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.


MamaEm said...

Taking Charge of Your Fertility literally saved my life. I only knew I was pregnant because of what I learned in that book, and it was only because I knew I was pregnant that the doctors knew I had an ectopic pregnancy (the hospital switched my blood sample and I came back as not pregnant). Had I not known, they would have performed an appendectomy rather than removing my ruptured fallopian tube. Knowledge is power!

Pickle said...

as weird as the mucus is...isnt it so cool to be able to tell when you ovulate?
I had a period at 10 months (thought it would be longer since I eco feed) but I think I'm coming back slowly and irregular. I have noticed fertile mucus for a week now, took a clear blue monitor test just because I'm curious but it said no ovulating... So I'm guessing I'm going though what you are a little bit. Just haven't crossed the threshold of ovulating. But then again, my ds has started to nurse more with teeth bothering him so it all makes sense.
Thanks for this post, not too many people talk about their mucus ;)

Lisa C said...

I only wish I were in your shoes. I got my cycle back right away, but I really want to space my kids, so having it doesn't really seem useful. I have to take supplements with iron because of it. would one go about not nursing for 24 hours? It seems like that would be awfully uncomfortable and be a risk for infection.

I agree that it's perfectly natural to not always nurse when your child wants it. Once our children reach a certain age, I think our instincts tell us they can wait. I believe it's part of the natural weaning process.

Anyway, good's nice to learn a little bit more about my body and that mysterious vaginal fluid.

Liz said...

Glad the book was useful! I have uysed Fertility Awareness both for achieveing pregnancy and for avoiding it and it has worked well for me for both.

I have found that it is amazing quite how much even minimal breastfeeding can affect your hormone levels. After only giving one feed per 24 hours for over 6 months, it has still sent my hormone levels all screwy when DS finally weaned completely.

So, hang on in there, and see what changing your pattern just slightly can achieve with the kick-starting ovulation. I wouldn't be surprised if you managed it fairly soon.

ecoMILF said...

My 19 month old just weaned himself about 3 weeks ago. He had a little help from my body though- my milk completely disappeared as I am halfway through my second pregnancy. I didn't get my first period until just after his first birthday and it seemed to be spread out (about a 40 day cycle). My period arriving had much to do with a decrease in day time feeds as opposed to nightime feeds. I know everyone is different, but my little one drank a lot more during the day than at night. If he woke at night he really only wanted a small comfort suck. So, yes, I think trying to decrease daytime feeds a bit would help kickstart ovulation. I also had the cervical fluid signs for about 8-10 weeks before my first period arrived so I am sure you are on your way. Up until he was 1 he was having 4 feeds a day- upon waking, before his two naps and before bed. Once he cut down to one nap my milk supply dropped because I was only feeding him once during the day and then my period came.

Do what you instinctively feel is right. My little one wasn't fussed if his Dada put him to bed for his naps with a cup of milk instead of my boob. We tried to encourage this once or twice a week so that he got used to the idae that he didn't HAVE to have to have breastmilk all the time. I never denied him if he asked for it though. Once or twice in the past few weeks he's asked for milk and latched on briefly for a little suck but loses interest quickly as there's nothing there but a bit of salty colostrum.

Hope all of this helped. I have a whole section in my blog about extended breastfeeding if you're interested in my story.

xo m.

Cave Mother said...

ecoMILF - interesting reading your story, and I think it brings home to me how different children's nursing habits vary. Although my DD is 20 months, she still nurses several times a day - probably eight or more times, plus one or two nighttime feeds. I guess I am probably still getting as much nipple stimulation as some mothers with babies a year younger. My daughter has always had very high needs regarding nursing and closeness to me. Thanks for posting your experience.

Primal Homemaker said...

I breast fed for 17 months before my son refused the breast. I would have don't it for much longer if he would have let me. I got my period after only 6 months. I nursed on demand, but we didn't co-sleep. I love the blog BTW! I wish I would have found it about 2 years ago.

Amanda said...

I got my menses back two days after my son's 2nd birthday, but we weren't in a rush to get pregnant again. My midwife wasn't worried so neither was I!

Maman A Droit said...

My son is only 9 months old but I've had regular periods for several months already. I was a little bummed, because I had a c-section so I feel like I need more time before next baby to improve my odds of a VBAC, but now we have to be really careful(we do NFP!)
baby nurses allll the time so I'm not sure why it came back so early!

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Jennie Lanics said...

One tip that many people seem to use is falling asleep on a heated blanket. Many people have found that this helps to delay ovulation a day or so, although again it is not a guaranteed method
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BeeLena said...

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