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Breastfeeding and Fertility
By Sherri Hedberg, IBCLC

In my father's family, he and his siblings were all breastfed. He is one of six children, all 2-3 years apart. When I asked my grandmother how she did this, she was surprised. She didn't 'do' anything. She simply nursed her babies until the next one came along.

In third world countries, very few people have access to 'western' birth control methods. Breastfeeding is the only method of child spacing most have access to - and it does have a tremendous impact. One study suggests that if all breastfeeding were to stop, there would be a 20-30% increase in the birth rate worldwide within a year.

How does it work? The Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of child spacing works primarily due to the pattern of breastfeeding. It offers more than 98% protection from pregnancy during the first six months if a mother follows these guidelines:

  • her periods have not returned (no vaginal bleeding after the 56th day after birth) AND
  • no regular supplementation (no more than 5-15% of infant's nutrition) nor going for longer than 4 hours during the day/6 hours at night between nursings AND
  • her baby is less than 6 months old

The key to LAM is frequent nursings. When a baby starts to go longer between feedings, such as sleeping through the night, this lack of stimulation can cause a return of fertility. The majority of mothers who follow this nursing pattern remain period-free for at least the first six months or longer. LAM is not a new theory. It has been extensively tested, and its effectiveness is verified from around the world.

Every mother is different. Some may follow this pattern and get their period back at three months; some may not resume periods until months after starting solids or ending nighttime nursings. Any bleeding is a sign of fertility - and the longer you go without periods, there is a chance that you could ovulate before your first period. Even with that said, if you meet ALL the criteria above, you are less likely to become pregnant than if you take the birth control pill.

Some mothers may prefer to naturally space their children without hormonal/chemical preparations. By learning your body's fertility signals, this can be done. There are some books you may want to check out:

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