Breastfeeding and the return of fertility

As soon as Anna was born safe and sound, I knew I wanted to try again.  I wasn’t sure what I meant by that as I couldn’t imagine putting the four of us through infertility again, yet I understood that the inevitability may well have been out of my hands.  And time was not on my side – I was 38 with very high FSH.  I knew I would breastfeed exclusively for at least six months as I didn’t want to sacrifice one real baby for another that might never be.  And yet, as the weeks went by, I couldn’t stop thinking about the return of my (in)fertility – when I would start seeing signs, what I could do to speed it up and how I would feel about it when it happened.  I regularly googled various combinations of “breastfeeding”, “fertility”, “ovulation” and “pregnancy” but I couldn’t find any definitive information and very little anecdotal evidence from anyone who knew much about fertility signs and charting cycles.  I can’t imagine there are many people who chart their fertility signs in the early weeks postpartum while breastfeeding exclusively but I am one of them so here is my story for anyone else who may be in the same unusual situation.

When Anna was eight weeks old, I noticed some EWCM.  I got an instant rush of excitement and, while recognising all the danger signs, threw myself back into the business of babymaking.  I was very surprised to see a rise in my LH levels, although my OPKs never became positive.  Still, there was a surge, accompanied by further EWCM, so I persevered accordingly.  Nine or ten days later, I did a HPT – negative.  I was disappointed, of course, but positive about the fertility signs.  No period followed.  A couple of weeks later, the same thing happened.  I temped after the surge – no rise for several days.  In fact, my temps were quite a bit lower than usual, ranging from 35.4 to 35.9 – pre-O temps were previously 35.8 to 36.3 and post-O temps were 36.3 to 36.9.  A couple of weeks later, more EWCM, almost positive OPKs, and this time also ovulation pain – but again followed by no temp rise.  I should mention that Anna was a good sleeper from a few weeks old and at this stage was usually sleeping through the night.

This pattern continued every couple of weeks for the next three months of so with my fertility signs becoming more pronounced each time.  My body was clearly gearing up to ovulate, even to the extent where I was having strong pains in my ovary, but no egg was being released – or at least, no progesterone was being produced by  a corpus luteum.  My OPKs were so very nearly positive that I marked them as positive on Fertility Friend, just in case I had missed the LH peak.  I temped on and off throughout October, November and December 2008 and, while there were peaks and troughs, there was no discernable pattern and my temps remained lower than usual.  I was concerned that the “almost but not quite ovulating” might be a sign of perimenopause but I was still breastfeeding exclusively so had to put those thoughts aside for the time being.

In December 2008, when Anna was 6 months old, I introduced solids and 2 bottles of formula during the day – I still breastfed morning and evening and during the night if she woke.  Then, in early January (7 months postpartum), I had several days of EWCM and very positive OPKs two days in a row.  A sustained temp rise followed (hurrah!) for 7 days, followed by a drop and a bleed on 8dpo.  The next cycle, I had 12 days of EWCM, O on day 21 and another 7 day luteal phase.  I know the first cycle or two postpartum can have very short luteal phases but this was a return to “normality” for me so I felt I should do something about it or I would have no chance of sustaining a pregnancy.  I had already called the clinic and had a prescription for Clomid ready to go but had been advised to stop breasfeeding completely first.  I wasn’t ready for this decided to use some leftover HCG that I had in the fridge during my next cycle.

On the morning of CD18 of my 3rd postpartum cycle, I had a very positive OPK.  I injected 5000iu HCG into my tummy straight away and felt the familiar buzz of empowerment, that I was doing something to help things along.  I had no reason to feel so positive but I did.  My husband did too.  I suppose it was that we were in the first flush of TTC, like normal people.  11 days later I got a +HPT.  I am now 30 weeks.

In my postpartum googling, I never found a documented case of the step-by-step return to fertility whilst breastfeeding.  My story does show it as a gradual process, with ovulation only occurring once full-time breastfeeding had ceased.  However, one person does not a study make so I would be interested to hear from anyone else who had a similar (or a disimilar!) experience.

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