Saturday, September 11, 2010

Breastfeeding and Return to Fertility

Ever since Moses was born I've been fascinated with the connection between breastfeeding and fertility.  Everyone from your Ob-Gyn to the authors of parenting magazines and email newsletters warn you not to use breastfeeding for birth control!  And I'm sure we've all heard someone share about how they got pregnant while breastfeeding - or maybe that's you!  So I think it's common to believe that breastfeeding has no affect on fertility, when in reality that's not entirely true.

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:

  1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life; don’t use other liquids and solids, not even water.
  2. Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.
  3. Don’t use bottles and don’t use pacifiers.
  4. Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
  5. Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
  6. Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules.
  7. Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby. 

Copyright © 1972, 1999, 2008 by Sheila Kippley, author of The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding; Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing; and Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood and co-author of Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach. Permission is given to copy this sheet provided it is reproduced in full.

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!


e&e said...

I've had a longer delay with each child, too. But with each one we've gotten closer and closer to ecological breastfeeding. Joshy started solids at 5 1/2 months and was very schedule fed and was done nursing by 13 months. Mari was loosely scheduled, but nursed until almost two years. We nursed her to sleep, something I NEVER did with Joshy. Also, I let her keep a night feeding even though she didn't "need" it (I cut out Joshy's as soon as "experts" told me he didn't "need" it). Sophia was never on a schedule and slept with us until she was seven months, but stopped nursing around 15 months because I was so sick with morning sickness.

Funny thing is that I got pregnant while I was nursing with each baby (one resulted in a miscarriage). Go figure.


Rachel said...

So you said you wanted details to here they are:

With Ethan, I got my period back at 13 months (still breastfeeding)

With Elijah, I never got my period back before conceiving Felicity (though I did have a tiny bit of spotting - my *warning* period)

I continued to nurse Elijah after Felicity's death (he was over two and not nursing much) and did not get my period back and conceived Jeremiah (my miscarried baby)about 3 months after Felicity died. Weaned Elijah right before Jeremiah was conceived.

Began practicing the Creighton Model before conceiving Caleb. (KNow the exact day he was conceived :] )

Caleb is 7.5 months old and no period or fertility in sight. Need to be practicing the CM better though. Want to *own* Caleb free and clear before we have another (because of all the expense of possible monitoring.)

I have the book too and it's great! Just remember laying down for 20 minutes mid-day and nursing (even if you don't sleep) counts for a "nap."

melissa said...

Thank you both for sharing! I continue to be intrigued by this topic and other womens' experiences.

Rachel, I'm hoping to take Maureen's CM class soon. We're hoping to avoid another pregnancy for a while and I think the Creighton Model will give us the tools to do so naturally. =]

Jonah said...

Hey! I was wondering if I would be able to use a picture of yours in a calendar we are putting together to help fundraise for the Iowa Breastfeeding Coalition.