Let’s talk about a simple and basic step every woman should take on her fertility journey, and that is charting your cycle. It can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be, but knowing what is happening in your body right now is a game-changer.
Why Chart Your Menstrual Cycle?
Charting your cycle, or tracking your period can seem like one more task in an already over-tasked life, but this simple daily activity helps you to tune in and connect with the processes and rhythms that drive your life. This is such a simple and useful tool for women for so many reasons.
Cycle charting can be as simple as noting the first day of each new menstrual period and the number of days of menstrual bleeding (which is normally called the rhythm method), which can show you where you are in your cycle at any give time. If you’re trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid pregnancy, this isn’t the best method and more detailed charting should be done.
The cycle charting I most often use in the preconception phase is in depth including noting daily oral basal body temperatures and cervical fluid changes in an appropriate paper chart or charting app as is call FAM, or Fertility Awareness Method.
Charting your menstrual cycle is a way to be more in tune with your body and the symptoms associated with your hormones. Charting is also a way to pinpoint hormonally related symptoms, especially when they are symptoms you don’t normally associate with hormones. this method also lets them know their most fertile window within each given cycle.
Here are the situations that benefit most from cycle charting:
- To see if your symptoms have a hormonal link. For women, hormones are involved in our health in very complex ways and often influence the symptoms we experience. Everything from typical hormone symptoms like migraines, fatigue, and PMS to very atypical symptoms like joint pain, irritable bowels, and rashes can be influenced by your hormones. If you have a symptom that comes and goes, keeping track of it when you chart your cycle or on a period tracker app can give you good insights into possible hormone links and great information to share with your doctor or practitioner.
- To prevent pregnancy. Women who have difficulty tolerating birth control pills or who prefer not to use them often track their menstrual cycles and either abstain from sex during the fertile window or use barrier contraception like condoms or the female condom during the fertile window. This can help to decrease the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
- To become pregnant. For fertility, cycle charting is an invaluable tool that can help you determine when you’re fertile, but also give you good indicators that you are (or aren’t) ovulating monthly. By accurately doing detailed charting including basal body temperature tracking and cervical mucus, you can not only know when your fertile window is so you can have sex at the most optimal time, but also you have early warning if things aren’t happening as they should be and you can reach out to your doctor or practitioner right away instead of waiting a full year, which is the normal window for a sub-fertility diagnosis, for some indicator that fertility is declining.
- To see if you’re ovulating normally. Detailed cycle charting can show you exactly when you are ovulating through the combination of cervical mucus changes and basal body temperature changes. If you are trying to get pregnant it is crucial that you have healthy ovulation.
Who Should NOT Chart Their Cycle
Detailed period tracking and cycle charting is an invaluable tool that can help women to feel in closer touch with their bodies, but it isn’t right for every woman. Some women with OCD or anxiety find detailed charting extremely stressful. Some women with depression aren’t able to keep up with detailed charting. I do not recommend charting if it is stress inducing. This could include women with:
- Some women with anxiety disorders, especially anxiety that centers around health or over-monitoring.
- Some women with OCD, again especially if obsessions or compulsions center around body and physical health issues
- Some women with current or past body dysmorphia or disordered eating for whom hyper-awareness of their body might be detrimental to their health journey.
- Some women with major depressive disorder, especially if the complexity and regularity of cycle charting is too much at the moment.
For the women in these categories, simple period tracking in which you take note of the first day of your menstrual cycle (day 1) and the number of days you bleed is the best method. This still gives you valuable information but can help to avoid the body hyper focus that is possible with more detailed charting.
What Tools Do I need To Chart My Cycle?
We recommend three things:
A good basal body temperature thermometer
A paper chart (like the one in the back of Taking Charge of Your Fertility) or a period tracker app.
What About Period Tracker Apps?
Because of the political climate in the US and the heartbreaking reversal of roe v wade in 2022, Period tracker apps might not be as safe as it used to be for people with the capacity for pregnancy. There are potential issues of privacy and the possibility of selling women’s data. At this time in the US, paper charting may be a safer method.
If you feel comfortable with the potential risks of period tracker apps, there are two that we suggest.
- Kindara is a period tracker that gives great graphical data and is specifically developed around getting pregnant faster.
- Stardust is a great any-situation period tracker with great visual charts of your hormone picture on this particular day and the added bonus of hilarious push messages and fun links to the lunar cycle.
How To Chart Your Cycle For Fertility
Using this method, you will of course take note of the first day of your menstrual cycle, which is the first day you bleed.
Every day before you get out of bed, use a basal body temperature thermometer orally to take an accurate temperature. This must be done when you first wake up, before you go to the bathroom, have a coffee, or get out of bed. Take note of this temperature on your chart or in your app.
Also, each day take note of any symptoms you have as well as the quality of your vaginal discharge. This is the fluid in your panties every day and it changes according to your hormones. Some days it might be watery, some days more creamy or lotions, some days more like egg whites.
The day you ovulate, you will see a rise in your basal body temperature that is driven by progesterone coming from the corpus luteum, which is the little pocket on your ovary that released the egg. Your basal body temperature should stay elevated for the rest of the month until your next menstrual cycle.
What is My Fertile Window?
You are most fertile and most able to conceive in the days just before your ovulation. If you’re using the fertility awareness method of cycle charting, these are the days when you will notice egg white discharge in your panties, before your temperature rises during your ovulatory temperature spike and one day after your temperature rises just for good measure. If you are trying to get pregnant, this is the time in which it is most important to have frequent sex. In a typical 28 day cycle, this corresponds to roughly days 9 to 14 of your cycle, but can vary depending on your particular body, your hormonal health, and your normal cycle length.
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