So, you’ve had a baby—Congratulations!!! You may now be wondering how long it will be before you are fertile again. Maybe you want to plan for another baby…or maybe your hands are plenty full with your newborn, thank you, and you don’t want to worry about getting pregnant again for the foreseeable future. After giving birth, how long it takes to resume ovulation depends on a number of factors. The most important one, and the one we’ll focus on in this article, is whether or not you breastfeed.
If you are not breastfeeding, you may start ovulating as soon as four to ten weeks after giving birth—so, you should start charting your signs almost immediately after childbirth.
If you are breastfeeding, it’s possible to delay ovulation for up to a year or longer by using the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of birth control, in which the act of breastfeeding suppresses the hormones in your body that cause ovulation. When used correctly, LAM as a method of birth control is 99% effective for the first six months after pregnancy, and 97% effective for the first 12 months postpartum. To use LAM, you must meet three criteria:
1) Your periods have not yet returned. Note: Any vaginal bleeding before the 56th day after childbirth is almost always anovulatory and can be ignored. Vaginal bleeding after 56 days is considered a menstrual period and a sign that ovulation has resumed.
2) You are fully or nearly fully breastfeeding. Full breastfeeding means you breastfeed around the clock, whenever your baby is hungry, and do not give pacifiers, supplements, solids, or liquids from any other source to your baby during the first six months. Nearly full breastfeeding means you supplement no more than 15% of all feedings (if you give supplements to your baby, breastfeed before giving the supplement—nursing helps your body to suppress ovulation, and your breast milk helps to protect your baby against disease!). To maximize the effectiveness of LAM, you should try to breastfeed as close to full breastfeeding as possible. Also, for LAM to work, you need to breastfeed at intervals of no longer than 4 hours during the day, and 6 hours at night (this is really important!).
3) Your baby is less than six months old when you begin LAM.
If you meet all of the above criteria, you don’t need to chart your data while using LAM (if you don’t want to). This is especially nice, as charting your data while breastfeeding can be tricky. However, you should pay close attention to any change in your cervical fluid during this time, as it could be a sign of impending ovulation.
For all women (whether you breastfeed or not), changes in your cervical fluid will alert you to impending ovulation just as they did prior to getting pregnant—cervical fluid becomes wetter and wetter as it becomes more fertile, and may become stretchy and eggwhite when ovulation occurs. As soon as your cervical fluid changes from drier to wetter, you should assume you are starting to ovulate again. Some women may experience episodes of seemingly fertile cervical fluid before their bodies produce enough estrogen to actually release an egg, and some women may experience one or more menstrual periods before they start ovulating. After your first postpartum menstrual period, your BBT should return to a normal biphasic pattern, with lower temperatures prior to ovulation and higher temperatures post-ovulation. As always, a sustained shift in your BBT from the lower range to the higher range should indicate that ovulation has occurred. Checking your cervical position can also help clarify where you are in your cycle—however, keep in mind that after giving birth vaginally, your cervix may be softer throughout your entire cycle than before giving birth.