The first time I dug into reading and learning about signs of fertility, charting, and what that could mean for me, I was in my early twenties. A few years on hormonal birth control - supposedly to "fix" issues with ovarian cysts and eventually for family planning - resulted in a symptom after symptom that required more medications just to keep me functional enough to attend graduate school.
While my providers initially dismissed the connections between symptoms and the pill, I now know that my some of my symptoms indicated that I could be at increased risk for stroke when taking hormonal birth control. At that point, I knew there had to be a better way.
While jokes about natural family planning abound - I remember a midwife telling me it was "naturally planning to have a family" - there are a wide variety of methods to chart and interpret fertility. These methods can be leveraged for a variety of purposes - to understand your body, to conceive a child, or to prevent pregnancy.
So here's a little bit more about fertility charting and why you may love it, too.
1. Understanding your body
When I first dove into research concerning various methods of fertility charting at age 23, my initial reaction was one of extreme frustration. Why had no one provided this education to me 10 years ago when I went through puberty? Beyond noting the difference between healthy and problematic discharge, I had NO IDEA that the variations in cervical mucus I observed when going to the bathroom had a rhyme and reason connected to my cycle and fertility.
Charting your fertility allows you to connect more deeply with yourself and your understanding of your own biology. Regardless of whether or not you employ this to plan your family, it is a powerful tool simply in that - knowing they whats and whys of your own body.
2. This isn't your grandmother's rhythm method.
A lot of the jokes and assumptions you'll hear about any mention of charting your fertility or a variety of approaches to natural family planning assume that you are discussing the rhythm method - an approach to family planning where you time your intercourse around the assumption of a 28 day cycle, where ovulation is predicted at day 14.
While these numbers of 28 and 14 are often cited in a discussion of how fertility works, in actuality many women experience a large spectrum of variation in the length of their cycle which in turn means that ovulation does not occur when a simple counting of calendar days would put it.
So if counting doesn't work, how do we chart fertility? Much more reliable than simple generalizations is an observation of your OWN particular signs of fertility. Here, several approaches to fertility charting fall under the umbrella of Symptothermal Methods - that is, methods that rely on charting your basal body temperature as well as other signs of fertility such as cervical mucus and the position of your cervix.
3. Timing conception.
Charting your fertility can allow you an understanding of your fertility window - the time in which conception is likely to occur - as well as confirming that ovulation occurred. Instead of aiming for day 14, you can tailor your plans directly to the specific indications of fertility given in your own cycle.
If you've been trying to conceive for a few months and are starting to feel frustrated, fertility charting can be a noninvasive approach to gaining more information.
4. Trouble Shooting
The data gained in fertility charting can also aid you in trouble shooting potential issues. Wondering if you are ovulating after going off hormonal birth control? Your basal body temperature can help you confirm whether or not an ovulatory event occurs. Some data could indicate a variety of natural supplements to explore, while other aspects of charting could indicate if their are concerns with hormone levels. All in all, it provides a host of data points to bring to a knowledgeable medical provider if and when you have questions about your cycle.
5. Family Planning
When I discuss the family planning aspect of fertility charting with clients, I'm always reminded that choices around this topic are intensely personal and should always be in tune with a client's values, needs, and preferences.
Recently, the CDC changed its view on the efficacy of Fertility Awareness Based Methods for contraception - citing a failure rate of 2%-23%.
Why such larger variation? This big span in numbers is due to the wide variety of methods that fall under the umbrella of this category, with some offering more efficacy than others. And, when you consider the failure rates cited for a variety of common birth control methods - condoms (13%), pill/patch (7%), shot (4%) - those looking for an alternate tool for family planning may find a fertility awareness method with a lower failure rate appealing.
Regardless of your plans for conception or family planning, fertility charting allows you to connect with your cycle in a new and helpful way. I hope I've piqued your interest to learn more.
Do you already chart your fertility? Share about your experiences in the comments!
Are you interested in learning more about fertility charting? As a fertility doula, I offer preconception support as well as charting education and support. Read more about these services here. Sign up for a discovery call, and we can have a quick chat to see if Nested Mama services are the right fit for you!
Are you considering adding a new little one to your family, but you still have a nursling?
Are you wondering about breastfeeding while pregnant, weaning in pregnancy, or tandem nursing?
Unless you have a friend or family member who has nursed during and perhaps through a pregnancy, you may not be familiar with options and resources for nursing while pregnant.
Here are a collection of FAQs and resources you may find helpful.
***As always, consult your medical provider for any questions about your specific situation.
How does nursing impact ability to conceive?
The hormones at work in breastfeeding can delay the return of the breastfeeding parent's fertility, so it depends on many individual factors as far as when and if one can conceive while breastfeeding. While some experience the return of fertility with in a few months of giving birth while breastfeeding, others may not until fully weaning. Because ovulation can occur before the onset of the first menses, some breastfeeding parents may conceive without every noting the return of their cycle, while others may experience anovulatory cycles before a full return of fertility. If you wish to understand and chart your cycle, a fertility doula is a great first resource as you navigate this time.
Is it safe to nurse during pregnancy?
Nursing releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that causes uterine contractions. However, research suggests that this level of oxytocin, similar to that released during orgasm, does not pose an increased risk for miscarriage or preterm labor. There are certain situations of pregnancy or complications where you may be advised to wean, and these should be discussed with your medical provider.
Will I be able to provide for my nursling while pregnant or will my supply be impacted?
Whether or not you need to supplement with donor milk or formula will depend on your unique situation as well as little one's age and stage. For babies under a year, breastmilk or formula should still be the primary form of nutrition - and diapers and weight gain are the indicators of sufficient intake. (Always consult your medical provider if you have concerns about baby's intake.) Older babies may gradually transition to more solid food intake, and older nurslings may choose to nurse more or less frequently depending on changes in supply and taste. Kellymom notes that while a decrease in supply by the midpoint of pregnancy is typical, some notice a lessening of supply (and perhaps increased demand from their nursling) as early as the first month of pregnancy.
What are the challenges of nursing while pregnant?
While the experiences of breastfeeding while pregnant may vary to person to person, some challenges you may note include feeling touched out or aversions to nursing. You may also experience sensitivity and pain with nursing during different points in the pregnancy. If your nursling is a toddler, you may be successful setting loving limits around your nursing times that allow you to sustain this relationship during pregnancy.
What about colostrum - will my baby still get enough?
While pregnant, your body will switch from mature milk to the production of colostrum. This colostrum production continues until hormonal changes from the delivery of the placenta in the third stage of labor triggers a shift into transitional and then mature milk. After the new baby is born, you may want to make sure to feed the new baby first to insure he or she gets those good antibodies. And, your older nursling may experience some laxative effects from the colostrum, as well.
What is tandem nursing and how does that work?
If you choose to nurse an older sibling through pregnancy, tandem nursing - nursing two at the same time - is an option. A great resource on this topic - even for those just starting to think about nursing and pregnancy - is La Leche League's Adventures in Tandem Nursing. Full of evidence-based information as well as the personal stories of breastfeeding parents who have nursed through pregnancy and beyond - this book is thorough and truly helpful.
As far as what tandem nursing looks like for your little family, know that there is no right or wrong. For some, setting limits with the older sibling as far as when and how long he or she can nurse works to help the breastfeeding parent not become overwhelmed. For others, the opportunity to nurse both at the same time allows for more rest as opposed to nursing the new baby and worrying about what the toddler could be doing.
If you do find yourself needing to set limits for your older child, making sure to communicate your wishes, offering other options for comfort (snuggling, reading a book, having a snack or a drink), and being empathetic to any big feels can be so helpful. Here, making sure to have a solid postpartum plan to support you as you navigate these early days with sibling interaction can also be truly important.
While the word doula may be most commonly associated with birth support, the word itself actually comes from the Greek word for servant or "one who serves."
What, then, is a fertility doula? A fertility doula is a trained professional who provides preconception support to individuals and partners as they follow their path to parenthood. Just as a birth doula brings non-medical, non-judgmental informational, emotional, and physical support to the time around labor and birth, a fertility doula brings that same model to preconception and (in)fertility.
Just as birth brings options for choices, so does the path to conception. For clients just beginning their conception journey, a fertility doula provides evidence-based information on tracking and charting fertility as well as holistic resources to support you along the way. Making sure you and your partner are on the same page with understanding how fertility works and maximizing your fertility window can save you stress and guesswork at the start!
For those couples who have been trying to conceive for 6 or more months, a fertility doula can be a lifeline as they navigate options for medication and reproductive technology. Your fertility doula is nonjudgmental and always in your corner - meaning you can feel free to express your concerns and wishes without the pressures that can come from others. Navigating options for infertility treatment can be overwhelming, as can finding supportive practitioners you can trust. Your doula is with you every step of the way, helping you evaluate your options and tune into you intuition as you make these choices which are so important to you and your partner.
As a trained Fertility Specialist, I bring a host of tools to support my fertility clients in their journey. These tools include a mind/body approach (which research suggests aids in conception). A mind/body approach complements any treatments you may receive and also provides you tools that can help you navigate the experience with less stress.
And, as a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Advocate, I understand that your journey to start and grow your family may have included experiences of loss. I understand, too, that pregnancy after loss and/or infertility comes with different emotions and challenges. Because of that understanding, I also extend my doula work to include early pregnancy support - providing the informational and emotional support you need as you move through the early weeks of pregnancy.
For many, experiencing pregnancy after loss or infertility comes with a desire to keep this stage of pregnancy more private, but this can also result in feelings of loneliness - with fertility doula support and early pregnancy support, you don't have to go it alone.
So, when should you hire a fertility doula?
When you first consider trying to conceive or intend to start your journey in the coming months, your fertility doula provides you the insight and the support you need to feel confident planning for this journey.
When you feel frustrated after a few months of trying to conceive and want some holistic tools, your fertility doula equips you with an evidence-based understanding of fertility and fertility tracking education to support this stage of your journey.
When you begin to investigate infertility options, your fertility doula provides the informational and emotional support you need to fully explore your options with no judgment.
When you are navigating fertility treatments, your fertility doula support includes a mind/body approach to complement and support these treatments.
When you are experiencing loss or conception after loss, your fertility doula provides wholehearted support and connection to resources - and most importantly, makes sure you don't feel alone in this experience.
When you move through early pregnancy after loss or infertility, your fertility doula offers continuity of support, walking with you in these challenging and exciting days and weeks of early pregnancy.
No matter where you are on your path to grow your family, your fertility doula will meet you there with empathy and understanding.
Want to learn more about fertility doula support? Reach out for a free discovery call today!
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.