This is a guest post by Mandi Richards in the Women Speak on NFP series. In this series you will hear from women using various methods of NFP, some to avoid pregnancy, some trying to conceive, and their experiences.
Disclaimer: This series is not meant to be a substitute for any method of training in NFP! If you are interested in one of the methods introduced in this series, please contact a certified instructor for information about training in that method of NFP.
After I volunteered to write this post, it occurred to me that I’m probably the last person who should write about postpartum Natural Family Planning. For the majority of my postpartum period, my husband and I didn’t use NFP. We used abstinence. Complete abstinence for seven months. Yes, it was as hard as it sounds. And no, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Then I realized that I actually have quite a bit to say about postpartum NFP. I can’t say, “I used X method of NFP during the postpartum period and it was super easy.” But then, I doubt many women can say that. What I can tell you how I’ll approach postpartum NFP differently the next time around .
I learned a sympto-thermal method of NFP about six months before our wedding. I wish I could say that I carefully researched NFP methods and chose one that would work well with my lifestyle and needs. Instead, I chose the method based on which classes would fit my schedule, were the cheapest, and qualified for my archdiocese’s NFP requirement. Thinking back, I don’t think I was even aware that there were different methods of NFP at the time. Anyway, that was mistake #1.
I successfully charted my cycles until our wedding. We went into our marriage assuming that we would wait to get pregnant until my husband graduated with his PhD and got a good job. It turns out that had we waited, we would just now be trying to get pregnant because, while my husband graduated with his PhD last May, it took him over a year to find his first “real” job which he’ll be starting this fall. But God intervened and put it on our heart to start seeking pregnancy about five months after we married and we found ourselves pregnant with our first child four months after that (we used NFP to conceive).
We had hoped that after our daughter, Lucia, was born in December 2011 we wouldn’t have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy but that was not to be. While we are so grateful that we didn’t wait to start our family, when David graduated last May and found himself unemployed, we realized that it was not the time to further expand it. And it was at this point that the fear set in. I had been fairly confident using NFP before getting pregnant, but breastfeeding and postpartum hormones were game changers.
Exclusively breastfeeding, I was sure that I my cycle would not return during the first few postpartum months. That is, until my midwife informed me that I couldn’t trust breastfeeding to delay ovulation if my daughter was sleeping more than 4 or 5 hours straight at night; Lucia started sleeping 10 hours through the night at six weeks old. I know I was lucky to get a full night’s sleep with a six-week-old, but at the time I felt like I had gained sleep at the expense of intimacy with my husband.
I remembered hearing about a specific postpartum NFP class during my initial NFP classes, but there weren’t any offered in my area. So I essentially gave up and decided that we were doomed to abstinence until my first postpartum menses arrived. I was so afraid that I would miss the signs of that first ovulation and I’d wind up pregnant before my first menses and before we were financially or emotionally prepared for another child. However, when that first cycle did arrive, I realized that I had been having clear signs that ovulation would occur soon and I knew that the next time around, I would be able to trust NFP through the turbulent postpartum period.
So that you don’t have to learn to trust NFP the hard way, here are my tips for successfully using it to postpone pregnancy postpartum:
Don’t wait to learn NFP. I’ve encountered many engaged and newlywed women who have told me that they didn’t bother learning NFP because they didn’t currently have a reason to postpone pregnancy and that they would learn it later on if they needed it. While I totally agree with not using NFP to postpone pregnancy if you can welcome children into the world, waiting to learn NFP when you need it means that you will be most likely learning it during the difficult postpartum period and during a time when it is most critical that you don’t make a mistake (perhaps even for very serious medical reasons). Adding stress to the learning process is definitely not a plus.
If you have the opportunity to learn NFP and practice charting your cycles before you need it (especially during engagement), I strongly suggest you do. That doesn’t mean you have to use it to postpone pregnancy, but you should learn the basics of charting and your specific cycle. Not only is this useful in case you need to postpone pregnancy in the future, it may also help you diagnose medical issues, or help you get pregnant if you need it. While it can be used for family planning, NFP is simply knowledge about your body’s reproductive system and knowledge is always a good thing.
Consult an instructor. Since postpartum NFP is trickier, it’s that much more important that you have a relationship with an instructor who can help you as questions arise. I never spoke to my instructors after the initial classes because my cycles were textbook and I didn’t have any questions. But postpartum, oh how I wished I still had their contact information! If you no longer are in contact with your instructor or never had one to begin with, I’d suggest finding one during pregnancy or shortly after birth so you’ll have the support you need. Attend a class/schedule a session to go over specific postpartum rules and learn about some of the common difficulties experienced during that time.
Switch methods if necessary. Some methods can be easier to use during the postpartum period. Even if a method worked great for you pre-pregnancy, you may find yourself dissatisfied with it postpartum. Unless you have a baby that sleeps through the night early on, the sympto-thermal method might not be for you. Instead you may want to try mucus only methods such as Billings or Creighton. I’ve also heard of many women having success (and confidence) with the Marquette or Boston Cross Check methods because they use a Clear Blue Easy fertility monitor, so the guesswork of “What kind of mucus is this?” is taken out of the equation. Bottom line, there isn’t necessarily a “best” method for the postpartum period, but there may be a better method for YOU during the postpartum period; if one is to confusing/doesn’t seem to be working with your body, switch to another one that is more aligned with your unique needs.
Don’t resort to complete abstinence (unless absolutely necessary). All methods of NFP have rules to accommodate the special postpartum period so take advantage of them! You may have longer periods of abstinence as you follow the more strict postpartum rules, but you should be able to find at least a few days in there that are clearly infertile. You do not need to wait until menses returns to resume a physical relationship with your husband!
Be cautious, but have faith. Make sure you are well-versed on postpartum NFP and the additional rules that may apply at this time. If you are unsure of a certain rule or are having symptoms you don’t know how to interpret, it’s best to assume fertility until you can discuss it with an instructor. That said, if you are following the rules and your symptoms are clearly pointing to infertility, you should trust NFP. NFP is scientifically proven to be very effective in preventing pregnancy. The effectiveness rates of NFP methods are as high as 99% and that includes women using it postpartum.
Mandi is a 20-something wife and mother who takes her Catholic faith and reproductive system seriously. When she’s not blogging, she’s probably sleeping, wrangling a toddler, playing word games, or moving cross country.