A common belief among new mothers is that breastfeeding acts as a natural contraceptive. While it is true that breastfeeding delays ovulation, other factors must be taken into consideration to determine if a woman can trust breastfeeding as a method to prevent pregnancy.
If a new mother is breastfeeding exclusively, meaning she is not giving her baby any formula, breastfeeding can provide reliable contraception for as long as six months. However, if she is supplementing her baby with formula, then her chances of ovulation will increase and she can only depend on breastfeeding as contraception for the first six weeks following her baby's birth. A woman who chooses not to breastfeed can begin ovulating as early as four weeks postpartum. Also, a woman will ovulate before she has her first period following childbirth, so thinking she can't get pregnant because her periods haven't resumed is not a safe assumption.
Several contraceptive options exist for women who are breastfeeding and wish to have additional protection. They include an oral contraceptive known as the minipill or "breastfeeding pill," an IUD, Depoprovera shot, condoms, a diaphragm, and Implanon. Other birth control pills or the Nuvaring are not recommended as they contain estrogen, which can decrease milk supply.
Though women should abstain from sexual activity for at least six weeks postpartum, some choose to resume activity sooner. A woman should talk with her health care provider prior to giving birth to discuss which contraceptive options are best suited to meet her specific needs.
• Dr. Laurie Erickson is vice chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your physician or call Erickson's Ahwatukee office at (480) 759-9191.