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What Are the Ovulation Signs After Giving Birth?

Woman holding a thermometer




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

You've recently given birth and are wondering when your body's going to start its cycle again. It's a common question that many new moms have, and the answer isn't always straightforward. Ovulation signs after giving birth vary from woman to woman and depend on various factors such as whether you're breastfeeding, your overall health, and hormonal changes. I got my period back around 6 months postpartum after giving birth to Caden, and about 9 months postpartum after giving birth to Willow. Both highly corresponded with when I stopped or dramatically reduced breastfeeding.

In this article, we'll dive deep into the ovulation signs after giving birth and provide you with the information you need to understand your body's signals. We reached out to Dr. Nicole Tod of North Texas Women's Healthcare, to weigh in, and provide some insight into this topic. As always, it's important to understand everyone's experience is unique, and it's always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

What is Ovulation After Giving Birth?

Ovulation after giving birth, simply put, refers to the process your body undergoes to gear up for potential fertility once again. This happens when the ovaries release an egg, ready for fertilization.

Understanding Menstruation After Childbirth

After childbirth, your body goes through an array of changes, one of which is the return of your menstrual cycle. This might not happen immediately, and that's completely normal! But when it does, this indicates your body is moving back towards its pre-pregnancy state, gearing up for possible future pregnancies. The timing of this return varies greatly among women, influenced by factors such as breastfeeding, hormonal changes, and the reduction of organs like the uterus back to their original sizes and functions.

The Menstrual Cycle Explained

“I want to start by talking a little bit about the menstrual cycle and what is going on in a woman’s body because that helps explain ovulation a little bit better,” Dr. Tod begins. “The first half of your menstrual cycle is called the follicular phase.”

“In the follicular phase is dominated by the hormone: estrogen. You have hormones from your brain that are produced specifically called follicular stimulating hormone or FSH. And that signals to the ovary to start recruiting follicles,” she explains.

These follicles aren't just hanging around for fun though. They're working hard to mature. “So at the beginning of your cycle, you have several small little follicles and over time, one of those will be selected as the dominant follicle,” says Dr. Tod.

And when this dominant follicle is ready for its big moment, another hormone steps in. “There's a hormone from your brain called luteinizing hormone or LH that is then produced and that signals to the dominant follicle that it's time to release the egg.” This release is what we know as ovulation.

Signs of Ovulation Postpartum

Understanding your body's cues is crucial in identifying signs of ovulation post childbirth. Here are some of the tell-tale signs that can help you navigate this new stage of your life.

Changes in Cervical Mucus

One of the most noticeable changes might be in your cervical mucus. This mucus can go from being dry and sticky to wet and stretchy, much like egg whites, as estrogen levels rise and you approach ovulation.

As our expert, Dr. Nicole Tod, explains, “Cervical mucus changes are a sign of ovulation. Oftentimes women's discharge throughout their cycle is thick, it's white. But around the time of ovulation it becomes a lot thinner, more clear, more slippery. It will look almost like egg whites.”

Increase in Basal Body Temperature

Basal body temperature (BBT), your body's temperature at rest, can also be a helpful indicator. You might notice a slight increase in your BBT after ovulation, typically by about 0.5 to 1 degree Fahrenheit. So, investing in a reliable BBT thermometer could be a great help in keeping track of these changes. I never did this, but the app I used for tracking my cycle called Glow, allows users to track BBT. You just need to purchase a thermometer. There are also now smart thermometers that sync with an app.

Ovulation Pain or Discomfort

“Some women will feel a sharp pain in their lower abdomen or pelvic area that's likely associated with the rupture of the dominant follicle in the release of the egg,” Dr. Tod says. This is known as ‘mittelschmerz' or ‘middle pain.'

Often this pain is felt on one side where the ovary has released an egg. Every woman is different, and not everyone will experience this so-called ‘mittelschmerz' or ‘middle pain.'

Changes in Sex Drive

Finally, you might notice a heightened sex drive around this time. This is due to the surge in estrogen levels signaling your body that it's time for egg release. Keep in mind that this doesn't happen to everyone, and it's perfectly fine if you don't notice this change.

Woman experiencing menstrual pain
Photo by cottonbro studio

When Does Ovulation Occur After Giving Birth?

The timeline post-childbirth varies from woman to woman. Some may find themselves ovulating as early as six weeks after giving birth, while others, especially breastfeeding moms, might go several months, or even a year, without ovulating. And, here's the kicker – you could actually experience a few anovulatory cycles before your first postpartum period.

Dr. Tod emphasizes, however, that “many women are not going to know when ovulation is actually returning, especially while breastfeeding.”

Factors Affecting Postpartum Ovulation

Tons of factors come into play when it comes to postpartum ovulation. Your body, just recovering from the miraculous task of childbirth, is on its own timeline. Hormone levels, specifically prolactin (the milk-producing hormone), plays a significant role in suppressing ovulation. The frequency and intensity of breastfeeding, your overall health, and stress levels can all impact when your body is ready to ovulate again. But let's dive into two significant factors: breastfeeding and your fertility awareness. As breastfeeding patterns change over time, prolactin levels usually decrease, leading to the increase of hormones responsible for ovulation, such as luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and marking the beginning of the cycle.

Fertility Awareness Methods for Tracking Ovulation

Several methods can help you track your return to fertility post-childbirth, including observing changes in cervical mucus, tracking your basal body temperature (you're looking for that slight rise), and monitoring for those telltale twinges of ovulation pain. These methods can provide valuable clues about your menstrual cycle and ovulation. There are also ovulation prediction kits that measure luteinizing hormone (LH) levels in your urine. This hormone increases 24 to 48 hours before ovulation, so the kits can help predict your “fertile window” and the timing of menstruation.

Ovulation While Breastfeeding: The Connection Explained

Whether you're a new mom or about to welcome your little one, understanding the relationship between breastfeeding and ovulation is crucial.

Breastfeeding and Prolactin

Breastfeeding triggers the release of a hormone called prolactin, which is essential for lactation. “Now, if you're breastfeeding, you're releasing a hormone called prolactin and prolactin has been associated with suppressing ovulation,” Dr. Nicole Tod explains. This is why sustained breastfeeding, especially night feeds, has a contraceptive effect and forms the basis of the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of birth control.

However, this doesn't mean that breastfeeding is a foolproof method of contraception. Dr. Tod emphasizes that “it's not reliable, it's not consistent.”

The Role of Consistency

Consistency is key when it comes to breastfeeding as a natural contraceptive. “If a woman is breastfeeding, you have to be on a very consistent schedule,” says Dr. Tod. So if you're breastfeeding on a defined schedule, waking up in the middle of the night for routine feedings, not skipping pumping sessions when you are back to work, there's a higher chance that you are suppressing ovulation with your breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months is generally considered to be natural birth control. Namely, to produce milk, your body also produces high levels of a hormone called prolactin. This hormone, in turn, suppresses the production of ovulation hormones.

But life happens, right? We go on date nights, we see family members, a last minute work meeting gets scheduled, our partners occasionally take over the nighttime feedings, and sometimes, we just need a good night's sleep! “If you're pumping, if you decide to sleep one night and your partner is doing the feedings that night, or you go on vacation and you're not consistently breastfeeding, you potentially could ovulate,” Dr. Tod warns.

Woman holding a baby and kissing the top of their head.
Photo by Anna Shvets

Can You Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding?

The short answer is yes. “You can absolutely get pregnant while breastfeeding,” Dr. Tod confirms.

While breastfeeding, particularly night feeds, releases prolactin which has a contraceptive effect, this effectiveness decreases over time. It particularly wanes once solid foods are introduced or night feeds decrease. So, if you're not ready for another baby yet, it's wise to explore other contraception options.

Chances of Conception During Postpartum Ovulation

To emphasize again, while breastfeeding can suppress ovulation, it's not a 100% reliable method of birth control. It's important to have open discussions with your healthcare provider about contraception, even when you're breastfeeding. 

“I tell my patients you have about a 20% chance of conceiving in a perfect scenario,” says Dr. Tod. It's crucial to remember that ovulation does not guarantee pregnancy. There are numerous other factors at play. “Just because you ovulate does not mean a guarantee of pregnancy,” Dr. Tod adds, “But if you ovulate postpartum, you're just as likely to get pregnant.”

And remember, even before your periods resume, you might ovulate. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are You Super Fertile After Giving Birth?

The idea of “super fertility” after childbirth is a bit of a myth. Yes, your body does go back to its fertile state, but it's not necessarily at turbo speed. And, it's important to note, fertility depends on a ton of factors, not just whether you've recently given birth.

Does the Type of Delivery (Vaginal or C-section) Affect Postpartum Ovulation?

Whether you had a vaginal birth or a C-section doesn't directly influence when you'll start ovulating again. It's more about your hormones and how quickly they return to their pre-pregnancy levels.

What About After a Miscarriage or Ectopic Pregnancy?

Ovulation can return within a few weeks following a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, but it varies for everyone. “It's not that ovulation itself is going to change, but even if your pregnancy is ectopic, you are pregnant, and your body has pregnancy hormones. Those pregnancy hormones will have to clear from your system and your cycle will have to be restarted with the FSH, the LH, the progesterone, the estrogen, in order for you to begin ovulating again,” explains Dr. Nicole Tod.

Featured image by Oleksandr P


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