Women's Health Friday March 22, 2013

The great debate: Can breastfeeding be used for contraception?

It is not surprising that thinking about what contraception to use immediately after given birth is the furthest thought from a woman’s mind. However when the time is right, the advice given to many women can be both confusing and often conflicting. How long should you wait? When is the right time to start taking contraception again? What type of contraception is the most suitable? But perhaps one of the most conflicting pieces of advice given to new mothers and an on-going debate between health experts is whether breastfeeding after birth can be used for contraception?

Ill-informed advice

According to the Daily Mail, the British Pregnancy Advice Service (bpas) has warned that there has been a rise in unplanned pregnancies, with new mothers not being provided with accurate information regarding breastfeeding as contraception. A survey by bpas and Mumsnet, found discrepancies in contraception recommendations given to new mothers who breastfed. Likewise, results showed that discussions regarding safe breastfeeding for contraceptive purposes were not brought up by health care professionals for women seeking such advice.

Breastfeeding for contraception

Breastfeeding can be used as a form of birth control due to the changes in a woman’s hormones. When you breastfeed your hormones naturally change, in turn preventing you from becoming pregnant. While breastfeeding, you will not produce the hormones necessary for ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary) to occur. Conception is therefore prevented because an egg is not released.

A balancing act

Although breastfeeding as a method for contraception has proven to be successful for many women, like any form of contraception there are limitations. As such certain measures must be practised in order for this method to be effective. Using breastfeeding for contraception is only applicable for six months after the delivery date, in which according to plannedparenting.org you must breastfeed continuously (ensuring not to substitute breast milk for formula). A period must also not have occurred since the delivery, and you must feed your baby every four hours daily and every six hours during the night.

Implementing these guidelines meticulously can greatly prevent your chances of getting pregnant. However, like most contraception’s, there may still be a slight chance that pregnancy can occur with breastfeeding. For that reason it is wise to use contraception in addition to breastfeeding.

Contraceptive options

Despite the benefits of using breast-feeding for contraception , if having a baby so soon after given birth fails to ignite elation, than extra precautions are necessary. Contraception for most women is generally required around 21 days after delivery, although for every woman this may differ. The NHS states if you are breastfeeding, there are a number of contraceptive options that are safe to use, such as the mini-pill, and the contraceptive injection, both of which are progestogen - only contraceptives and considered to be risk-free to breast milk. If you have decided not to breastfeed, the combined contraceptive pill is ideal.

Providing support

With the pressure placed on many new mothers today on the importance and benefits gained from breast-feeding, along with NHS figures, which show the gradual rise of new mothers choosing to breastfeed, it seems to me that any advice given to new mothers on the subject should be accurate and importantly coherent. For every woman, choosing when you are ready to become pregnant again will differ, but expecting accurate information regarding contraception will not.

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