Whether you’re trying to conceive (TTC) or trying not to, knowing how breastfeeding impacts your fertility is important.
Your fertile window is the time in your cycle when you can become pregnant–and it happens around the time of ovulation.
But the signs of ovulation while breastfeeding are not always obvious or the same for everyone.
We’ll take you through the details.
First, let’s dive into the relationship between breastfeeding and ovulation.
In this article: 📝
- Breastfeeding and ovulation: the essentials
- How do I know if I am ovulating when breastfeeding?
- What are other signs of returning fertility while breastfeeding?
- How long after breastfeeding does fertility come back?
- How do I get my fertility back while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding and ovulation: the essentials
To get pregnant again after giving birth, you first need to ovulate.
Breastfeeding tends to stand in the way of this, causing your ovaries to halt production for the moment.
It’s your body’s way of helping space out births and prepare itself for another pregnancy.
So how does this happen? It all has to do with a complex interplay of hormones.
The suckling motion during breastfeeding sends signals to your hypothalamus, the control center of your hormone system.
The hypothalamus then sends out a message to your ovaries to put a hold on ovulation for now.
While prolactin doesn’t get in the way of ovulation itself, it does inhibit the hormones responsible for triggering it.
These include estrogen, the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and the gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH).
Breastfeeding works somewhat on a supply and demand basis—the more frequent the feeds, the higher your prolactin levels, and the less chance of ovulation.
If you’ve heard of the Lactation Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of contraception, it has to do with precisely this. (Lactation = making milk, amenorrhea = the absence of your period.)
For some new mamas, LAM can be a helpful part of their birth control strategy.
But it’s important to note that LAM can be unreliable, and it probably shouldn’t be your only birth control if you really don’t want to get pregnant.
On the other hand, for those who would like to have another baby soon after giving birth, lactation amenorrhea can really hinder that process—particularly if ovulation is taking longer to come back than expected.
How do I know if I am ovulating when breastfeeding?
So how can you tell while breastfeeding that your ovaries are starting up production again?
While fertility signs while breastfeeding are not the same for everyone, here’s some of what could happen:
1. The return of your period
This is a very good sign that your body might be ready to think about pregnancy again.
But it’s not as straightforward as we may expect.
Fertility often comes back in stages.
Sometimes, you might have a period without ovulating an egg mature enough to be fertilized.
And to throw another wrench in these works, while rare, the blood you may think is your period may actually be a sign of ovulation itself.
2. Your basal body temperature (BBT) increases
You may already know the joys of tracking your BBT while TTC.
Your BBT is your core temperature when your body is still at rest.
It rises just after ovulation, so it can be a sign that an egg has indeed been released.
3. Change in cervical mucus
Your cervical mucus—you may know it from its appearance in your underwear when you’re ovulating—helps facilitate the journey of the sperm so that fertilization and implantation can happen.
When your mucus is clear, sticky, and more abundant, it can mean that you’re about to ovulate or are currently ovulating.
4. Ovulation aches, pain, and discomfort.
You might experience ovulation pain in the middle of your abdomen, known as Mittelschmerz.
5. A boost in sex drive
Yep, an increase in libido is real as you approach ovulation.
Research shows that women experience more sexual desire on days before and during the pre-ovulatory surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH).
This six-day increase is so potent around the LH surge that researchers even posed the term “sexual phase”.
And even more telling, during this phase, women are the initiators.
It’s all part of nature’s dance to get you pregnant by boosting your libido-inducing hormones.
What are other signs of returning fertility while breastfeeding?
You might feel nauseous and headachy, and your breasts may feel more tender than usual.
(Understandably, this may be hard to tell if you’re breastfeeding. There’s already so much going on in that general area.)
If you have severe pain or heavy bleeding, check in with your doctor to rule out other health issues.
How long after breastfeeding does fertility come back?
There is no “normal” here.
While some women will get their fertility back within six months of their baby’s birth, others take much longer than that.
In the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, the estimate is that most new mamas will get their periods back somewhere in the first 18 months of their baby’s life.
Many new mamas find that their periods return when they stop breastfeeding exclusively, which most commonly happens when babies are about 6 months old.
How do I get my fertility back while breastfeeding?
If you’re TTC while breastfeeding, it is possible to get pregnant, particularly as your baby gets older.
And while there is no surefire way to jog this process along, it can help to breastfeed less frequently once your baby is older than six months.
Ovulation may start kicking into gear again once you begin adding solid foods to the mix or maybe supplementing with formula in place of some nursings.
If you aim to use fertility treatments to get pregnant, the recommendation is generally to wait a month or two after you stop breastfeeding before taking fertility medication.
But unfortunately, there is still a lot of research to be done in this area.
Whether you’re eager to give your baby a sibling ASAP or looking for all-natural birth control, the signs of ovulation while breastfeeding are not always obvious.
Or even reliable.
The best thing you can do right now is to be kind and patient with yourself.
There’s so much about this process that is out of our hands.
The TTC journey can be full of ups and downs, many of which can feel beyond your control.
Speak to your healthcare provider if you are concerned.
And join us on Peanut. You don’t have to navigate this alone.