Sleepy baby smiles. Tiny little hands wrapped around your finger. That sweet, sweet newborn smell. Finally getting to sleep on your back and/or belly again. That first cocktail. There’s a lot to love about the postpartum period. But for many women, postpartum charting is definitely not one of them. In fact, it can be downright frustrating. But you needn’t—nor should you—go it alone.
While the postpartum period is marked by all the wonderful things that come with a brand-new baby (and with no longer being hugely pregnant), it’s a pretty crazy time, too. You’re not sleeping much, and you’re completely at the beck and call of this very demanding, confused, and often inconsolable little human being. Your hormones are doing some pretty crazy things too, as your body shifts gears from doing all of the things that helped you bond with and keep your baby alive inside your womb, to doing the same thing on the outside. And, at first (especially if you are breastfeeding), those hormones are working to signal to your body that right now is not a great time to get pregnant.
It’s when those signals start changing that things start to get a little—okay, maybe even very—tricky. If you’re not breastfeeding, those signals can start changing as soon as six to eight weeks postpartum. But exactly when those signals will start changing will be different from woman to woman, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy for the same woman. Needless to say, all of this can be especially stressful if you and your husband aren’t looking to get pregnant again right away, but also aren’t looking to completely abstain from sex until you’re cycling reliably again.
Therefore it’s always a good—no, great—idea to get some help from your fertility-awareness instructor when entering the postpartum period, especially if this is the first time you’ve ever been postpartum. Connecting with your instructor for a refresher course or postpartum-specific course even before the baby comes (say, early in your third trimester) is a great way to prepare yourself for this tricky time in your fertility before your new baby demands all your time and attention.
Here are a few key points that every woman needs to remember about the postpartum period that also illustrate how helpful a fertility-awareness instructor can be while you navigate your body’s signals during this time.
01. Your fertility returns before Aunt Flo does
A lot of women assume that they are infertile until their period comes back. The truth is, you will always ovulate before you menstruate, which means you absolutely, 100 percent, without-a-doubt can get pregnant before your period shows up again. Now, you may have some breakthrough bleeding here and there that might make you think you’ve had a period, but until you can safely assume you’ve ovulated, whatever blood you may see is not, in fact, a period—and so you cannot assume that your body is fully cycling again yet. Through charting and with the help of your instructor, you can get a much better idea of whether you’ve actually ovulated or not, which will help you figure out if your fertility may be returning or has already returned.
02. Your baby’s eating patterns (especially at night) can have a huge effect on your fertility
Breastfeeding—especially on-demand and exclusively—is one of the best ways to keep your fertility from returning (especially in the first six months of your baby’s life). Night feedings are especially important for both establishing milk supply and suppressing your return to fertility, so if baby stops feeding as much at night, you might see signs that your fertility is making its comeback. Of course, baby may then start teething and be up all night nursing again for a few nights (or weeks), which might suppress ovulation from happening (even if your body had been gearing up to do just that). See what I mean about tricky? Thankfully, this is another situation in which your fertility-awareness instructor should be well versed, so don’t hesitate to reach out if your signs of fertility are so all over the place that you can’t tell if you’re a Fertile Myrtle again or not.
03. Sex might be the last thing on your mind, but that doesn’t mean charting is any less important
Many women experience a pretty big drop in their libido postpartum (especially if they’re breastfeeding), and at least part of the reason for that is related to hormones. Interestingly enough, men also experience hormonal changes after becoming fathers that may make them a little less interested in postpartum sex, too. But even if you both are feeling sleepy and decidedly un-sexy in the postpartum period, it’s still a good idea to begin charting. Because—spoiler alert—you might start feeling a little friskier when your fertility does begin to return, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t know if it’s “safe” or not to have sex when you both get that lovin’ feeling. That is, assuming you’re still looking to postpone pregnancy. If not, well, have at it!
What’s more, your charts can tell you more than just when it’s safe to have sex; there is a wealth of information contained in your charts about your health that can help you, your instructor, and your doctor (assuming he or she is trained to interpret fertility charts, as NaPro doctors are) navigate any unusual things you may be experiencing in the postpartum period.
Even though my husband and I are trained fertility awareness instructors, when I was newly postpartum for the first time, we found ourselves perplexed by my body’s fertility signs. We went through a very long period of abstinence until we finally reached out to a more seasoned instructor to help us interpret my charts—we were so glad that we did, and so was she! She walked with us through all of my recent charts, helping us to see a pattern we’d never noticed before, which ultimately helped us feel so much more confident in our ability to read my body’s signals and make responsible decisions based on that information. She also explained that so many couples become discouraged with fertility awareness in the postpartum period without ever reaching out for help—perhaps because they don’t even know that they can. So, if you take away anything from this piece, please let it be this: yes, postpartum charting can be pretty tricky, but you definitely don’t have to (nor should you) go it alone.