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Postpartum Charting with Fertility Awareness

I like to call postpartum charting the Wild Wild West of fertility awareness. If you've read my earlier post about breast-feeding and postpartum, then you've probably got a better handle on why this is the case than most. Let's dive a bit deeper at why this is the case, and what can be done about it.

mother and baby sleeping on couch

When you are postpartum, even if you do not choose to breastfeed your baby, there will be a period of time when your body is essentially coming back "online" after having around nine months of not cycling. We call this "Cycle 0." This can often lead to confusing biomarkers for charting, and lots of frustration on the part of the person who is charting, but there are a few things that can be done to mitigate those frustrations.

First, what happens after Cycle 0?

Cycle 0 is what we call the time between when you delivered your baby, and when your period returns. This timeframe varies woman to woman and even pregnancy to pregnancy and is influenced by a multitude of factors, but one thing that is crucial to understand is that just because your period came back or you had a bleed, does not mean you are now able to expect normal cycles like you had before baby. When you are postpartum, we expect to see your cycles following an irregular ->to ->regular pattern. This means that they will be irregular at first, but we want to see them developing back into normal cycle parameters over time. I'll use my own charting as an example here so we can look at what I mean. Below is a simplified version of my postpartum charting. You can see I tracked bleeding from delivery (though this is not required, I am just a data nerd so I wanted to have it.)

postpartum charting example with colored dots

It is during this Cycle 0 that I was watching, charting and waiting for my body to ovulate again. For those who are not familiar with charting at all, the blue dots of either color depict days of fertility for me.

I started a new chart and called it "Cycle 1" once I had what I considered to be a normal bleed for me, and was confident that ovulation had taken place. There are a few days of spotting in my Cycle 0 above, but that was not like a normal period, nor did I have normal mucus pattern, so I did not start a new cycle. You can see the next cycles depicted below again in this simplified manner. Many women report that Cycle 1 postpartum is very long, in addition to having all the signs of fertility throughout. I shortened it here so it was easier to read, but this cycle actually took place over the course of about 50 days.

postpartum charting example with colored dots new cycle

Skip ahead to Cycle 3 shown below and this one is looking more like my normal, but was still a longer cycle around 40 days. It is following the pattern we want to see, where those cycles are gradually returning to normal.

postpartum charting example with colored dots next cycle

Finally, by my fifth cycle here, it's looking like it's back to normal. It was normal length for me around 30 days, and most of my biomarkers had returned to normal.

postpartum charting example with colored dots final example

Returning to normal can be a challenge for some, and that is yet another reason why having an instructor is so vital, especially in this stage of life. Things can be confusing, as you can see from my Cycle 0! But if we are not seeing that pattern of returning to normal cycle parameters, it's definitely something your instructor should be talking to you about. In addition to this, there are other things you can do to help mitigate some of the confusion during this time.

1. Find and Learn a Method

My first recommendation would be to learn a true method. After this, you will want to make sure you have a good relationship with your instructor, and then finally, communicate with your spouse on the daily.

So, what do I mean when I talk about learning a "true" method? I mean finding an instructor to teach you the specifics of charting according to an established method. There are many methods of FAM, and all of them have their own postpartum protocols that are meant to help guide you. (If you are looking for a method, here's a great resource to help you narrow down your options.) While books and resources abound on the internet, there is no substitute for learning those protocols from an instructor. Undoubtedly questions will come up and just learning a method will answer many of them. Having to navigate the confusing cycles that come with postpartum and confusing biomarkers will certainly bring up more questions for you, so having the benefit of learning an established method with postpartum protocols to follow will help. Most methods I have seen, including FEMM, have handouts for students to take home and refer back to when they have extra questions. When you have even more questions than what is explained on those handouts is when your instructor comes in handy. Having a good relationship with an instructor of your method is essential for navigating this postpartum period. You'll likely be talking with them about some very intimate and personal things when postpartum on top of having questions about how to maintain your family planning goals while in this time period.

2. Interview Instructor Options

Just as important as it is to find a method that fits you, you should try to find an instructor with whom you mesh well. You are learning from them, but ultimately the decision making lies with you, the student of the method. You (the student of the method) have the power in this situation. I would recommend once you find a method that you like, you interview a few instructors before deciding. Many instructors including myself offer a discovery call before instruction begins, so that you can meet and discuss pragmatics before making that final decision. Ask them questions about their average response time, how follow-ups work and any more you might have. I have seen frequently people who are frustrated with the task of charting postpartum and they become even more frustrated with an instructor who takes forever to reply to them. This is not to say that every instructor should always answer immediately. It's just a matter of laying out clear expectations so that both parties know and are comfortable with the plan and know what to expect.

3. Communicate with your spouse

The final suggestion I have for navigating this challenging time is to communicate with your spouse. What this looks like will vary from couple to couple depending on your own personalities. It is vital to your charting to make sure that both partners are on the same page with your family planning goals. People who have completed my family planning course get a family planning guide sheet that's meant to help facilitate these discussions together.

In addition to ensuring that you and your partner are on the same page with your family planning goals, another thing you'll want to talk about is how charting is going. I've seen some couples who use paper charting over the app during this time period, because the paper charts can be taped to the bathroom wall. This way, you remember to make your observations and record them, and your spouse has access to them whenever they want to see the chart.

I hope this lengthy explanation in addition to some tips has made you feel less overwhelmed by the prospect of charting in your postpartum phase. There can be a great relief and consolation in watching your fertility return to it's normal after having a baby.

If you are interested in learning how to chart, I would recommend learning and taking the class before baby comes so that you don't have to try and navigate learning a method while all these changes are happening, but it is still possible! Learning to chart is an eye opening experience and even if you are already deep into postpartum, don't let that stop you. The information you gain from learning a method will carry with you into every stage of your life and it will enable you to be a better patient as well as be more in charge of your own healthcare.

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