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Toddler Tips

Breastfeeding and Fertility

From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 6, 2008-09, pp. 28-29

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I am 37 years old with a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a 17-month-old son. I almost fully weaned my daughter in order to conceive my son. My son and I are not even near ready to wean, but I feel my time is running out to have a desperately wanted third child. Are there any mothers who have had the same experience as me? Do they have repeat experiences while trying to conceive subsequent pregnancies?

Mother's Response

I had a similar experience to what you describe. My oldest son was over three and down to one nursing a day before I could use fertility medication to conceive my second child. My oldest continued to breastfeed until I was pregnant with his brother, when he finished the process. We also wanted a third child, but I couldn't get pregnant, even with months of medication. It turns out I was experiencing early signs of menopause at an unusually young age. As it happened, we moved, and my second son decided to self-wean at three years old in the tumult very quietly and happily. I did get pregnant with my daughter just before I turned 40 about a year after that weaning, and amazingly without interventions.

I've heard of mothers with various fertility problems who did not have subsequent difficulties as well as those who did. Age is not the only determining factor. For me, I chose to focus on the children I had and give them all I could because I felt that if I weaned and did not become pregnant I would regret that decision. I also didn't want to push my son away and go through a weaning that I wasn't comfortable with. I know mothers who made the opposite decision also, and weaned before they felt ready; some ended up regretting that decision.

I like the spacing of my children, at four and nearly five years apart, and have found that there are good and bad points about every child spacing. I also know that the first weaning was less painful emotionally because I was not ambivalent about weaning, and didn't have to wean totally. What also made both weanings easier was that I knew that I could breastfeed my last child as long as she and I wanted. She weaned at four years old.

I think that this is a highly personal issue. You may be able to try to get pregnant without weaning at all and decide to tandem nurse if you do. Or you may find that after a while of trying, weaning is the way you have to go in order to conceive. At that point, maybe you would want to wait a bit longer until your son is older and more ready to cut down on nursing or wean easier. Or maybe you want to wean now, or after a bit of trying first because you are too uncomfortable waiting. It is worth checking with several medical professionals as there are many options available and each opinion may help you decide.

It helped me to look at weaning as a process that had started when my son ate his first solid food, and to remember that if I was uncomfortable or if he was unhappy, I could stop the weaning process. However, being uncertain makes it much harder -- I had to feel good about what I was doing, be supported, and able to focus on helping my child through it all.

When you say that you and your son aren't even near ready to wean, it sounds like you are getting pressure from outside people. I encourage you to go with your heart and intuition on what is best for your own family. All of the best to you.

Holly Hollander
Los Angeles, CA, USA

Mother's Response

I have six and three year old boys, and am seven months pregnant. My older boy nursed until he was three and a half. I miscarried one baby before I birthed my second boy. When my cycles came back at 12 months (same as with my first) after my second boy, we tried for over two years to get pregnant. I am 28, so age was not a factor, but we wanted our children spaced only a few years apart. After a year of trying with no success, and with nursing starting to hurt at certain times of the month, I thought that perhaps cutting back on nursing my second would help. My second boy stopped nursing at two and a half. Almost a year later, I finally became pregnant again. Turns out I had a blocked tube and my husband had a low sperm count, both of which an antibiotic fixed. The hardest thing for me, between when number two stopped nursing and when we got pregnant, was thinking that I had cut short my child's nursing for something that was not going to happen. My advice is to choose which regret you would prefer to live with: if you cut short nursing your second child and never do get pregnant, or if you continue nursing until you're both ready to wean and never do get pregnant.

Becky Haroldson
Bel Aire, KS, USA

Mother's Response

I may be one of the lucky ones, so to speak. I have successfully conceived while nursing five times now (I have six children). My fertility returned at various times following each pregnancy -- from 18 months without menses/ovulation to as little as seven months. Every nursing experience is not the same. For me, I think the main difference was in the night nursing of the child. The less my child nursed at night, then I would see fertility signs returning. Maybe a bit of gentle night weaning might help your situation?

And don't worry about your age too much either. I just had my sixth child, now two months old, at age 39 and a half. My pregnancy was healthy and uneventful with the result being another natural delivery of a nine pound boy!

Lani Siciliano Monroe, CT, USA

Mother's Response

My situation was very much like your own. For my body, even one nursing each day seemed enough to keep fertility away. My initial struggle was not with trying to conceive again, but with feeling like there was something wrong with me. It took a lot of searching but through La Leche League meetings, I was able to find other mothers who had their monthly cycles postponed for years due to breastfeeding and not just a few months. All of my children ended up weaning at about three years old, and my period returned within a few weeks each time.

After baby number two, I started to worry, like yourself, that I would not have the large family that I had dreamed of while breastfeeding. The timing just wouldn't allow for it. Still, breastfeeding is so important and it is a struggle to decide on meeting the needs of the baby who exists versus the one that does not, yet is preciously wanted. You might try cutting back on nursing, one session at time, to see if it does the trick. I found it helpful to think of breastfeeding as just one of my mothering tools. I needed to find other ways to meet my child's need for closeness and bonding.

If you are like me, and find you need to wean completely, try attending La Leche League meetings and getting as much support as you can. It is a tough decision but sometimes it is one that has to be made. I was ultimately able to have three children with the last at age 43. Not the four or more that I had originally dreamed of, but we are a good, close, family thanks to the time spent breastfeeding.

Laura Smythe
Cleveland, OH, USA

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