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.

99 Replies to “Breastfeeding and the return of fertility”

  1. Thanks for posting this! I had a very similar experience after two pregnancies. I BFed until almost a year with both. First time I O’ed right as I stopped BFing, with a 4 day LP. Next cycle I O’ed CD21 with an 8 day LP, following was CD27 O with a 7 day LP. Figured they weren’t getting longer so I went on progesterone for the next cycle, 16 day LP BFN. Next cycle was a CD16 O with a BFP. After my second pg, I O’ed while still BFing 2x/day (he was a super fast nurser, 5-10min/session) at around 10.5 months. That LP was 4 days, next cycle was CD44 O with a 6 day LP, following cycle was a CD22 O also with a 6-day LP. The rest is a work in progress 🙂

    I suffered from hypothalamic amenorrhea prior to my first pg; I always thought that my short LPs were due to that, but your info suggests that it may be more common that I thought.

  2. Hi Fiona,

    Delighted to hear all well and can’t believe you are 30 weeks already, goodness, it has flown in many ways.
    I eventually went to another clinic and have said goodbye to Napro. While I liked the non-invasive nature of it, i need something else, plus the emphasis on each day of the month was making me an emotional wreck – such a rollercoaster. Still waiting for the full test results but my follicles and lining of the womb look good ‘for my age’ apparently (was 40 in July!).
    I’ll let you know how it goes! Do keep us posted as you get closer to the birth, so delighted for you, x

  3. Nico – best of luck!

    Lorna – that’s great that everything looks good, takes a bit of the time-related pressure off. Good luck with the other test results and hope your new clinic can move things along quickly.

  4. Fiona, so glad you are doing well. Can’t believe you are 32 weeks now, it went by so fast. Mind yourself and keep us posted on your progress.

  5. I keep having these waves of cramping, EWCM and then no period so I am glad to see it’s not that abnormal.

    Congrats on your pregnancy!

  6. Denise – it might have been fast for you but I feel like I’ve been pregnant for years! Hope you and the boys are keeping well.

    Jessica – thanks!

  7. Hey Fiona

    you’re doing brilliantly! I dip in and out to see how you’re getting on! ‘Must feel like forever but hang in there girl, you’re an inspiration!

    I’d love to say i’ve come to terms with never having our own children but i’ve at least come to terms with the fact we’ll never come to terms with it! Adoption issues with Hague are now immense and I swear, if one more person says “just adopt” I’ll scream! We’ve been doing the adoption process for 4yrs now (did ivf during that time but after 7 cycles one miss and one severe ohss which very nearly killed me, we cant do any more), and we haven’t been assessed by the HSE due to staff shortages! Ireland, when we sign Hague (which is a fabulous treaty) will not deal with non hague countries so Russia, Ethiopia and others will close to us. Predicted wait time? Another 4 years!!!!!

    You know, infertility is horrible, but that, combined with the double whammy of what the Govt are now doing, makes those of us who will never deliver our own live baby, feel more and more like second class citizens every day. We’re treated with contempt by the very people who are supposed to help. I’m fuming, grieving and downright heart sick!

    Rant over (for now!!!). Sorry bout that!

    loadsa love and luck,

    Jeanette.

  8. Hi Fiona,
    Congratulations on your pregnancy and thanks for writing your amazing book. I would love to ask your advice on my situation.Its a complex story,do you have an email address? Thanks a million.
    sinead

  9. Jeanette – I know some people going through the adoption process and had heard that it’s becoming very difficult but another 4 years is just unbelievable! I can’t believe you are still waiting to be assessed. Have they said when this is likely to happen? I hope you can get some answers soon, the whole process sounds so difficult and trying. So sorry to hear that things have not got any better for you, you really do deserve a break.

  10. Fine thanks, still here! Due on 23rd but obs will bring me in for an early induction any time from Friday week if things are looking ok. Not sure I will do that but it would be great to get it all over before Christmas. Will see how I feel next week.

    How are you and your boys? Are they getting excited about Christmas? Does Rian have a clue what’s going on?

  11. Delighted to hear all is well Fiona. Hope you are ready for the sleepless nights again or have they ever ended? Hope you have the little fella home for Christmas day, what a gift!
    The boys are brilliant, Rian is such a gem. He is so happy all the time, I swear the child is an angel sent to me. He has no clue about Christmas (he’s 9 1/2 mths) but big brother is excited enough for both of them. Really looking forward to Christmas with TWO kids!!!!
    Please post or have the hubby post when the little man arrives, I will be checking in all the time. Best of Luck Fiona!
    XXXX

  12. hi fiona

    oh my God it’s getting close now!!!!! I’m wishing you so much love and this post comes with buckets of white light for a good delivery and a wonderfully healthy mammy and child.

    All the very, very best,

    Jeanette.

  13. Fiona,

    Just saw you on Prime Time, you look fabulous and so does your bump 🙂
    Children lovely too – great to see you all looking so well.

    I went to Kilkenny Clinic and found out a lot was wrong in fact but we’re getting there. I’ll write again when I have more time but have started a new blog too – a positive one recording our journey to adoption although we haven’t quite given up yet on having a natural baby but still intend to adopt, which ever way it goes. Not going to do IVF/ICSI simply cos of the emotional toll.
    Have a wonderful Christmas, when is your baby due?

  14. Just saw that you are due on 23rd, great, best of luck, will come back for an update. You will have a wonderful Christmas, delighted for you all 🙂

    xx

  15. Lorna – thanks! Sorry to hear you’ve had bad news at the clinic. Are you going to stay and do some sort of treatment with them?

    But great news about the adoption. Have you started the process yet? I know what a long, hard process it is in this country, especially at the moment. Very best of luck with everything.

  16. Hi again Fiona, Gosh, can’t believe you are in labour at the moment, am checking twitter periodically 🙂
    We discovered Brian’s sperm has over 25% DNA fragmentation which is all new research so he’s having 3-4 months treatment for that and then retesting. I have other things that have to be sorted out too but the bottom line is we try again in about 4 or 6 months time with scans to check the size of follicle etc and go from there. We have applied for adoption but not with bated breath – it is going to take a long time.
    Sorry for getting the name wrong – I read it too fast!

  17. Hey Fiona!

    Maybe it’s happened now!!!! (i’m technologically challenged so twitter is so far beyond me it’s not funny!). If you’re nearly there: PUSH!!!!!

    ‘Hope you’re doing ok and that your Christmas miracle is making it’s way as I type!!!!!! Am so excited for you! I’m grand, dont be worrying about me, I have my moments but generally the crazyness goes away with time and valium!!!!!!

    Loads of love and white light for you now.

    Jeanette.

  18. Thanks for posting your story! I have been searching the internet for exactly such information and your posting has been the most helpful personal information I have found so far. My husband and I tried nine years before being blessed with our son three months ago (I have high FSH). I recently experienced several days of EWCM, my first postpartum . I got excited and was disappointed when I did not ovulate! Your story is encouraging; I am breastfeeding fulltime and will try to be patient to wait until he is six/seven months and starting to eat solids to expect ovulation.

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