7 Rules to Delay Your Period While Breastfeeding & Postpone Fertility

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?

Period While Breastfeeding Postponing Fertility - Navigating the Booby Trap: Breastfeeding and Beyond Series at Intoxicatedonlife.com

In talking about fertility and breastfeeding, it seems that there are two major schools of thought, neither of which is fully accurate.

  1. Many women believe that any amount of breastfeeding prevents pregnancy, and are surprised to find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Navigating the Booby Trap: Breastfeeding & Beyond - Breastfeeding series @ Intoxicatedonlife.com (25 authors, 40+ posts) 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? 

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Rachel Wideman: Featured author in the Breastfeeding and Beyond Series @ Intoxicatedonlife.com

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

 

Comments

  1. Great post! I am not a fan of attachment parenting/nursing around the clock (I’m more of a schedule/routine kind of girl), but I sure love how God made our bodies to (generally) have natural infertile times after the birth of a baby. Out bodies are amazing! With my first, I did not have a pleasant nursing experience but really wanted my son to have breastmilk, so I exclusively pumped for his first year =) I got my period back around 8 months. My second born was a great nurser and ate a little more frequently than her brother, one feeding being an early morning feed (5x/day vs 4x/day) and I got my period back at 9 months. I pray that the Lord will bless me with another little one at some point to nurse and nurture =)

  2. I followed all these rules with both my children unknowingly…I didn’t know there WAS any rules. I started my period again (with both babies) before I had even seen my midwife for my six week post-partum visit. I was my children’s only source of nourishment for their first six months of their life, I nursed them before they had even had their vernix washed off! Now, at two and three, we still have trouble getting them to sleep in their own beds, they are so used to Co-sleeping. I nursed them whenever they wanted, and played human pacifier for both of them. They both went straight to sippy cups and have never touched a bottle. After my first, I even went to get checked out by a gynecologist because of the random periods I was having – sometimes 2, 4 or up to 6 weeks between! Her diagnosis was that I’m just very fertile.

    • Rachel Wideman says:

      everyone is so different, aren’t they? This is why 9-20 months is an average… some women are fertile within a few months, and a very few are completely anovulatory until after they wean completely, even if that means one brief nursing session per day!

  3. Rachel, am I right that the thinking behind cosleeping, napping, avoiding pacifiers, etc. is to encouraging suckling as much as possible? In other words, can you achieve the same result without following all the “rules?” just wondering. I bf my twins every two hours all day and around every 2-3 at night. I was like a MILK TRUCK! If my boys slept longer at night, I would wake up and pump 32 ounces in one sitting. 32 OUNCES! Buuuuuuut, I ended up pregnant when my boys were just 7 months old. I did give them pacifiers (oh, what life-savers with two fussy babies), and I had no intention of sharing a bed with my husband AND two babies, and three beeping machines with cords and alarms everywhere (J.O. came home with a feeding tube for the first couple months, and both had heart monitors). Maybe my period came back so fast because I had to pump for a month when they were in the NICU and then for another two months for JohnOwen until his stomach started working and I was able to train him to eat orally? I did wake myself twice a night to pump until Simeon came home.

    • Rachel Wideman says:

      The simple answer to your question is yes and no. Simple, right? ;-) Separation (NICU stays, etc), pumping rather than nursing, etc., can cause an early return to fertility.

      Cosleeping, avoiding artificial nipples, etc., IS meant to encourage frequent nursing. The times between feedings I mentioned, however, are absolute MAXIMUMS, and often babies will request to nurse more often than that if pacis, cribs, etc. are used. Anthropologists have found that countries with longer durations of between children nurse their infants on average every 13 minutes. It seems to be how frequently the baby latches on, rather than the amount of time spent at the breast.

  4. I’ve been blessed to not have a period for over a year after each of our four babies. I followed all of the rules you have listed except for the napping one. In fact, I hadn’t heard of that before, but it makes perfect sense. I suppose that’s one of those easier-said-than-done rules after you have more than one child! ;)

  5. I definitely practiced all of these and my first postpartum period was five weeks after my daughter’s birth.

  6. I wasn’t as strict as this, but my period didn’t return until weaning.

  7. Trisha Gilkerson says:

    It’s very interesting how differently people’s bodies react. I don’t think Rachel is trying to say in this post that it is a “guarantee” that using these 7 rules will definitely delay fertility for everyone, but rather if you strictly practice these 7 rules chances are you will be able to delay period for at least some period of time.

    I practiced all of these (not realizing that I had until later) with each of my children. The only exception was napping with my kids – I often did with my first-born but not with my other children. I went 7 months without a period after my first son was born, 5 months after my second son, and 16 months (woohoo!) after the birth of my twins. Not only is each individual unique, but your experience while breastfeeding each child can be different as well.

  8. Great post, we followed this and at 12.5 months old, this week my period has returned. We EBF for 8months and BLW.

  9. I agree that these rules make it MORE LIKELY that fertility will be delayed, but comments are showing that they’re no guarantee! I’m the flip side of that coin: I went back to work part-time at 12 weeks and pumped when away from my baby…and I did not have a period until he was 18 months old. (We did co-sleep at night, and he was usually with me, often literally on my body, when I was not at work.)

  10. jennifer says:

    Great information! Thanks for sharing with the Tuesday Baby Link Up Community.

  11. I’m 15 months PPD and still mostly abiding by these rules and have yet to face my fertility. Lovely post!

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