Before my son, T, was born I wanted four or five children. I loved pregnancy and couldn’t wait to experience it again and again. Giving birth was a little bit harder; post partum recovery was a doozy and taking care of a newborn, oh. my. goodness. I swore off having any more babies’ f o r e v e r.
About a year later, amidst tons of dirty diapers, still waking at all hours of the night, and breastfeeding on demand, I began to see sets of siblings running around. Lo and behold, my empty uterus began to ache. I figured I was elbows deep in the full-time, always-on mom mode and I might as well have two babies! The first year is the hardest, it really does go by quick, having them close in age will be difficult but rewarding and let’s just doooo iiiitttt! After stopping to think about it more though there really is a lot of additional things to consider. I figured I would share the different factors we looked at and what we found.
Fertility: During months 3, 4, and 5 post partum it seemed my cycle was trying to return, it never quite made it though and since then there have been no indications at all that my body is ovulating, I am now 16 months post partum, 26 months since my last menses! For some women fertility during breastfeeding is not an issue, but for many it is. I also don’t know how comfortable I am getting pregnant on the very first or even second or third cycles post baby – in my mind my body is still getting used to and figuring out my new hormone levels and for me personally I think I would like a few “trial” runs before the real deal, to me it seems that this would lead to more optimal conditions and a greater chance of a successful, healthy pregnancy. In order to “try” for another child I would have to take measures of increasing my fertility, either with herbs, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, etc. to guide my body to do something it isn’t entirely ready to do on it’s own. Often times the body needs help in certain areas of functionality and I am definitely ok with that, but not sure it is the right time to enlist this help just yet. Another way to help increase fertility would be to cut back on nursing, which leads right in to my next topic of consideration…
Breastfeeding/Weaning: Most of what I have read says fertility increases in women enough to stimulate ovulation when babies/children are no longer nursing at night and if not then, more than likely when nursing is down to 2-4 times a day or there is a four hour period between nursing sessions. My son nurses constantly, we night weaned for a bit but now are back to night nursing and mostly nursing on demand during the day as well. He uses nursing as a huge comfort tool and often just “checks in” with me for a few quick sucks and then is back doing whatever he was concentrating on previously. We had a brief encounter at 14 months with sudden weaning when I wished to stop nursing altogether, but now at 16 months I am hoping for child led or natural weaning. Which, let’s be real, probably won’t be until at least two and I would be willing to bet actually much longer. After talking with my husband, paying attention to T’s desires, habits, and needs, and self-reflecting we, personally, are not comfortable weaning our first baby in order to conceive a second baby.
With that being said though, I am really not keen on nursing through pregnancy or tandem nursing. Pregnancy took a lot from me, pregnancy #2 will be even more physically demanding due to caring for and chasing after a toddler. I know myself and do not want to start resenting my nursing toddler while I am tired, hormonal, and not in my usual state of mind. I also know that those first weeks and months of caring for a newborn are extremely hard for me physically and emotionally and I believe we will all have the best shot at surviving as harmoniously as possible if only the new baby is nursing. So do we allow T to entirely self wean and then start ‘trying’ for a sibling? They could be 4, 5, 6 years apart on that path. At this point I feel like I am definitely over thinking things, so what do the facts say? What actually happens in the most natural of settings? For this I look to research of primal/rural cultures…
Natural Child Spacing & Rural Populations: Most rural populations practice ecological breastfeeding, very similar to what my son & I do. This practice is said to delay the return of menses until 14.6 months on average, with most women conceiving again between 18 & 30 months post partum.When studying rural women in Rwanda who do not use contraception it was found that 75% of mothers conceived between 24 & 29 months post partum. Studies conducted among Kung¡ women show they naturally conceive again around 35 months post partum. There is also evidence that waiting to conceive until at least 18 to 23 months from your last pregnancy produces better outcomes for baby. There are also various studies that show that as the time between pregnancies goes down, the risk for Autism in subsequent babies goes up.
The Powers of Nature: After reviewing the facts and pondering the many unanswered questions I still had regarding what we should actually do, it was my husband that brought me back down to earth, as he so often does in these types of situations. He explained that we try our hardest to align our lives with how humans once lived. We try to connect with our inner “natural” needs, desires, and treat our bodies as close as we can to the ways in which they thrived for tens of thousands of years prior to more ‘civilized’ conditions. If we trust in our bodies abilities to heal, grow, change, and adapt on it’s own we can trust that they will create children as close or as far apart as is best for all of us. If T is still nursing enough that my body is unable to conceive than neither T nor myself are ready for another baby. When he is nursing an amount small enough for fertility to return than his need is decreasing and he is closer to weaning and closer to being ready for a sibling. Although there can still be many outstanding questions (some I have thrown out above) we believe in the power of nature to guide us through life, birth, death, and conception, family planning, child spacing is no different.
I know that, “letting whatever happens happen” is not a profound conclusion or advice, but I think if there is anything that becoming a parent has taught me it is that there is a large element of control that you have no choice but to give up. For us, it makes sense that this also applies to baby #2. I know not everyone is in the same situation or even has the same factors as us to consider but as of now we are just happy to enjoy our son and meet his needs as best as we can. As day-to-day life changes, we will reflect and readjust accordingly.
What about you, are you thinking about baby number 2 or 3 or more? Did you plan or influence your child spacing? How? I would love to hear your stories and/or input!