Friday, April 23, 2010

Ovulation, Delaying Nursing and Some Other Stuff

This post is going to go into a little more detail than you may be used to about something that we don't often talk about: cervical fluid. But it's also about breastfeeding and how I'm getting on with delaying my daughter's nursing, so it's not all icky. Don't worry.

I'm still period-free after almost 20 months of breastfeeding and whilst I'm not worried about it, I would quite like to get back into the old routine some time before I hit the menopause. According to Sheila Kippley, 8% of ecologically breastfeeding mothers (that is those who feed on demand night and day, co-sleep and do not use any artificial nipples) go for over 2 years postpartum without having a period. So I'm not alone.

But the thing is that if you are one of those people who have a long amenorrhea, your cycles tend to need a bit of a kick to get them started again. Basically your body gets in a really nice groove with the constant flow of ovulation-suppressing prolactin and even if your baby feeds a little less and the prolactin decreases slightly, you don't necessarily ovulate. La Leche League suggest kick-starting ovulation by making an abrupt change such as avoiding breastfeeding for 24 hours. This gives your ovaries a break from the prolactin released during breastfeeding and allows them to raise you oestrogen level high enough to trigger ovulation.

I'm not going to do the 24 hour break thing because it wouldn't be fair on my daughter. But my body has been giving me signs that it is trying to ovulate, so I am hoping that if I help it out a little I will be rewarded with a cycle. Cave Baby's night-time sleep has improved a lot recently and she often wakes just once in the night, so I am already nursing less than I was. A small reduction in daytime nursing might be all I need to get my oestrogen level over that threshold.

So how do I know that my body wants to ovulate? Your cervical fluid (the stuff that your cervix makes and which makes a white patch on your pants) can tell you a lot about what is going on in your body. In a normal cycle you start by having a period then your vagina is fairly dry for a few days. As you approach ovulation your ovaries produce oestrogen in increasing quantities. The oestrogen causes your cervix to produce fluid. Most people will first experience sticky whitish cervical fluid, then a couple of days later it will become more lotiony like hand cream. Finally, a day or two before ovulation, the cervix makes a clear, stretchy fluid that is perfect for sperm to swim through. It's your body's way of making your vagina a welcoming place for sperm so that you are more likely to get pregnant.

If you are experiencing a period of anovulation like me, your cervical fluid does not follow the usual pattern. In fact I currently have sticky or lotiony fluid all the time, and it is this that tells me that my oestrogen levels are quite high. Sometimes it even starts to get a bit stretchy like true fertile fluid, but then I am required to sit through a nursing marathon and the ovaries are squashed back down again. I am obviously making a lot of oestrogen, but just not quite enough to cause an egg to be released. By the way, I know what my cervical fluid is like because most days I wash my hands then use them to feel for my cervix and take a sample of the fluid surrounding it.

So without wishing to do anything drastic like weaning, I'm just seeing if delaying nursing sessions will make a difference to me. I read all the advice on my last post and I think it helped me see that everyone reaches a point where they want to adjust the nursing relationship a little bit to fit around their lives more comfortably. And I am not reducing the amount of nursing we do purely to help me regain my fertility; it is also about my convenience since the frequent feeds were starting to become a nuisance. So at present I am not offering the breast (though I never have done; my little girl has never needed reminding to feed!) and when she asks for it, I am routinely offering food and/or a drink and/or a distraction to see if the breastfeed can wait. It has struck me how ironic it is that in the early days I was concerned that my baby should feed only when she was hungry and not just for comfort, whereas now I am avoiding the hunger feeds and trying to restrict myself just to the comfort ones!

In my head, I am now playing the part of the ewe who starts to kick her lambs away occasionally when they want to feed but she would rather walk to a juicy new bit of grass instead. Placing restrictions on nursing seems to be a perfectly natural thing to do at this stage in the breastfeeding relationship. I will give it a month or two and see how things go. I am not going to be worried if I do not ovulate in the next few weeks because I know it will happen eventually (she says, keeping her fingers crossed).

Have you any experience of altering your nursing patterns so that your body can resume monthly cycles? Or have you used fertility awareness to help you avoid or achieve pregnancy?

PS If you are reading Liz, I have finally read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and I thank you for the recommendation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When To Wait to Nurse

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I have no hang ups about breastfeeding in public. I nurse my 19 month old anywhere and everywhere - indoors, outdoors, in shops, cafes, museums, parks, supermarkets or wherever we happen to be when she asks for a feed. But I must admit that I sometimes tire of my breasts being permanently available. It tends to happen on those velcro days when my daughter puts her hand down my bra every fifteen minutes.

I accept frequent feedings as part and parcel of the toddler nursing experience, and when we're at home I just put up with them. But I can get sick of them really quickly when we're out. Actually it's worst when we're at tots groups, and it is not because of embarrassment.

The thing is that the minute you get your breasts out to feed a toddler, you make it pretty obvious to everyone around that you are a fairly keen supporter of breastfeeding. I feel like a bit of a breastfeeding ambassador and the last thing I want to do is turn other mothers off breastfeeding because they think it will make their child needy like mine. In reality she is just a normal toddler, but we are not used to seeing children of her age nursing so any requests to nurse in public tend to be seen as over-demanding.

I was at just such a tots group recently and Cave Baby, having one of her velcro days, was on and off my boobs every few minutes. I was feeling a bit annoyed about this, but not so much that I would deny a request to nurse. Anyway, I happened to be talking to a lady who is extremely supportive of breastfeeding and had nursed her youngest child for three years. But I think she sensed my discomfort because at one point in our conversation she said, "Soon, you'll be able tell her to wait until later to nurse".

This comment sent my brain into one of its customary tailspins. Had she been trying to suggest that my daughter was too old to be nursing so often? Was she giving me a hint that it was time to start telling her to wait until we get home? Was she just saying what she thought I wanted to hear because I was annoyed with my daughter? Did she think that I was uncomfortable with the idea of nursing her in public? Did she think I was in need of permission to refuse to nurse?

Later I wondered when is the right time to ask a child to wait to nurse. I don't want to refuse my daughter, but sometimes it would be nice to say "Wait until we get in the car" or "Wait until we get home". Again, this is not out of embarrassment but rather convenience. I don't want to have to rearrange my clothing in the middle of the supermarket. Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship that has to work for both mother and child, so I have to get things my way occasionally.

Kellymom says that delaying nursing works for children over the age of 18 months or so. Reading other people's experiences (like Hobo Mama's here), I think it takes many toddlers a bit longer to learn to wait. I don't believe my daughter is ready yet.

So, dear readers, I need your help. What I want to know is whether you ever delayed nursing your child, and at what age you felt they were able to understand that they had to wait a few minutes. Please give me the benefit of your wealth of toddler nursing experience. I'll be so grateful!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

I Sat By The Canal

It's the nicest day of the year so far. I took my baby to a park and when she wanted feeding I sat on the grass beside the canal and nursed her in my lap. Ducks squabbled in front of us.

It was heaven and I love spring.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Leaving My Baby At Night

Readers, I need help. I'm in a dilemma. I just don't know whether I can leave my dear baby in the evening yet. I'd love to start a course that will involve roughly one evening out per month, but I just don't have any confidence that Cave Baby will allow her daddy to put her to sleep in the evening.

We are very attached. We spend all day together. I can count on my fingers the number of times I have left her with someone else for a few hours. She is gaining a sense of independence but that does not mean that she doesn't want her mummy there, watching her from a safe distance. And for my part I have grown used to being there with her, and I can feel antsy if I'm away from her for more than two or three hours.

There is obviously a balance to strike between my needs as an adult and hers as a baby that I brought into the world. I have parented her in an "attachment" style; I can't just bail out on her now. But if my desire to study means that she suffers an evening of stress, crying and wondering where her mummy is, then I don't think that's fair.

I sometimes wonder how different things would have been if we had had an "easier" baby. If Cave Father could walk her to sleep in a sling and then put her down to sleep on the bed, without her waking, then I wouldn't be in this dilemma. But we just don't have the luxury of that kind of arrangement. She wakes if she's moved. Therefore she has to go to sleep in the place where she is going to stay, and that currently means me nursing her to sleep in bed. She will sometimes oblige by dropping off in a pushchair, but that's not a given. His only other option would be to put her in bed, switch the lights off and sing to her until she gives in and goes to sleep. The problem is that there could be a lot of crying in the interim. And don't even mention controlled crying (or gradual withdrawal, which would amount to the same thing). She can cry for ages if we're there - I can only imagine the state she would get into if she was on her own. Aside from my ideological objections to sleep training, it doesn't seem worth the effort to deal with a problem that only presents itself once a month.

Maybe I should wait another year or so. But I hope that by then there might be another baby on the way, and I also believe in grabbing opportunities when they present themselves. An opportunity is staring me straight in the face and it kills me to say no to it.

Am I just worrying too much, or is this a situation that other mothers have found themselves in? This is the type of dilemma that many parents would laugh at, but to me it is very real. I genuinely don't want to cause upset to my baby, but I do want to pursue my interests. Aaahhh! Are there any attachment parenting whizzes out there that can sort me out?