Fertility

What to Expect from Your First Postpartum Period

Photo by Piotr Marcinski/iStock / Getty Images

One of the many great perks of pregnancy is that you get a minimum of nine months sans menstrual cycle. No pads, tampons, monthly cramping or moodiness (okay, so those last two can happen in pregnancy too). At some point however, after your little one is born and your hormones settle back into a rhythm, your monthly visitor shall return. Many women wonder when this will happen and if it will be the same, worse or better than their pre-pregnancy periods. Here’s all you need to know about your first postpartum period and the factors that may impact how long it stays away.

If you are not breastfeeding your baby, you can anticipate the return of your cycle sometime around two months postpartum. There is a wide range of normal for that first postpartum period that can range from light to heavy, more or less cramping than you previously had, small blood clots and a consistent or inconsistent flow. Your period may be totally different than your pre-pregnancy period or exactly the same and it can differ after each child birth, as well. Whether breastfeeding or not, if your period returns soon after your delivery, avoid using tampons while your body is healing.

Breastfeeding your baby can be a game changer in the return of your menstrual cycle and fertility. Breastfeeding releases the hormone prolactin into the body which is necessary to produce breastmilk but consequently suppresses your reproductive hormones. The effect that breastfeeding has on the body will vary from woman to woman with some getting their cycle back a few months postpartum and others needing to ween entirely before their period returns. For women who practice ecological breastfeeding and natural child spacing, the average return of menses is 14.6 months.

Because breastfeeding suppresses fertility hormones and the return of your menstrual cycle, it can be used as a form of birth control for the first six months of baby’s life and possibly beyond. Learn more about maximizing your period of infertility following your baby’s birth and how to use breastfeeding as an effective means of contraception.

Although you can get pregnant before your first period because ovulation may occur, the chances are slim—about 6 percent. Because of this, some women who are eager to grow their family start to feel concerned about when their period will return. If you are breastfeeding around the clock and your body is continuously releasing prolactin and suppressing fertility hormones, it may begin to feel like your fertility will never return. If you are concerned about the return of your fertility because of age or your child spacing plans, there are usually ways to continue breastfeeding and still get your period back. Here are a few tips if your baby is over six months of age and you are concerned that breastfeeding is suppressing your cycle:

  • Start introducing solids: Once your baby is eating more solids, he may not need to nurse as often. Learn more about starting solids with baby.
  • Try cutting out a session and offering a bottle: Sometimes making abrupt changes to your pattern of breastfeeding can bring back your cycle.
  • Work on night weening: Research suggests that reducing time spent suckling at the breast between the hours of 12 and 6 AM may be most effective for bringing back fertility.
  • Be patient. Lactational amenorrhea may be your body’s way of telling you that it’s not ready for the next pregnancy yet and your child’s nursing habits may be indicating the same. In MOST cases, your period and fertility will return eventually despite continuing to breastfeed.

You may feel as though you have PMS symptoms for months preceding the return of your period as your body gears up for ovulation. It’s not uncommon to have some cramping, cervical mucus and other menstrual cycle indicators well before you get your actual period. Then once your cycle returns, it may take a few months for it to regulate back to a reliable schedule (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Although most women will begin to ovulate after their first period, it’s not uncommon to have one or more anovulatory cycle before returning to full fertility.

Whether you are welcoming the extended vacation from your monthly visitor or are anxious for its return, your period will return when your body is ready. If you have not had your first period due to breastfeeding and have concerns about the return of your fertility, talk to your midwife or OB to come up with a plan that works for you and your baby to aid in the return of your cycle. For questions about pregnancy, natural birth or your postpartum period, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.

15 Natural Ways to Boost Your Fertility

Natural Ways to Boost Fertility

When you decide you want to have a baby, often any amount of waiting feels like too long. Women in their twenties have approximately a 20-25 percent chance of getting pregnant each cycle. Once you turn thirty, this number drops to about 15 percent and at 35 declines even more drastically to a less than 10 percent chance. Fortunately, there are natural ways and simple changes to your lifestyle that can increase your odds of conceiving and ensure that your body is primed for baby. Here are 15 natural ways to increase your odds of getting pregnant.

1) Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in protein, vitamins C and D, iron and zinc help can help keep your menstrual cycle consistent and consequently keep you ovulating regularly. Consider taking a prenatal vitamin even before you conceive as many of baby’s most vital organs begin developing in the first weeks of pregnancy. 

2) Maintain a healthy body weight: Having too little body fat prohibits the body from producing enough hormones necessary for ovulation and to sustain a pregnancy. Having too much body fat can also interfere with ovulation by causing excess production of hormones and consequently less frequent ovulation. A normal BMI ranges between 18.5 and 24.9.

3) Get to know your cycle: Having an understanding of your monthly menstrual cycle and knowing how long it typically lasts can help you determine which days are your most fertile. A normal cycle can range from 21-35 days and although the average time for ovulation is day 14, it can happen as early as day 6 or as late as day 21. You can predict your ovulation more accurately by charting your basal body temperature or using an ovulation prediction kit. There are great apps that allow you to take control of your reproductive health. Track your sexual health and period cycles, pinpoint your ovulation day and maximize your chance for pregnancy.

Glow App

4) Cut back on alcohol: Regular alcohol consumption may alter your estrogen levels which can ultimately interfere with the implantation process. If you are trying to conceive, it is a good time to start practicing the healthy lifestyle habits you will need to adopt once you become pregnant.

5) Quit smoking: Wanting to get pregnant is just one of the many reasons you should quit smoking now. Cigarette toxins can damage your eggs, cause premature aging of your ovaries and interfere with the implantation process. Although smoking can cause permanent damage to your fertility, you will recover some of your ovarian function upon quitting.

6) Get enough rest: Try to get a full 7-8 hours of sleep per night if you are trying to conceive. Sleep is associated with the production of the hormone Leptin which is necessary for ovulation to occur. Sleep also affects the production of fertility hormones such as estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH), progesterone and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

7) Have sex: Having sex every 1-2 days during your fertile period can significantly increase your chances of getting pregnant. Some research suggests that women who have intercourse regularly are more likely to have consistent menstrual cycles making it easier for them to identify their most fertile days. Weekly sex is also associated with higher levels of estrogen production.

8) Curb your caffeine intake: Excess caffeine may also interfere with fertility hormones and make it more difficult for you to conceive. Start limiting your intake to 200 milligrams daily or 1 to 2 caffeinated beverages. 

9) Keep up on your dental health: Brush twice daily, floss before bed and stay current on your dental check-ups. Gum disease has been shown to add an extra two months to the amount of time it takes to get pregnant. It’s best to see your dentist and get any necessary work completed before you start trying to conceive. 

10) Protect yourself from workplace hazards: If you work in a setting where you are exposed to radiation, industrial chemicals, nitrous oxide or jet fuel, take precautions to wear all the necessary protective gear to shield your body from these harmful agents.  Exposure to toxins like these has been shown to decrease fertility and interfere with a woman’s regular menstrual cycle.

11) Avoid contact with pesticides and herbicides: Similarly, chemicals used to kill insects and weeds can also be detrimental to fertility by disrupting ovarian function and interfering with a woman’s monthly cycle. Be sure to wash fruit and vegetables carefully before eating and consider choosing organic options to avoid exposure to residue from these chemicals.

12) Exercise moderately: While it’s a good idea to make sure you are getting regular exercise, if you are trying to conceive don’t push yourself too hard. A research study found that women who engage in five or more hours of vigorous exercise per week were 42 percent less likely to get pregnant than women who did not exercise at all. This is because intense exercise can negatively impact ovulation thus disrupting a woman’s natural cycle.

13) Choose lubrication wisely: Using lubrication during intercourse can actually interfere with the process of the sperm reaching the egg. Even natural lubricants like saliva can have a negative impact on your chances of conception. Safer choices include mineral oils, canola oil, vegetable oil and Preseed, a lubricant specially designed for trying to conceive. 

14) Reduce your stress level: Reducing your stress level and eliminating unnecessary obligations from your plate can have a positive impact on your fertility. Stress may cause changes to your body’s hormone production making your menstrual cycle unpredictable and consequently making it harder to conceive. 

15) Don’t underestimate the importance of your partner’s role: Just like women, men who are trying to conceive should also focus on getting healthy. Being a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet,  limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking and taking daily vitamins are all ways that your partner can help ensure his sperm are healthy and ready to fertilize your egg. 

Specifically, vitamins E & C and the mineral selenium are thought to improve sperm quality and can be taken in addition to a daily multivitamin. Trying to conceive can be an enjoyable and a stressful time period all in one. Make sure to take the necessary steps to take care of your own health so that your body will be ready to provide a temporary home for baby. If you have questions about getting pregnant or are interested in learning more about having a natural birth, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our beautiful Birth Center.

Ten ways to naturally increase your fertility

meditationIn our external-oriented culture, we often seem to search for a magic pill, procedure, or treatment that will help solve our problems.  Sometimes we forget that the answer can be much more simple and that it is found right inside ourselves.  Our lifestyles exert a tremendous effect on myriad elements of our wellbeing, including our fertility.  While we don’t always have control over all the factors that affect our fertility, we can make lifestyle choices that support our ability to conceive new life. Here are ten lifestyle-oriented ways to support fertility.  The only potential side effects are reduced stress, improved relationships, and greater joy.

1. Talk it out

It's important to keep the channels of emotional expression open so that blockages in this area of your life do not lead to fertility “blocks”.  Talk about how you are feeling with someone you trust—express your fears, your frustrations, your disappointments, your hopes, your desires, and your dreams.  Keep connected to your emotions and your needs at this time.  Don’t be afraid to ask for support.  You don’t have to go through this experience alone.

 2. Sleep optimally

Sleep is paramount to fertility.  A diminished amount or quality of sleep has been shown to decrease fertility, so it’s important to make sure that you are well rested.  Sleeping in a completely dark room gets our circadian rhythms working optimally, setting ourselves up for the regenerative and restorative phases that support our hormones and ovulation.  Sleeping in silence and comfort are also key.  Lastly, it is important to get enough sleep.  Sleep needs vary by individual: some people need only 7-8 hours and others need 9 or 10.   Your body will tell you what you need if you really listen.

3. Practice yoga

Practicing yoga can encourage conception by:

•    Reducing stress •    Increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs •    Opening the pelvic and hip region •    Aligning the spine •    Releasing toxins •    Releasing emotional tension •    Regulating the endocrine system •    Elevating mood •    Relieving insomnia

 4. Get creative

Practicing what creativity looks like to you—perhaps gardening, cooking, dancing, drawing, painting, writing, singing, crafts, knitting, etc.—is a way to get creative energy flowing.  Those same creative forces are what support fertility.  Connecting to your creative side actually supports the creative act of conception.  It also can relieve stress and anxiety and increase enjoyment.

5. Eat optimally

A Harvard Medical Study found that the following dietary habits support fertility:

  • eating a mostly plant-based diet
  • consuming high-fat dairy instead of low-fat dairy
  • taking a prenatal vitamin
  • avoiding trans fats
  • choosing healthy monounsaturated fats
  • choosing low-glycemic foods

6. Enjoy sexual expression

When fertility comes to the forefront in a relationship, it can cause challenges in a couple’s sexual relationship.  A couple may become distanced from the recreational and relational aspects of sexual expression, favoring the procreative aspects.  It can be helpful to intentionally rebalance this and allow yourself the ability to enjoy sexual expression, not “just get a job done.”  This can relieve pressure and stress and increase calmness and joy, which can actually support your fertility.

7.  Be Still. Relax. Take deep breaths.

The link between stress and infertility is well recognized. The trouble is stress and cause infertility and then the stress of coping with fertility challenges can compound the problem by adding more stress.  Studies have shown that the diagnosis of infertility can create a “stress response” similar to that experienced by patients with terminal illnesses.  Physiologically, stress hormones, such as cortisol, ACTH, norepinephrine and epinephrine, are released into the bloodstream and force the body into “survival mode”.  In this state, vital functions are prioritized over reproductive function.  A constant surge of stress hormones over time interferes with hormonal balance and ovulation patterns.

Taking time daily to consciously counteract stress can change this physiological pattern.  This is a great time to develop a mediation practice, a yoga practice, or just start simple with a few deep calming breaths throughout the day.  Try to imagine your breath going all the way down into your lower abdomen as you inhale, and breathe out all the stress of the day on an exhale.

Other steps that can reduce stress are found in #s 8-10.

 8. Be kind to yourself

You and your body are doing the best you can.

 9.  Set boundaries so you don’t overextend yourself

10. Do things that make you happy

Health Foundations offers preconception planning services that can greatly support/increase your fertility.  Contact us to schedule an appointment today.