How to Track Your Menstrual Cycle
Why Track Your Menstrual Cycle?
There can be many different reasons why you may want to track your menstrual cycle. A few of my favorites reasons include using it as a form of birth control (I did this for four years!), as a way to help you conceive, to better connect to your body, understand it and its needs, and to pursue cyclic living.
One of the most amazing things about tracking your cycle through Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), the method we will discuss for how to track your cycle, is it doesn’t affect your ability to conceive. There’s no time frame, like there is after getting off birth control, that your body needs to normalize. In fact, FAM only better helps you increase your chances of fertility because it preserves your fertility (1).
How We Encouraging Tracking: The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)
For the purposes of this blog post, and for my clinical work and online education resources, I will be encouraging tracking through the symptothermal method of Fertility Awareness Method. This is not the calendar method, also referred to as the rhythm method. The calendar or rhythm method is assuming that you ovulate the same time, same day every month. Almost all healthy women have cycles that vary so relying on your body to ovulate the same day every month is not a reliable birth control or conception method.
This is using your body and the signs it provides you throughout the month to know when you are ovulating, confirm you are ovulating and predict your next menstrual cycle as a result. If you are using this information to help conceive, knowing when you are ovulating and confirming ovulation will instead help you predict when the best time to have sex to increase your chances of conceiving.
This method of tracking we encourage in our practice, the symptothermal method, uses three signs from your body to track your cycle: 1. Your cervical mucus. 2. Your cervical position and 3. A rise in your basal body temperature reading.
How to Track Your Menstrual Cycle using the symptothermal method
Basal body temperature (BBT) reading.
With all three, you can correctly predict and then confirm ovulation. Again, you can use this information in a variety of ways. You can use this as a form of birth control by avoiding having sex the seven days around ovulation*. You can use this information to help you conceive, planning to have sex on your peak day of ovulation. You can even use this information to help you flow and live your life according to your menstrual cycle (this is essentially what “cyclic living” is). Let’s go over these three signs in more detail.
*Please note: This is general information only. If you want to use FAM as a form of birth control, make sure you have a consistent cycle and months of tracking before you use it as your only source of birth control. This can be a very effective method of birth control, but it requires education and insight into your body. This is not meant to be used for medical advice or to replace working with a health care provider.
While any sign of cervical mucus is a sign of fertility, there are different ways your cervical mucus can look that can help you predict and then confirm ovulation. Your most fertile cervical mucus is clear, stretchy and lubricated, often to referred to as an “egg-white” look and consistency. After you have ovulated, you should notice a significant change in your mucus to dry, which would confirm you did ovulate the day prior.
This sign of all the three is the best at helping you predict that you are indeed ovulating, while the next two can act to confirm that ovulation did occur.
Did you know that your cervix changes positions and feels different after you ovulate? Before you ovulate, your cervix is high in your vagina and more soft and open. After you ovulate, your cervix drops and will feel lower, firm and more closed. While the other two signs are best at helping predict (cervical mucus) and then confirm ovulation (your BBT reading), checking your cervical position helps you with a second layer of confirmation that ovulation did occur.
Basal body temperature (BBT) reading
BBT is taken with a thermometer (or a tracking device like the Daysy or Ava tracker) first thing in the morning, before you have moved, used the bathroom, and consumed any fluids or foods. It is your resting temperature and can be tracked to confirm ovulation. In your follicular phase, your temperature will be low consistently. But after the egg is released during ovulation your progesterone levels spike and this will cause a spike in your BBT as well. A temperature spike will remain sustained (for at least three days) after you ovulated and throughout your luteal phase will confirm ovulation.
According to Lisa Hendrickson-Jack (1), to increase correct prediction, you want to check your BBT after five hours of consecutive sleep, keep the thermometer in the same place for 10 minutes and aim to take your temperature at the same time daily. You’ll want to track this consistently every single day, so be sure to have a printed chart to check it with or use an app to help you track it.
Having used the symptothermal method of FAM for four years personally, I can say that it was one of the best ways I connected to my body to help me better understand it. I know it can seem daunting as you are reading this or just getting started, but just like brushing your teeth becomes a habit- I promise this can become a habit, too.
Tell me: What do you think of FAM? Would you consider using it to help you better track and understand your menstrual cycle?
More cycle tracking and hormonal support resources:
The Fifth Vital Sign Book
No Period, Now What Book
(1) Hendrickson-Jack, Lisa. Fifth Vital Sign.