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Breastfeeding & Family Planning

Many new and expectant moms have heard that fertility will not immediately return while breastfeeding full time. But, how does it work? How reliable is it? How long does it last?

How it works

The suppression of ovulation/ menstruation while breastfeeding is called lactational amenorrhea. This is directly related to the suckling from an infant and is specific to mother and child. The science of it is not dependent on the prolactin release but instead, suckling stimulus from the nipple causes the disruption in GnRH release from the hypothalamus that suppresses ovulation and is not yet fully understood.

Though the science behind it is not completely understood, what is understood is that this phenomenon is directly related to the infant’s suckling. This means, according to the La Leche League International, that postponing fertility happens most effectively when the baby relies on mom for all of his or her suckling needs on demand and frequently.

1. No bottles
2. No pacifiers
3. No sleeping through the night.


All of the baby’s suckling should be at the breast and shared sleeping is encouraged for night feedings. Any activity that separates the baby from the breast and disrupts on-demand nursing may prompt the return of fertility.


If done correctly Dr. Sears states this method is 98% effective, which is what a woman can expect from an artificial form of birth control.

How Long it Lasts

This is the tricky part it depends on the woman and child. Six months is a realistic expectation but many women who follow the recommendations strictly can enjoy infertility for more than a year. If you don’t want more children then it is prudent to double up to ensure that ovulation is suppressed.

Safe Contraceptives While Breastfeeding

This is a conversation to have with your doctor, but many recommend a non-hormonal contraceptive such as the copper IUD, condoms or diaphragms.  Dr. Sears states that “Doctors recommend that you delay the use of oral contraceptives until at least six weeks postpartum. There are two reasons for this: your milk supply and breastfeeding pattern should be well established by that time, and an older baby is better able to metabolize any hormones that may appear in the milk.”

More detailed information can be found on the La Leche League International website here.


Dr. Sears Website here

Photo credit: © drubig-photo / Fotolia

  Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a freelance writer and mother of two. @writerbonnie



1 comment

Beth Knockwafel


I am one of the owners of Milk & Baby. I just wanted to add I co-slept, breastfed on demand, we did not use pacifers and exclusively breastfed my oldest and yet wound pregnant in under a year! So while it may work for some it sure didn’t for me!

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