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Breastfeeding and Fertility
Breastfeeding is a wonderful way for a mother to ensure adequate nutrition for her new baby. It is not, however, an effective method of birth control. The nipple stimulation that goes with regular nursing does suppress ovulation, but for how long depends on the women and on the style of breastfeeding.
While feedings are regular, the baby is under six months of age, and if no spotting or bleeding has started after the flow of lochia has stopped it is certainly unlikely to become pregnant. In fact, it was established at the Bellagio Consensus Conference on "Breastfeeding as a Family Planning Method" that women who do not experience any menstrual bleeding and breastfeed exclusively have a two percent chance of becoming pregnant within the first six months. The time that a woman becomes fertile again varies with each individual. When the menstrual cycle, and more importantly, ovulation begins, also varies. It is important to pay attention to signs, such as spotting, to have an idea of what is going on with your body.
Some mothers may experience spotting while they are still breastfeeding. What exactly does this mean? Is there any reason to be concerned if bleeding occurs with no menstrual cycle? Is there a time frame that spotting should not occur?
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Lochia and Spotting
One reason that spotting may occur while nursing is that for some women, the lochia, or vaginal discharge that usually occurs for two to four weeks postpartum, continues for a few more weeks. In this case the flow of lochia would have tapered off, but there may be the occasional light bleeding or spotting. If intermittent light bleeding turns back into bright red bleeding, then it may be important to take it easy.
A return of the heavier bleeding that is normal at the beginning of the postpartum period may be the body's way of saying it is not ready to return to normal physical activity yet. Bleeding that is progressively becoming heavier is a sign for concern. Contact your doctor if this happens as this could be a sign of late postpartum hemorrhage.
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Is Spotting a Signal that You Are Fertile Again?
Another reason that spotting may occur even while a women is still breastfeeding is that the menstrual cycle is getting ready to start soon. Light bleeding that does not seem quite like a period, nor is a continuation of the lochia, may be a sign that you are fertile again. It is possible to have a light period before ovulation begins. Spotting of this nature will usually occur for more than a day at a time. The following month, or even sooner, you may have a regular period. Do not be alarmed if your regular cycle does not begin after the appearance of spotting as irregular periods are also possible while nursing.
Spotting during breastfeeding is nothing to be concerned about and in fact is very normal. There are different reasons that spotting may occur as light bleeding could simply be the tapering lochia but it can also be an important sign that fertility is returning. Spotting is always light, and thus will be pinkish or brownish. A deeper red color is either an increase in lochia, which means it is time to take it easy, or the start of your first period postpartum. Pay attention to how your body is changing and read your own individual 'signs,' but know that there are no set rules, even for breastfeeding mothers.
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Baby Center <http://www.babycenter.com/0_postpartum-normal-bleeding-and-discharge-lochia_11722.bc?page=2>
Breastfeeding Basics <http://www.breastfeedingbasics.com/html/breastfeeding_and_birth_control.shtml>
O'Quinn, Jen. "Natural Child Spacing and Breastfeeding." (La Leche League International) <http://www.breastfeedin>
photo by Melissa Stampa Photography / Flickr