Good and Bad News Concerning the LAM Method During the Postpartum Period
If you’ve been learning about Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABMs), you’ve probably heard that you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. You probably also know of someone who has. So what gives?
In order to trust a natural family planning method, you need to have all the information—that is, all the scientifically proven information, not just anecdotes from friends or acquaintances.
Here’s the deal: the official name for using breastfeeding to postpone pregnancy is “Lactational Amenorrhea Method” or LAM. This method can be incredibly effective (98% effective at preventing pregnancy, with typical use) for avoiding pregnancy, as long as a strict set of criteria are met.
How LAM Works
According to the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University, exclusive and on-demand breastfeeding “suppresses the release of hormones that are necessary for ovulation.” Their fact sheet explains, “When a baby suckles frequently at the breast, it stimulates signals to the brain which release hormones that block a woman’s egg from developing.” And, if a woman doesn’t ovulate, she can’t get pregnant.
This method can be effective immediately following birth for six months, provided the woman’s menses has not returned and the baby is fed as often as he or she is hungry, day and night, with the use of no intervention methods that could reduce dependence on breastfeeding (such as pumping, pacifiers, sippy cups, and so on).
Who It Works For
The good news, as stated above, is that LAM is 98% effective when all criteria are met. The bad news is that only 33% of women meet all of the LAM criteria. Some women may need to return to work and thus turn to pumping their milk. Others introduce formula to supplement their supply. Still, others find the sleep schedule unsustainable to feed on demand. There are a host of reasons LAM may no longer be applicable for a postpartum mother.
No matter the circumstances, it’s important for women considering LAM to understand that in every case, it is a temporary method. When any of the criteria are no longer met (the woman gets her period, she gives baby some water or food, or baby is older than six months), LAM is no longer an effective method of postponing pregnancy.
How Other Fertility Awareness Methods Can Help
If you can’t meet all the criteria in your lifestyle, or LAM doesn’t work for you as long as you’d anticipated, don’t beat yourself up. Remember, the best fertility awareness-based method for you at different times in your life may change. It’s tough to predict what life with a newborn will look like. As a mother of four, I can attest that flexibility is key to finding your groove. The best method for you now may not be the method you used before you conceived.
As busy and sleep-deprived as you may be, the promise of peace of mind can make learning a new method, whether in person or remotely, worth your time. Really, once you understand how the female cycle works, it’s a matter of learning to identify and interpret a different set of signs, with the help of your FABM instructor. This is key: you don’t have to do this alone!
The Creighton Model relies on detailed observations of cervical mucus that can clue you into what’s going on with the various phases of your cycle as it returns, as well as your overall health. The Marquette method uses readings on a ClearBlue Fertility Monitor to track hormones in urine and has a specific protocol for the postpartum period. Many women prefer this method postpartum because of how objective the readings are. Whatever method of FABM you choose, charting equips your partner to be more in the loop of what’s going on in your body, which will, in turn, equip him to be more supportive during the postpartum period.
While the effectiveness of LAM doesn’t last forever, neither does the postpartum period, despite how it may seem like the sleepless nights will never end. Take the perspective required of LAM to heart: Just as pregnancy ultimately came to a close, so will this physically challenging stage of your journey of parenting. Enjoy the little joys as much as you can, be flexible and gentle with yourself, and embrace the next stage when the time comes to make a change.