Breastfeeding Can Impact Fertility*

In looking into the fairly recent history of family planning in the United States, it’s pretty fascinating to learn how the rise of commercially accessible cow's milk in the 1930s-1960s led to the shortening of breastfeeding duration of infants from about 2 years to 6 months. This, in turn, resulted in women having their second child more quickly after the first.

Wait… what? How? 

Reading more about this subject led me to discover the term ecological breastfeeding.

What exactly is ecological breastfeeding?

It basically means exclusively nursing for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. You nurse on demand day and night. There's no using pacifiers. Solid foods are gradually introduced around 6 months. But nursing is the primary food source for the first year (or more!) of the baby's life. 

The more you and your baby are around each other...the more effective your practice of ecological breastfeeding will be.

Ecological breastfeeding has an impact on fertility. 

Nursing women have higher prolactin levels and lower gonadal hormone or gonadotropin levels than non-nursing women. This can cause something called lactation amenorrhea.

Alright, enough with the vocab.

This is when your ovulation and fertility are put on hold while nursing.

This is considered about 92% effective contraceptive in the baby’s first 6 months of life.

According to Facts about Fertility, the average fully lactating mothers experience amenorrhea for about 9-18 months postpartum, depending primarily on how often the baby-nurses.

Just be aware, that fertility can return before you have your first postpartum period because ovulation occurs about 2 weeks prior to menstruation. The first few cycles postpartum tend to not be the most fertile ones. It’s like the body needs a few practice runs on going from baby-building to healing from baby, back to baby-making potential. Understandable, right?!

If your cycle returns earlier rather than later postpartum, it’s likely to take longer and have a more gradual return to full fertility potential.

Additionally, some women are able to breastfeed through their entire second pregnancy, although it’s pretty rare.

When it comes to the relationship between fertility and breastfeeding, KellyMom does a good job breaking all this down, too. She has a great article on the Safety of Breastfeeding while Pregnant if that is an issue you’d like to address.

If you’d like to read more about Ecological Breastfeeding, here’s a great resource called The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor.

Disclaimer: I am not a fertility specialist or educator. I am by no means a lactation consultant or specialist in hormonal influences on pregnancy. If you’d like more information please speak with your doctor and/or healthcare team.

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