Picture this; you just had a baby and you are positively obsessed with learning how to mother your new child, a sort of baby love haze. Then at your first postpartum doctor’s visit your doctor snaps you back into reality by bringing up birth control. As if you aren’t dealing with enough, you are urged to make an important decision to avoid getting pregnant again, so soon after giving birth.
The birth control pill, Nuvaring and Mirena IUD are the most commonly prescribed birth control methods for new mothers. But wait, why would your doctor suggest you take something that contains synthetic hormones when you just went through one of the biggest hormonal changes of your life? Over the past year you have been through pregnancy, labor, childbirth, postpartum recovery and lactation. Wouldn’t it be best to continue letting your body adjust to all of these hormonal and physical changes naturally, so as not confuse or alter this process?
The use of hormonal birth control after giving birth is not a black and white matter. Doctors deem it safe, but I’m not so sure it is. While it may seem easy to just take the pill, or get a Nuvaring, what many women don’t know is that there is a highly effective alternative natural birth control method. Why go the natural route? You will be helping to preserve your fertility (more on this below) and as an added bonus, you will get to know your fertility cycle on an intimate level!
My Personal Experience
I’m an herbalist who has given birth twice in a hospital with the assistance of medical doctors. To some this may seem a bit strange, but for several reasons this was the best choice for my husband and me.
I chose to work with two women, both DOs or Doctors of Osteopathy in their residencies (meaning fresh out of medical school), knowing they may be more open to my herbalist ways, and they were. While they didn’t pressure me to have many prenatal tests, or receive vaccinations, and trusted my choice in prenatal multivitamins, they both took a significant amount of time to ensure my husband and I had thought about how we would prevent pregnancy after giving birth. Both were ready to write a prescription for the birth control pill and/or set up a future appointment to fit me with an IUD well before I had even given birth.
If you are going to regular prenatal appointments or have given birth, you may recall these conversations and feeling the pressure to just take the prescription for the pill. I know I did; even though the last thing I wanted to think about while eight months pregnant was having sex; and the very last thing I wanted to consider doing in the weeks after giving birth was having sex.
So, Why Are Doctors Quick to Push The Pill?
Doctors commonly prescribe birth control (low-hormone birth control pills and methods that do not contain hormones like the copper IUD) to help prevent pregnancy from happening again too soon after giving birth. I personally feel they do so for good reasons, which are because they know:
- it is best to allow the female body 12 months to heal properly after giving birth before conceiving again
- the uterus is weak after being stretched to its max for many months
- the risks for blood clots and complications in pregnancy increase with some pregnancies that happen too close together
- the risk for having a preterm birth increase the closer together that pregnancies occur
- breastfeeding alone is not a reliable birth control method
They also prescribe birth control because a breastfeeding woman is not likely to know when her cycle will begin again. Breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, but not for the same length of time for each breastfeeding woman. Doctors feel using birth control is an easy way to keep the cycle from returning to allow the body to heal properly post birth. While it may be easy, there are known long-term impacts on fertility health when using birth control.
Doctors and many organizations like the Office of Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services share that there is no harm in beginning some forms of birth control three to six weeks postpartum even while breastfeeding (although this does depend on each woman’s birth experience and overall health post birth).
The Long-Term Impacts to Fertility
On the contrary, what we see with our clients is that taking the Pill can negatively impact long-term fertility, especially if it is taken for extended periods of time. Birth control use confuses the body and may negatively impact long-term fertility by causing:
- menstrual cycle disruption
- hormonal imbalance
- disrupted ovulation
- changes in cervical mucus
- changes in uterine lining health and receptivity to an embryo
Not to mention that even small amounts of hormones from low-dose hormonal birth control can pass through breast milk to an infant.
Consider This Alternative to Birth Control
The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)
Kathryn Cardinal, Herbalist & Fertility Awareness Teacher, explains, “The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) offers a natural alternative to medical contraception methods that is both safe and very effective. The Fertility Awareness Method teaches women how to develop a deep awareness of their fertility by observing their personal menstrual cycles, identifying their most fertile time all while committing to building a respectful relationship with their body. Rather than suppress and ignore the menstrual cycle, the goal with FAM is to teach women how to recognize their hormonal signals in order to become experts on their fertility.”
Through observing and recording basal body temperature (BBT) shifts, cervical mucus changes and cervix position, etc., FAM is able to help a breastfeeding woman begin to see the signs of her fertility reappear post birth.
To begin creating an intimate relationship with your fertility cycle, an easy place to start is by reading the following guides:
Natural Contraception with the Fertility Awareness Method
Using Fertility Awareness Method as a Diagnostic Tool – Part 1
Using Fertility Awareness Method as a Diagnostic Tool – Part 2
Thinking ahead for the future, I urge you to give serious thought to using hormonal birth control after giving birth. If you want to have more children, avoiding hormonal birth control use may help to preserve your fertility and make trying to conceive in the future easier. I know that being a new mother to your baby is already a lot, and that FAM can feel like a big commitment, but believe me, FAM in the long-run is so much better for your health, which is good for the whole family.
– Breast Feeding and Birth Control. (2012, March). Retrieved from http://www.midwife.org/ACNM/files/ccLibraryFiles/Filename/000000002191/Breastfeeding and Birth Control.pdf
– American College of Nurse-Midwives for www.sharewithwomen.org
– Cardinal, K. (n.d.). Natural Contraception with the Fertility Awareness Method. Retrieved from http://natural-fertility-info.com/natural-contraception.html
– Pregnancy: Getting Pregnant Again. (2011, November 15). Retrieved from http://womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/childbirth-beyond/get-pregnant-again.html