7.2.3  Breastfeeding and birth control

Exclusive breastfeeding (feeding only breast milk to the baby and no other fluids or foods) greatly reduces the chance of the mother becoming pregnant again if it is begun early (within an hour of the birth), and maintained for the recommended first six months. Explain to the mother and her partner that if a woman has sex and is not exclusively breastfeeding, she can become pregnant as soon as four weeks after delivery. Therefore, information on when to start a contraceptive method will vary depending on whether the woman is breastfeeding or not.

In Ethiopia it is recommended that you try to convince mothers to put their babies on exclusive breastfeeding for six months for many reasons, including that it will suppress her menstrual cycle, but only if she fulfills the following criteria:

  1. The baby should be exclusively breastfed on demand (whenever the baby wants to be fed) a minimum of 8-12 times a day, including at least one feed during the night.
  2. The interval between daytime feeds should not be more than four hours apart and night feeds should not be more than six hours apart.
  3. If her menstrual periods return even while she is exclusively breastfeeding, she could easily become pregnant!

Emphasise that after six months, she will not be protected from becoming pregnant by breastfeeding alone. She should choose another family planning method. You will learn all about this in the Module on Family Planning in this curriculum. Table 7.1 summarises the benefits to the mother and the newborn of exclusive breastfeeding.

Table 7.1  The benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding.
Mother Newborn
It is much cheaper than formulaIt is fully nutritious
Always available (ready) Easily digested and absorbed
Mental satisfaction It is clean and warm
Reduced bleeding It contains anti-infective substances
Can be used as birth controlPrevents diarrhoeal disease
Helps lose excessive weightDecreases allergy risk
Increases bonding with the newbornIncreases bonding with the mother

7.2.2  Benefits to the mother of breastfeeding

7.3  Counselling the HIV-positive mother about feeding her baby