I am reading a great book called, "Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing" by Sheila Kippley. It's incredibly informative and interesting, especially if like me you're not keen on using chemical/hormonal means of preventing pregnancy or spacing babies. It turns out that many women who conceive while breastfeeding or who experience a very early return of fertility (before 6 months) are practicing "Cultural breastfeeding", while the best way to postpone return of fertility is through "Ecological Breastfeeding". Ecological breastfeeding is more than just feeding your child from your breasts; it's a whole method of infant and mother care that involves all aspects of how the mother and child relate. (Here's a summary of the principles of ecological breastfeeding.) The seven basic standards are:
- Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life; don’t use other liquids and solids, not even water.
- Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.
- Don’t use bottles and don’t use pacifiers.
- Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
- Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
- Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules.
- Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
In my own experience, I have followed all these principles except #5. (I did/do many days lay down to nurse the baby to sleep for a nap, but unfortunately I usually then get up instead of napping myself. =[ ) With Moses I abruptly and drastically cut out a couple daytime nursings when he started solids at 5 months and my cycle returned at 6 months. I conceived again when Moses was 10 months old, and continued to nurse him. Judah was not interested in solids until around 7-8 months and my cycle retuned at 8 months. I was tandem nursing Moses and Judah, and I got pregnant again when Judah was 10 months old. Moses weaned just before his 3rd birthday, while I was nursing Judah & pregnant with Clementine. Clementine is now going on 11 months old and has been eating table food for about 2 1/2 months. I'm tandem nursing Judah and Clementine and have yet to experience a return in fertility.
Anyway, it's safe to say that not only is each woman very different as to what kind of practices will suppress her fertility, but each woman can be different with each successive child! There's no way to 100% guarantee a certain number of infertile months, but at the very least you can increase your chances of greater space between children by following the Seven Standards.
If you're interested, there is a very cool article over at one of my favorite blogs, Keeper of the Home about this subject. She did a poll of her readers about breastfeeding and fertility and analyzed the resulting information. A lot of food for thought! She comes to the conclusion that probably most North American women do not practice Ecological Breastfeeding, but also that perhaps there are other factors like nutrition, exercise/obesity, and environmental toxins that affect our early returns to fertility. Definitely worth checking out!
One thing her results did show is that the women who breastfed for more than a year were more likely to experience delayed fertility - one more plug for extended breastfeeding! =]
I'd love to hear your experiences with breastfeeding and fertility!