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Breastfeeding and Fertility

Yes, breastfeeding can cause a delay in the return of fertility. This comes as a pleasant surprise to some mothers, though it's also common for mothers to wonder if something is wrong with them when it takes a long time for their period to return after their child's birth.

Many nursing mothers look upon the delay in the return of fertility as one of the many blessings of breastfeeding. Some mothers, for religious and/or personal reasons, rely on breastfeeding as their sole form of birth control or means of natural child spacing. If certain guidelines are followed breastfeeding generally spaces children about two to three years apart.

It doesn't always work as planned, however, and some mothers get disappointed when their period returns within a couple of months after their baby's birth. Conversely, others may get discouraged when it seems to work "too well" and delays the return of their fertility longer than they would like.

The type of breastfeeding that best suppresses ovulation involves frequent nursing of baby during the day, plus also nursing at night. Other important elements of the type of breastfeeding that spaces babies include demand-feeding (no schedules), minimal to no separation between mother and baby, sleeping with baby at night and for a nap during the day, avoiding pacifiers or bottles, nursing for comfort, and delaying introduction of solids and other liquids for at least six months. This type of breastfeeding is called "ecological breastfeeding," and, if these things are done, the average time a mom will start menstruating is 14.6 months after the birth of her child.

I personally didn't get my period back after my first child's birth until she was 23 months old and then conceived about four months later. With my second child my period returned a little sooner--he was 20 months old. That happened just a month ago, and we would love to have another baby.

Some mothers choose to use breastfeeding as one form of birth control and then complement it with other forms of birth control once they are able to answer yes to any of the following questions: 1) Menses returned? 2) Supplementing breastfeeds regularly? 3) Baby older than six months? Nursing mothers who are able to answer no to the above questions, have a 1 to 2% chance of getting pregnant. This form of birth control is called the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM). If you choose to use a complementary form of birth control, please remember that some forms of birth control can affect your milk supply. For more information on LAM, you can visit the World Alliance for Breast-Feeding Action's LAM Site.

Natural family planning is a totally safe way to avoid pregnancy. There are certain signs that indicate a woman's fertile and infertile times. A woman can find out when she is fertile by learning to observe and interpret these signs. A woman can observe these signs by taking her temperature each morning and by checking her cervical mucus secretions. She can also check for physical changes that occur in her cervix. Done properly, natural family planning can be 99% effective for avoiding pregnancy--that's equal to the birth control pill and better than all the barrier methods.

Knowing the signs of returning fertility can be helpful for mothers who are breastfeeding. A mother can get pregnant even before her period returns, though, as mentioned above, during the first six months the chance is very small. But as time goes by the chances of a mother ovulating before her period returns increases. Natural family planning can help a mother be aware of when she begins ovulating even if her period hasn't returned.

It's important to note that every woman's body and circumstances are different. Some women will start ovulating within a few months after birth even if they follow all the "rules." Some nursing moms who don't follow all the ecological breastfeeding guidelines will not get their periods back until well into the second year. . . and even later. Though most mothers can become pregnant while they are nursing, a very few mothers will not be able to get pregnant until their child completely weans.

The Couple to Couple League has lots of information on this subject that you can buy. Especially wonderful is Sheila Kippley's book Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing. Check out their article Breastfeeding: Does it Really Space Babies?

This article also appears on Themestream.


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**These are my opinions gotten from experience and reading. For medical advice, please contact your health care provider.**



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