and Breastfeeding Rules
1. It’s useful to already know how to chart and interpret your cervical mucus, but don’t worry, it’s not a strict requirement.
After your post-birth bleeding stops begin charting your cervical mucus (unfortunately basal body temperature is fairly useless – unless you’re getting 4 consecutive hours of sleep AND remember to take your temperature.
2. Chart the first 14 days without having any sex.
This’ll provide you with the most accurate baseline. For some women, they may be completely dry, but for others, there may be a continual stickiness or slight moistness. You need to identify your pattern and two weeks without any arousal fluid interfering with the chart is required.
3. On your chart make notes of any changes in your baby’s’ or your routine that will impact frequency of feeding. These may include:
- More or less feeding
- Illness (for either of you)
- Weaning or when you begin to start supplementing your breastmilk with formula, milk or solids
- Latching challenges
- Experimenting with different feeding and sleeping routines
- Returning to work
The key takeaway is the more often your baby suckles the less likely your fertility is going to return.
4. Follow the rules for either birth control or conception.
Charting whilst breastfeeding can feel like a marathon, especially if you’re not experiencing any signs of change in your fertile signs. But it’s important to keep charting! If you’re using this method as your birth control choice and you get out of the habit and your fertility returns without you noticing, you could find yourself with an unexpected surprise.