Edited by 11C11 - 8/29/11 at 8:34am
Yes Breastfeeding can effect the return of periods - typically breastfeeding delays ovulation and the return of your period. However, this is NOT A GUARANTEE! Since ovultaion comes before menstruation, yes - it is totally possible to get pregnant without having had a period at all. Some women do use breastfeeding as birth control for a few months - at least while the baby is 100% breastfed, but it depends on how your situation and how devastating a new pregnancy would be to your lives. For myself, although i am still breastfeeding my 8 mo old on demand and have not had a return of my period - my DH is terrified of getting pregnant again - so he gladly uses condoms - If you do decide to go back to a diaphragm after birth - make sure you are re-measured at your 6 week postpartum check-up - the size may have changed after you have a baby and you may need a new one
When AF returns highly varies! Breastfeeding can absolutely affect when your fertility will return as prolactin (the hormone released while nursing) suppresses estrogen and progesterone, preventing your cycle from happening. This is called Lactational Amenorrhea. If you follow the guidelines of the Lactational Amenorrhea Method it is 99% effective for preventing pregnancy for the first 6 months.
All this being said, I have asked a lot of women when their periods returned and despite exclusively breastfeeding and co-sleeping many women still get AF back shortly after birth- sometimes in less than 2 months! I actually conducted a poll here on MDC and it tied for the second most common timing (along with 10-12 months and 16-18 months), if you can believe it! The most common timing was 13-15 months. Among my friends several had night wean or stop nursing entirely for their period to return 2 or even 3 years postpartum!
My first postpartum period returned at 8 months and my second at 12 months. What's interesting about this is that my first child nursed much more often and ate less solid foods than my second. Also with my first, I started charting as soon as AF returned and my cycles were very erratic with very short LP's for over a year. With my second, I had one very long cycle with a 4 day LP and the next cycle I got pregnant again! I appear to be getting more and more fertile with each pregnancy. So you can see a lot more goes into the return of fertility than just how frequently you nurse.
And to answer your other question... can you get pregnant before your period returns? Yes, absolutely. Prior to your first real period you will ovulate and therefore you can get pregnant. You will most likely notice other fertility signs returning before you get that first period, however, like patches of eggwhite cervical fluid. This may happen several times before you actually succeed in ovulating and then your period will arrive after that. I have a friend that this happened to!
There are several hormonal birth control options that are considered compatible with breastfeeding. But if you do not wish to go the hormonal route or use the copper IUD (which I do not either!) your choices are pretty much what you already know: condoms, film, diaphragm, cervical cap, withdrawal (aka pull and pray- not so great), charting, etc. My personal choice is charting AND condoms (for during the fertile periods). We were relying on just charting, but it resulted in two oops kids so I've learned my lesson that postpartum charting to avoid is much more of a challenge!
I'm one of those lucky moms whose periods come right back. With both of mine, I bled postpartum for about six weeks, had a week off, and then started my period. They were both exclusively breastfeed for 6-8 months. So birth control was an issue immediately. I don't like anything hormonal, either.
I tried a diaphragm. I can't remember why anymore (It was almost 9 years ago!) but I hated it. After that, we just used the vaginal contraceptive film. Do they still make that? It's around 88% effective, I believe, which was plenty after my first. After the second, I tried the copper IUD. I kept it for about 1 1/2 years, but I didn't like it. I bled for 10 days a month and it was extremely heavy.
After this one, I'm not sure what I will do. I am 100% sure I don't want to get pregnant right now because I have been so sick this time, I can't take it again. But I'm not positive I won't change my mind down the road....
Sigh. When are they going to come up with a suitable form of birth control???
I breastfeed exclusively but that doesn't get in the way of my periods at all. I have 8-9 weeks of PP bleeding and then a period 4 weeks later. My mom got almost 2 years off of her periods. Everybody's different!
My first two kids are only 13 months apart so I understand your concern about birth control :) I don't like hormones or IUDs either so we just went with condoms. Sorry! If you figure out a better solution I'm all ears!
With my oldest, my cycles returned at 9 weeks (which is exactly when lochia ended). I was EBF, on demand, no pacifiers, but had a Mirena IUD placed at 6 weeks (and removed at 9 due to awful side effects). My next I waited until 8 weeks to try Mirena as I heard waiting could stop side effects. I had light, small periods beginning about a month later. Lots of random spotting as well. I began to get the awful side effects again and it was removed 8 months after insertion. With my last baby I didn't use BC, nursed on demand, and used a pacifier as needed. No period or fertility signs until she was 9 months old. Then I had a 16 day cycle, a 20 day cycle, and got pregnant on what probably would have been a 24 day cycle otherwise. We definitely caught the first ovulatory cycle, as it was the first one with any ovulation signs. I had planned to begin charting the next cycle. This time we'll just chart straight from the beginning. As long as I'm charting properly, I've never had an issue with NFP.
My period returned after 11 months with my first pregnancy 12 months with my second pregnancy. However, I bled heavily postpartum 12 weeks with both. I did not even know it was possible to bleed that long! I breast fed that entire time, and I became pregnant with my second child the month after my period returned. :-)
I'm curious if you tried drinking red raspberry leaf tea postpartum- like 4 cups a day sort of thing. My midwife told me that if it had been over 2 weeks and I was tired of bleeding that a lot of women have great success drinking a ton of RRL tea daily and the bleeding stops within three days. I didn't try it b/c I mostly spot after 2 weeks and didn't feel like drinking that much tea. But I wonder if it could help you this time around?
I had light PP bleeding, and didn't get a period until 9 months postpartum. We were EBF for the first 6 months (no bottles, no pacis and lots of night-nursing), and it wasn't until 8 months when solids began to replace a feeding did I get AF back. But, they were long, irregular cycles, and didn't even out until DD was 22 months. That's when we got pregnant with #2, after trying for 10 months, so I would say it took almost 2 years to get my fertility back.
With DS, my periods did not return until he was over 2. He is a very picky eater and did not eat much in the way of solids until he was 18-20 months old. I can tell when I ovulate, and I know I wasn't ovulating until he was at least 2 1/2. He nursed until a couple weeks before his 3rd birthday. I felt very comfortable using exclusive bfing as birth control for the first 6 months. There are guidelines for doing this. The baby has to be breastfeeding exclusively with no formula, solids, other supplements, or artificial nipples, and they have to bf at least every 3 hours during the day and every 4 hours at night, I think. They have to be younger than 6 months, and you have to not have gotten your period. It's all Tony Weschler's book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. After 6 months, we used condoms or avoided intercourse whenever I had any sign of CM.
When I was a surrogate, I pumped for 4 months. My period came back 2 months after I stopped pumping. My cycles took awhile to regulate, and after they did I started charting. We only chanced regular intercourse in the first 5 days of my cycle (which usually meant once) and after I was absolutely certain I had ovulated. The rest of the time we used withdrawl. Yes, I know it can be risky for some, but the way we were doing it, there was no way I was getting pregnant (no sex if he hadn't urinated since the last ejaculation, pulling out super early, no ejaculation anywhere near my parts, etc.). We also avoided any intercourse during my fertile time. Neither of us like condoms, I cannot stand hormonal birth control, and diaphragms/cervical caps seem too risky. This works for us.
This time I feel really comfortable using bfing as bc for at least 6 months, possibly longer, depending on the situation, since I know I have never ovulated while breastfeeding or pumping and I am very sensitive to when I ovulate. After that, idk. I'm thinking of a copper IUD, but I'm kinda iffy about that. I, too, wish there was an acceptable form of birth control. :(
If you're still nursing a lot, periods can take quite some time to return. This often means you're not fertile, but not always! (I'm 11 wks with #3, and haven't had a period in over 2 years!)
Get a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Natural Family Planning + breastfeeding can be effective for quite some time. (It would require condoms or abstinence for a few days to a week each month, though.)
I haven't read through the rest of the comments yet, so I might be repeating some things.
The return of fertility postpartum, while breastfeeding varies a lot from woman to woman. There are some, like me, who's cycles didn't return until almost 2 years. There are some who, even when breastfeeding exclusively, co-sleeping, no pacifiers, etc. have their cycles return within 6-8 weeks. I think average for an exclusively breastfeeding on demand woman is 14 months.
If you are formula feeding, you should expect your cycles to return 4-8 weeks after birth.
You can get pregnant before your first period - I did!
Regarding birth control options - I also didn't like the idea of chemicals altering my hormones, and DH didn't like barrier options. Instead we have used natural family planning successfully to avoid pregnancy prior to my first pregnancy. It can be rough during the return to fertility to interpret your what's going on, but if you have an instructor to guide you, you can get through it (I didn't have an instructor). After I was lazy and missed the signs that I was ovulating, (we were okay with getting pregnant again - baby was 16 months) we caught the first egg out. I had been using one method of charting my cycles, but found it confusing with my signs, and we ended up abstaining more that we cared for. after baby #2, I switched to using a different method that uses a fertility monitor and pee sticks to chart my cycles. It made life a whole lot less confusing, and there was a lot less abstaining! That is the catch about NFP is that it requires some days of abstinence around the time of ovulation.
My periods returned around 12-13 months postpartum? I started partially weaning becuase I started a new job, and so nursing/pumping frequency went down. We ALWAYS used condoms (totally paranoid about getting pregnant) I did NOT want to be one of those moms who got pregnant with a 3 month old. Can't use the diaphram because I had a horrible reaction to the spermicide. (it is most effective when used with spermicide) I got a uti AND a yeast infection the couple times I tried it. Once I started the weaning process, I got the nuvaring for birth control, used it for 1 year. Then stopped and i was able to become pregnant within 3 months, just like we wanted to.
And if you tear, have episiotomy, stiches, etc, it may hurt and you may not WANT to stick your hands/diaphragm up there for a while...just something to consider. I tore and had stiches, and we tried the first time to DTD around 3 months post partum? Hurt a lot. It didn't feel like 'normal' until around 9 months post partum? Just my experience. Some ladies are ready and gung ho 4-6 weeks post partum.
Wow, there is such a wide range for when AF returns! As for me, my DS is 14 months and have yet to have my first period. We breastfeed on demand and cosleep. I'm hoping I won't be one of those women on the extreme end (i.e., 3 years). But I must say, I really haven't missed my periods. It's been a nice break!
As every woman's body is so different, it's hard to say anything other than m own experience. But first I would say to get "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" so that you are prepared with that knowledge. The body is so amazing and how we are designed to work No matter how long or short your cycles, charting is almost always 100% accurate when done correctly. This book will help with that. It's very easy once you read and understand what's going on. That being said, with my first, my cycles came back at 13mo PP and I got pregnant at 15mo PP. With my second, my cycles came back at 8 months PP and I got pregnant at 18mo PP. I feel the main reason they came back sooner with my second is because he nursed less. My first nursed every hour for at least 40 minutes, 24 hours a day. The more you're nursing, he less likely you are to have your cycles come back. I have not had any luck with having fertile periods directly after starting. I feel like they are annovulatory FOR ME. But I used herbs to encourage fertile ovulation to get pregnant this time because my cycles we so sporatic. Some were 56 days, some were 26 days, some were 35 days. It was crazy and I needed some consistency. I got pregnant my first month using those herbs. DH and I do not use any forms of birth control and I commend you for looking into alternative methods. The hormonal stuff is killer on your body! Charting is my best advice. Everyone that I know uses charting as a form of either birth control OR conception aid. I don't know anyone who takes birth control in a synthetic form. So I can't speak except that I have done lots of research on it and depending on your beliefs and opinions, there are lots of great resources out there with significant truths. For me, my three children will be exactly 2 years apart and as long as you practice on demand, extended breastfeeding, most of what I research says that will be the case. Sometimes, I would like it to be sooner but I see how it's so perfect! Hope this helps. It's really no good answer for you personally about your body but it's an experience!