Monday, February 21, 2011

Breastfeeding, Natural Family Planning and Our Bodies

Now that Lil Man is weaned off during the day, and my pump died so I am not pumping during the day either, my body has began transitioning back to the fertile state. One of the great things about breastfeeding is that it, if done on demand and exclusively, helps you space your children out, giving your body time to heal.
I take this into account when I look at how long is the "appropriate" length of time to breastfeed. Really, it is related. It is also related to sleeping through the night.
Let me explain:
First off- I will start with sleeping through the night. Often times, parents want to urge their children to sleep through the night before they would naturally do it. Sleep deprivation is hard. When you have a pediatrician, family and well-meaning friends also urging that you "sleep train" it is even harder. Sleeping through the night is like a right of passage for most parents. They look at it in the way they do many other milestones. Mothers compare how early their children slept through the night, just like walking, teeth, and more.
However, babies have tiny stomachs and are not meant to sleep through the night at an early age. Pushing them to do so before they are ready is, to say the least, un-natural. I will not get into my anti-CIO views, etc. But, expecting a child to be full for 12 hours at 4-6 months of age is ignoring the rules of how their tiny digestive systems function. Yes, a few babies will be the exception to the rule, but most will need to continue nursing a few times through the night to age one and beyond.
As far as how long to nurse a child, it used to be common for a child to be nursed for several years. Often times, getting the majority of their nourishment from breastfeeding until the age of two or beyond. I do not find it a co-incidence that two years is the length of time that most doctors suggest a woman give her body to heal from previous pregnancies before attempting to conceive again.
Well, this all ties in together- I promise. Breastfeeding is like natural birth control. When a mother is exclusively breastfeeding- on demand and around the clock (child is not sleeping through the night)- and is not supplementing with solids- breastfeeding is as effective as the birth control pill!
Now, before you jump on me and say "My friend so-and-so got pregnant while EBF and not supplementing." First, remember that this includes feeding on demand around the clock. Second, I know many women who have conceived while on the of whom her first THREE pregnancies all happened while using oral birth control. So, to say it is as effective as the pill, does not mean it won't happen. The only 100% sure way to not get pregnant is abstinence after all.
As long as a mother is still feeding on demand around the clock, and the majority of the nourishment comes from breastmilk, even with solids, breastfeeding is a highly effective form of birth control.
One of the fastest ways to restore fertility, while continuing to breastfeed, is night weaning. A sudden change- even a child sleeping through the night (9-10 hours) that previously woke every 2-3 hours, for a few nights in a row, is enough to restore fertility. To me, this, plus the previous observation about the length of 2 years between pregnancies and 2 years of breastfeeding, also shows me that we are meant to continue breastfeeding our children through the night, as demanded, for much longer than 4-6 months.
Once a child is night weaned, supplemented, or what not, and fertility starts to return, there are many ways to control if you conceive or not. There is medical birth control- shot, pill, IUD- and there is the drugstore birth control- condoms- but for our family, we are using Natural Family Planning.
Natural Family Planning is where you track your fertility signs, including your BBT, and figure out your most fertile days- then you either avoid intercourse, or the opposite, depending on if you want to get pregnant, or want to avoid pregnancy.
For us, right now, we are just hoping to see if I am one of those lucky women. The ones who struggle with fertility, FINALLY get pregnant, and then, BAM- their body and hormones just *click* and they are fertile and able to conceive on their own.
As I have studied about Natural Family Planning, annoyed many of my friends with questions (if they are NFPers), and has just proven to me that our bodies were created/made to not only provide the best for our children, but in doing so, take care of itself. Healing as it provides the best nourishment possible for our children.
As women I don't think we truly understand how AMAZING our bodies are! We often look in the mirror and see everything we think is wrong with them. We are quick to complain about flaws and slow to acknowledge how AWESOME our body actually is.
So, I want to extend a challenge that you take a few minutes every day and remember the amazing body you have- and to think about all the positive aspects of your body.
Being a mother, breastfeeding, and starting to use NFP has really made me realize what an amazing gift my body is.



1 comment:

C Tam said...

I am a NFP/FAM person all the way!! Took a class, read half a dozen books, charted for years. I love it! Just wanted to add that sleeping in the DARK vs. ANY LIGHT at all makes a big difference in return of fertility. Even breastfeeding on demand, round the clock, if you sleep with exposure to light your hormones will more quickly return to fertile levels. I know it sounds crazy, but the human body is very sensitive to light exposure and light regulates many hormonal processes.

Just for an anecdotal example: I went more than a year after giving birth having no fertile signs, and then went to Hong Kong where I continued to nurse every few hours, but had to sleep in a bedroom that had no curtains and lots of bright city lights all night. Within weeks menstruation returned.