Adjusting to life with a new baby has many ups and downs. Perhaps you are ready to start it all again soon with another little one. Or maybe you’re wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into and want to be sure you have adequate space between siblings.
Wherever you’re at is ok and understanding the signs of ovulation and the fertility windows of your body will benefit your family planning. We’re going to be talking about ovulation, whether or not you can get pregnant while breastfeeding and how to track ovulation while breastfeeding.
- When Do You Start Ovulating After Birth?
- Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
- How Can You Track Ovulation While Breastfeeding?
Table of Contents
When Do You Start Ovulating After Birth?
Knowing the exact time you start ovulating postpartum is the million dollar question. Ovulation after birth can vary greatly depending on the woman. Factors like breastfeeding, hormone levels, regular ovulation cycles pre-birth, and mother’s health can play key roles in postpartum ovulation. Every woman is unique and no two pregnancies are the same, thus there is not a one size fits all answer.
If you are not breastfeeding, ovulation could possibly occur 45-94 days postpartum. Some women have even been found to ovulate as soon as two weeks postpartum. Your body will naturally begin to transition back after pregnancy with ovulation typically coming two weeks or so before your period.
For women who are breastfeeding, ovulation can be delayed due to prolactin levels (the milk producing hormones) impeding the release of ovulation hormones.
However please be aware, breastfeeding alone is not a contraception guarantee. Ovulation can still occur while breastfeeding and before your period even shows itself.
What is Ovulation Again?
Our body’s reproductive cycles and organs can be tricky to keep track of. To put it simply, ovulation is the phase when your ovary releases an egg. We tend to care about this time because if you have had sex, you could become pregnant. There is a small window before and after an egg is released and as it travels through the fallopian tubes that it can be fertilized by sperm (the egg lives between 12-24 hours). Sperm can survive in the vagina and cervix for up to 5 days. Typically ovulation occurs 12-16 days after your last period.
If you’re curious and want an in depth dive into period ins and outs you can read up here at the Cleveland Clinic.
Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
The short answer is yes, it is possible to become pregnant while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding only suppresses ovulation for a period of time. The time between childbirth and ovulation is a wide range and depends on the woman. Some key indicators that could lead to ovulation include:
- If you are not exclusively breastfeeding (i.e. pumping and/or supplementing)
- Are sexually active
- Allow for long stretches between emptying your breast milk
- Regularly ovulated before pregnancy
- Your baby is 6 months or older
Keep in mind, there are always exceptions! So if you are serious about not giving your baby a sibling soon, consider other birth control options other than relying solely on breastfeeding.
Can You Do Breastfeeding as Birth Control?
Prolactin, which is the milk producing hormone, suppresses your ovulating hormones and delays menstruation from happening. When it does this, it is typically called Lactation Amenorrhea. Some women utilize the prolactin levels and use the Lactation Amenorrhea Method or LAM. For this method to work and for you to use breastfeeding as a type of contraceptive technique there are certain criteria that need to be met. You will need to:
- Exclusively and frequently feed from the breast
- Feed every 4-6 hours, no bottles, supplementing, or pumping, no pacifiers
- Meet Your baby’s sucking needs exclusively through the breast
- And your baby must be younger than 6 months old
This is a lot to do, especially round the clock for six months. However, according to Planned Parenthood, if used perfectly, the LAM birth control method can be about as effective as the pill. Only about 2 out of 100 people who use breastfeeding as birth control, get pregnant in the 6 months it can be used after a baby is born. However, the criteria is a tall order to ask for most women. To be unable to supplement with formula, not allowed to pump, or have no use of a pacifier just to maintain prolactin levels for 6 months. However, if LAM is something you are interested in, be sure to talk to a lactation consultant and healthcare provider, ideally before baby is born to create a plan.
You may be wondering why 6 months is the magic number mentioned. Six months is typically when we begin to introduce solid foods and babies sleep for longer periods at night. Leading to natural weaning from the breast. As breastfeeding patterns change over time, prolactin levels naturally decrease and lead to ovulation.
It’s always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider about forms of contraceptives that you feel comfortable with. Also be aware that to reduce the risk of complications on your body and a new baby’s, research suggests waiting 18 to 24 months but less than five years after a live birth before attempting your next pregnancy.
How to Track Ovulation While Breastfeeding
Navigating the signs that you are ovulating postpartum is a great skill to have no matter the time. Whether you want to try for another baby, whether you want to abstain from another pregnancy, or to better understand your body’s rhythms. There are many apps and even ovulation test kits available on the market. However, the sure way to know is to tune into what your body is telling you.
We will dive in depth below, but here’s a quick rundown on a few markers of ovulation.
- Regular menstrual cycles and tracking them is a gateway into your ovulation cycle
- Changes in your cervical mucus is a telltale sign that ovulation is occurring
- Measuring your base body temperature will key you into the fluctuations of when your body’s hormones change and release the egg
- Other physical signs of ovulation include physical discomfort or cramping on a certain side, breast tenderness, and increased libido.
Postpartum ovulation is tricky to pinpoint, but knowing what to look out for and track will help you to know what your body is up to.
6 Signs to Know You’re Ovulating After Birth
Let’s dive more into the signs that let you know you’re ovulating.
You Got Your Period
While some people may say this is obvious, once again, it depends on the individual. It’s also important to remember that ovulation occurs before your period happens. You could ovulate and get pregnant without ever getting a period. A period means that your uterus is shedding the layer it has built up in the hopes of receiving a fertilized egg, which typically happens 2 weeks after ovulation.
However, a period is a good indicator that your body is returning to its fertile windows. That means you can better track your cycle and know that ovulation is likely occurring. Then you can better plan if you’d like to try for another little one, or if you and your partner need to consider contraceptives.
Here’s a little video that might help you understand this better
*Note that your first few periods postpartum can look a little different than they were before having a baby. They could be lighter or heavier, longer or shorter in duration, and even a different color than you might expect. Usually after a little while you’ll see them get more consistent.
Around ovulation time, your cervical mucus (the whitish discharge in your underwear) changes. The mucus changes to become more slippery, stretchy, and clear. Some describe it as similar to raw egg white texture.
If you see that your cervical mucus resembles this, then there’s a high chance you’re ovulating again.
Slight Temperature Raise
Regularly checking your basal body temperature gives you an idea where you sit normally. Understanding what is normal for you can help you when you are ovulating. How? After you have ovulated or released an egg, your basal body temperature will go up slightly, by .5 or 1 degree. If you have consistent data to rely on, you will notice that uptick in temperature. A great habit to get into is to check your temperature in the morning when you wake up.
Sometimes some women have a cramping sensation or pain in the lower abdomen on one side or the other during ovulation, indicating that an egg has been released. It can last for a few minutes or a few hours. For me, my right side tends to be the problem maker. I have cramping and even a stiff lower back in the mornings. Then when Aunt Flo comes in, she comes in mad and hard two weeks later. But I can hardly feel it on my left. If you have consistent sharp, stabbing pain, you should check with your medical provider, as it could be a sign of an ovarian cyst or endometriosis.
Many women have an increased libido (sexual) desire during ovulation. Some think it’s because of the fluctuating hormones that occur during this time frame. Others believe it’s the body’s natural response to an egg being released—it wants to be fertilized. Whatever the reason may be this, coupled with other symptoms, might be cause to see if penetration sex is on or off the table.
This is a hard symptom to sometimes recognize while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding alone can make your nipples and breasts feel tender and sore. But during ovulation, it will be heightened and could feel that way even if baby has just fed. They may even tingle between feedings.
All our bodies are unique, and the times that we will ovulate are different. Becoming aware of the small signs and signals your body gives you will allow for you to plan your family life and understand your body better. Whether you are trying to conceive again to keep growing your family, or whether you want to put a pause on time, I hope this article has given you the step in the direction to do so.
Niki Cowan has a background in Medicine and Public Health. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist as well as a Medical Assistant. She’s passionate about Women’s Health and empowering women in their journeys. She is married to her wonderful husband Kevin, and they have an active son. While trying to have another little one hasn’t worked out yet, she is pursuing her passions and hoping to gain further education and experience in the area she loves, while playing with her son. She’s an avid reader, Original Great British Baking Show watcher, and very amateur kickboxer.