After delivering your little bundle of joy, you may begin to wonder when you will be fertile again. Some women don’t get their period back for a while, and others seem to resume their period like clockwork shortly after baby is born. What causes a delay in resuming your period while breastfeeding? Why do some women become fertile very soon after delivering a child while others can’t get pregnant for a months?
In talking about fertility and breastfeeding, it seems that there are two major schools of thought, neither of which is fully accurate.
- Many women believe that any amount of breastfeeding prevents pregnancy, and are surprised to find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.
- Others believe that breastfeeding cannot be used to prevent pregnancy at all, and that there is no way to tell when fertility will return after birth.
My hope is that this post will clear up both of these misunderstandings, and offer a bit more insight into the specifics of natural child-spacing.
7 Rules for Delaying Your Period While Breastfeeding
The following list contains what are known as the seven standards of “ecological breastfeeding.” All of these criteria must be met in order for a mother to rely on “lactational amenorrhea” (the absence of fertility and a period while breastfeeding) as a form of birth control.
- The baby must be exclusively breastfed. This means that the baby does not consume any solid or liquid other than breast milk from the breast for the first 6 months of life, not even water. Solids may be introduced slowly when the infant begins showing signs of readiness, usually between 6 and 8 months of age.
- The mother should comfort the baby at the breast. Non-nutritive sucking (nursing for comfort rather than purely for nutrition) is a key component in staving off the return of fertility for as long as possible.
- There should be no use of bottles, cups, or pacifiers. Although pumping does stimulate the body to produce prolactin in some amount, nursing the baby at the breast is what assures that prolactin levels remain high enough that menses does not return.
- Mother and baby should sleep together for night time feedings. Co-sleeping has been shown to increase the frequency of infant feeding and boost milk supply while still allowing a mother to get more sleep than mothers whose infants have separate sleep spaces. Night time feedings are of fundamental importance to keeping the body in a state of amenorrhea. Mothers who eliminate night feeds are much more likely to experience an early return to fertility.
- Mother and baby should rest together for a daily nap feeding. Adequate amounts of rest are also important to maintaining lactational amenorrhea, although many mothers find that this is the one rule they do not have to follow to prevent pregnancy.
- The baby should nurse frequently throughout the day and night. Frequent nursing is defined as a minimum of every 2 hours during the day and every 4 hours at night for the first 6 months of baby’s life. This can be stretched to every 3 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night for older babies.
- Any practice which restricts nursing or separates the mother from the baby should be avoided. This can include practices such as being away from the baby for more than a normal amount of time that the baby goes without a feeding or sleep training.
All bets are off, of course, when the mother experiences her first postpartum period (any bleeding prior to 56 days postpartum may be ignored). When you’ve experienced a period while breastfeeding you can no longer count on ecological breastfeeding to prevent fertility.
The vast majority of mothers who breastfeed ecologically, following the above guidelines, will experience a return of fertility between 9 and 20 months. Everyone’s hormones are different, though, and these numbers are just an average.
Did you practice ecological breastfeeding? Were you able to successfully delay a return of fertility?
Rachel Wideman lives with her husband Andrew and their 3-year-old son Caleb. She is a registered nurse, La Leche League leader, and enjoys reading and scrapbooking. Rachel also authored Dispelling 12 Myths of Breastfeeding.