Books about reproductive health, Fertility Awareness, and Natural Family Planning

More about Katie Singer

Garden of Fertility Book CoverHonoring Our CyclesIn her books, The Garden of Fertility (2004) and Honoring Our Cycles (2006), Katie Singerintroduces Fertility Awareness (also called Natural Family Planning).With these methods, a woman who charts her temperature and cervical mucus can know when she is fertile and infertile. A woman who charts her fertility signs can also know whether she is ovulating or miscarrying. You can learn remedies for problems like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and fertility.

G U I D E L I N E S   F O R  
P R A C T I C I N G   F E R T I L I T Y   A W A R E N E S S  
W H I L E   B R E A S T F E E D I N G

By Katie Singer

[Author's note: This article is only an introduction to Fertility Awareness. It does not provide adequate information about using charts to prevent pregnancy. Interested readers should take a class, consult with a Fertility Awareness teacher, and read The Garden of Fertility. ]

Traditional cultures found that spacing children at least three years apart is best for the health of the mother and children.

How does a couple space their children? The mother breastfeeds! In the baby's first month, the mother focuses on creating a healthy breastfeeding relationship with the newborn. She nurses very often during the day and two or three times each night. She carries her baby in a sling for easy nursing. She doesn't use pacifiers. When the mother breastfeeds in this way, her mucus will become dry and stay dry. She knows that she is not fertile because she doesn't have slippery mucus and she's not ovulating. When she notices wet mucus again, her body has signalled that her fertility is returning--and she needs to chart her mucus, vaginal sensation, waking temperature, and cervix changes. (I describe how to chart and determine when you are fertile and not fertile in my book, The Garden of Fertility.)

Here are specific guidelines for creating healthy child-spacing:

* In your baby's first few months, let him nurse once or twice every hour. A feeding might last for 20 minutes or longer. Or, it might last 30 seconds. Your baby might want to nurse right after the last feeding. Or, he might wait to nurse again for an hour. Babies do not do well with a schedule. They need to nurse when they are hungry or hurting. Nursing your baby when he whimpers a bit (or otherwise lets you know that he needs to nurse) is called nursing on cue.

* Nurse two or three times at night. When your baby's crib is right next to your bed, you don't need to get out of bed to nurse. Families who sleep like this can get good rest.

Usually, when a baby sleeps through the night, the mother's milk will dry up and she will become fertile again more quickly.

* Wear your baby in a sling. He can nurse as often as he wants, and you can keep doing your chores. Buy a sling before your baby is born! Take him with you (in the sling) when you go to the store and for other errands.

* Don't use a pacifier or let your baby suck fingers. When he starts to whimper or cry, let him nurse. If you get pacifiers for presents, throw them away!

* Take a nap (lie down for 20 minutes) with your baby every day.

* Keep nursing. When your baby starts eating solids at about six months, he can still nurse often. Many babies nurse for a year or two or longer.

Usually, when women nurse like this, they will not have mucus and they will not get a period for about a year. Now! Some women nurse very often, and they start getting periods again when their baby is five months old. Some women don't get periods for two years or longer.

You have to look for mucus. As long as you are dry and you have no mucus, you are probably not fertile. Once you start to feel wet and see mucus again, you have signs that you could ovulate again soon. Of course, if you get a period, that's another sign that your fertility is returning. You need to start charting again if you want to know when you are fertile and infertile.

Identifying Fertile and Infertile Days While Breastfeeding

* Once you notice wet sensation and wet mucus again, start charting. You will also need to chart your temperature and cervix changes.

* Look for the Peak Day--your last day of wet vaginal sensation or wet mucus before drying up begins.

* If you have one day of wetness, you need one day of dryness to consider yourself infertile after 6 PM (your first dry day after your Peak).

* Two days of wetness need two days of dryness to consider yourself infertile after 6 PM (your second dry day after your Peak).

* Three days of wetness need four days of dryness to consider yourself infertile after 6 PM (the fourth dry day after your Peak).

* If your cervix is soft, open or high (showing that you could be fertile) on a day that your mucus and vaginal sensation tell you that you are not fertile, go with what your cervix tells you, and consider yourself fertile.

* Please read The Garden of Fertility to see sample charts from a breastfeeding woman.


If You Feed Your Baby Solid Food or With a Bottle

* The older your baby is, the easier it is to get ovulatory cycles going again.

* Expect that cycles may return when you give your baby solid food.

* When you use babysitters or go away from your baby for a day or two, expect to ovulate! Of course, you can also expect to ovulate when you stop nursing.

To Encourage Ovulation

* Nurse less frequently

* You can also try a night-lighting technique that I describe in The Garden of Fertility.

Remember, once you see mucus, it might take several months before you ovulate. That can be a frustrating time, because you may not be sure about when you are fertile and when you are infertile. You and your husband will need clear communication about your openness to a new pregnancy.

If you are not open to a new pregnancy and you are not sure about when you are fertile and infertile, please contact a Fertility Awareness teacher to talk about your charts.

While you are not sure about your fertility, you may want to consider using condoms to prevent pregnancy until you can read your charts or you feel ready for a new pregnancy. When you use condoms, the woman needs to be well lubricated. If she's not well lubricated, the condom can break--and lovemaking will probably be painful for her.

The mother also needs good nutrition and rest. She is eating for two people--and that takes special fuel.

Sylvia: After my son was born, I nursed him about once an hour during the day, and two or three times each night. We put his crib right next to our bed so I didn't have to move much to nurse at night. Still, by the time he was seven weeks old, I had wet, slippery mucus, like eggwhite. That told me I was fertile again and it made me nervous. My husband and I weren't ready yet for a new baby.

Then my son got the flu. I carried him in a sling most of the day so he could rest and I could do my chores. After just a few days, my mucus dried up!

My midwife said that keeping my baby close to me (in the sling) gives my body the message that it has enough to take care of right now. Wearing the sling helps my mucus to dry up. And dry mucus tells me that I'm infertile.

Sometimes I carry my son on my back. Sometimes I carry him near my breasts. Sometimes on my hip. It depends on how big he is and the kind of chore I need to do. My midwife showed me different ways to wear the sling. I have found more ways I can carry him by looking at the pictures in the booklet that came with the sling.

Maryanne: I'm like most mothers. I have more work to do than I have hours in the day. But I've noticed that if I wait to nurse (so I can finish a chore) until my baby's really crying hard, she gets so tense that she can't nurse. I can't relax, either, and then my milk doesn't let down easily.

My husband and I think that breastmilk is the best nourishment I can give my baby. Nursing helps me create respectful relationships with our children, and it spaces the years between them in a healthy way. For the long run, breastfeeding actually gives me a lot less chores.

So I try my best to nurse on cue--to nurse right when my baby starts to whimper. I've realized that my chores can wait.