Practicing Natural Family Planning and Breastfeeding

From our quarterly Live and Love Naturally newsletter, NFP Instructor, Jessica Schaefer talks about her experiences as a breastfeeding practitioner of NFP.

As an NFP practicing and passionately breastfeeding mother of four, I know well that both gifts are natural, beautiful and important parts of motherhood that do not necessarily come naturally. In fact, both take an investment of time, patience and love to feel confident and at ease, but once you do, there is no sweeter reward!

After my first two babies I finally learned just how much I never knew about breastfeeding. No two babies breastfeed alike. I learned that every mother and new child need to walk through the beginning journey of learning to nestle, latch, regulate milk supply and bond together. Not until my third son was unexpectedly conceived while I was still breastfeeding my 7 month old, did I begin to learn how these same rules apply to practicing NFP while breastfeeding and not yet cycling. Like breastfeeding, every postpartum body is different and practicing NFP requires a return to patience, love and an investment of time as we get to know our body’s unique fertility pattern once again.

Pull up a cozy seat, grab your nursing pillow and follow along for a short series of some helpful tips to mastering NFP while breastfeeding

  1. Start charting again around 6-8 weeks postpartum. After a 9-month hiatus from NFP, it might take a little while to get back into the swing of observing and recording your fertility signs. As soon as your postpartum discharge is complete (around 6-8 weeks) is a great time to try jumping back in the NFP saddle. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s perfectly fine to just start small by at least beginning to chart the cervical mucus sign (tissue and sensation). That’s where the primary emphasis of postpartum charting will be anyway.

  2. Determine when to start looking for your first ovulation to occur. The first time you ovulate after having a baby could potentially occur before you experience any bleeding. In fact, the reason we begin charting 6-8 weeks postpartum is to be able to identify your body’s biomarkers such as a change in your mucus pattern that tell us your fertility could be returning soon! Breastfeeding women typically experience some level of delay with the return to cycling. This amount of time can range from several weeks to as long as 2 years. All of this depends on the mother’s genetics and how often your baby nurses.Mothers who meet the criteria for “intensively breastfeeding” can depend on the first 12 weeks being infertile. While all breastfeeding feels intensive, the criteria for “intensively breastfeeding” in this context specifically refers to mothers who are breastfeeding without providing any supplements or pacifiers, have the baby eating directly from the breast (no pumping) and are nursing evenly throughout a 24-hour day with eight to ten feedings daily with the longest interval between two feedings to be no more than eight hours. If this style of breastfeeding doesn’t work for you or your baby that’s perfectly ok. This type of intensive breastfeeding determines only the first 12 weeks infertile. After those 12 weeks, charting and following the Basic Mucus Rule is important, regardless of the level of breastfeeding.

  3. Learn to understand your post-partum mucus observations. Once you start recording your mucus signs you may notice it can be a totally different pattern from the types of mucus patterns you observed before and you might even notice mucus that seems unfamiliar all together. Be sure to take a few moments to re-read through Chapter 2 of the Couple's Guide to Fertility that discusses how to chart mucus and what types of mucus and sensation observations you might experience. Plan on investing some extra time getting to know and understand this unique pattern as you get back into the swing of things. In doing this, it is often helpful to chart as many mucus traits as possible along with your observation such as color, stretch, amount, tissue glide or even texture. HINT: Keep a little cheat sheet handy in your bathroom of the 3 types of mucus and sensation as well as the symbols used to denote specific traits.

  4. Contact an NFP instructor to help identify your unique postpartum mucus pattern. Am I doing this right? This is a question we’ve all asked ourselves at some or many points when learning NFP. Don’t hesitate to contact your NFP instructor if you’re feeling unsure about your observations as you first get started. It’s always best to chart the most fertile sign of the day and exactly what you observed, not what you think you should observe even if it doesn’t seem to add up. There are three basic patterns that are typical of extended infertility after childbirth:

    • Continuous dryness

    • Continuous moistness or mucus

    • A mixture of mucus day and dry days

    Especially while breastfeeding, NFP is about identifying your own basic unchanging mucus pattern. An unchanging pattern means the ovaries are at rest, not yet preparing for ovulation. It is common when you start charting again, and tempting, to expect a typical cycling pattern and become anxious when there is “never any mucus” or when there is “so much mucus, but it never changes.” Yet the unchanging pattern is exactly what you are looking for to identify infertility. Remember it will be the building up of your mucus pattern that tells us when your return to possible fertility (ovulation) is going to happen even before your first period returns. After a few weeks of observations, your NFP instructor will work with you to determine what your unique basic infertile pattern will look like.

  5. Get ready to start taking your temperature again around 12 weeks postpartum. If your temperature pattern looks like more shark teeth, then you’re like most breastfeeding women who haven’t started cycling yet! Sporadic and fluctuating temperatures are very common, especially for women who are breastfeeding. It can be due to restless sleep from night feedings, hormone fluctuations and/or changing in wake time. The ideal temperature taking practice is to take your temperature immediately upon waking, before any activity and at the same time every morning sometime before 7:30 am. However, this isn’t always likely to happen with a brand new baby. Most importantly, don’t stress! Try to take your temperature as close to your set time as possible, but if it doesn’t happen, just take it whenever you can. If it’s too difficult to regularly take your temperature at all, that is ok. You’ll be relying on the Basic Mucus Rule during this time, which does not need the temperature pattern. With that said, at least taking occasional temperature readings to verify the overall low level can be helpful enough.

  6. I’ve got down the charting, but how do I know if it’s fertile? Once you have 2 weeks of charting done, send it to your instructor, and with her help, begin to apply the Basic Mucus Rule to find your windows of possibly fertile time. There are some patterns of mucus that would be considered fertile in a non-breastfeeding, typical cycle, but could possibly be the same as if infertile in the case of breastfeeding. You’ll want to be sure to review this rule in Chapter 3 of the Couple's Guide to Fertility book and contact your NFP instructor for help evaluating your chart.

As you ease back into practicing NFP we hope you’ll remember an instructor is always an email away to answer any questions you have and to help you find the best rules to apply for your chart. In the meantime, check back again soon as we will continue switching sides with our breastfeeding and NFP refresher series to discuss tips for keeping up your milk supply, details about the Basic Mucus Rule and how to practice NFP while your new cycles are just returning.