Dawna Ara, L.Ac.

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Healthy Living Podcast #2: Fertility Awareness Method

In this episode of the Healthy Living Podcast Dawna teaches you how to chart your cycle to increase your chances of conception. Charting your cycle can be one of the best ways for you to take control and understand your body cues and what is happening hormonally during your cycle.

N: Ok Dawna, why should women who want to get pregnant chart their cycle? What kinds of benefits can they get from it?

D: Well, Natalie, charting your menstrual cycle can be one of the best ways to know when and if you are ovulating. And you want to know when you are ovulating so you can increase your chances of conception. Studies have shown that women who track their ovulation have higher conception rates. Each woman has a unique menstrual cycle. Getting familiar with your own menstrual cycle can decrease the stress and anxiety while trying to get pregnant and allow you to be more relaxed in the process.

N: What kind of information should be recorded on a fertility chart?

D: Well there are 3 primary signs that you should be tracking when your trying to get pregnant. At the very least you should be tracking your basal body temperature BBT, you should be tracking changes in your cervical fluid, and you should be tracking the position of the cervix. The reason why it’s best to track all of these is that together they will give you a more accurate picture of when you are ovulating. Other signs that are good to keep track of are changes in your mood, breast tenderness, lower abdominal pain or cramping, timing of intercourse, if you’re sick, if you’re having trouble sleeping, headaches, food cravings, and bloating and weight fluctuations.

N: So what is Basal body temperature and what does it tell us?

D: Your Basal Body Temperature is your lowest body temperature throughout a 24 hour period. It is lowest in the early morning during sleep. So this is why you want to take it right when you wake up before you get out of bed. In women hormonal changes that take place during ovulation cause your bbt to rise ½ – 1 full degree fahrenheit. So tracking your BBT will help you keep track of when you are ovulating. Women tend to have lower temperatures in the first half of their cycle and higher temperatures in the second half of the cycle. This is why it’s sometimes referred as a biphasic pattern, meaning there are 2 phases to the menstrual cycle. These phases are known as the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
Also the basal body temperature tells us about the presence of progesterone in the body. progesterone is a hormone that causes your body temperature to rise and is present throughout pregnancy. So once your temperature rises you’ve already ovulated. This is important. This means that your BBT tells you that you’ve ovulated after the fact. This is why it’s good to keep track of your cervical fluid and position of the cervix as well. They tell you ovulation is imminent.

N:What’s so important about cervical fluid, why do we need to track this?

D: So your cervical fluid is produced by the cervix. If you pay attention to it it will give you clues of when you are about to ovulate and when you are most fertile. Cervical fluid changes throughout the cycle. It changes in texture, it changes in consistency, color, and amount. After your period you will notice that there is not much fluid, that you are rather dry. A few later days you will start to notice sticky thick fluid that can be white or slightly pale yellow in color. When you start to become fertile you will notice that the fluid is slippery, stretchy, clear or opaque, and has the consistency of raw egg white. This is what’s called fertile mucus. The last day you see this fluid is the day you are most fertile and should be having intercouse. The presence of fertile mucus is your sign that you are about to ovulate. So fertile mucus tells you you are about to ovulate, and BBT tells you you’ve already ovulated.

N: What makes fertile mucus fertile? Why is it called fertile mucus?

D: Because it acts as food and shelter for the sperm. Sperm can last up to 5 days in the presence of fertile mucus. It makes the environment of the vaginal canal less acidic and allows sperm to travel further up into the uterus so it can find and fertilize an egg. If no fertile mucus is present sperm will die rather quickly.

N: Ok so how are we supposed to check for cervical fluid, just look for it in our underwear?

D: Yes, the best time to check for cervical fluid is in the morning after you go to the bathroom. Some women can see it on their underwear or on the toilet paper, but other women may need to collect a sample with their fingers. If you touch it with your thumb and index finger and then spread your fingers apart you will see that it stretches.

N:Ok, and then what does the position of the cervix tell us?

D: So the position of your cervix will change in response to estrogen. When you are infertile the cervix is lower and firm, like the tip of your nose. When estrogen rises and you become fertile, your cervix softens and is higher up in the vaginal canal. It feels more like a person’s lips.

N: So those are the 3 primary signs that should be charted? BBT, cervical fluid, and cervix position.

D: Yes, but again keeping track of secondary signs like mood changes, weight fluctuations, food cravings, and mid month lower abdominal cramping can be very helpful as well.

N: Ok, so lets do this. How do we chart our cycles? What are some of the basics that women need to know about charting their temperature?

D: The first thing the listeners should do is get a fertility chart. If you don’t have one you can download one off my website.

N: Ok so that can be found at dawnaara.com?

D: Yes! You will need to take your temperature every morning at the same time before you get out of bed. You can use a regular digital thermometer but BBT thermometers are more sensitive and precise.

N: And where can we get a BBT thermometer?

D: You can buy a BBT thermometer at any drugstore or online on amazon. So, day 1 of the fertility chart is day one of your menstrual cycle. Your menstrual cycle starts on the first day you have blood flow, not the first day of spotting. If you for some reason decide to start charting your temperatures at a time other than the first day of cycle make sure you are marking it accordingly. For example, if you start charting on day 15, leave days 1 – 14 blank on your fertility chart and put the temperature for day 15 on day 15 of the chart.

N: Are we supposed to be doing this every morning or is it ok if we miss a day by accident?

D: So you’re gonna want to be recording your temperature every morning right when you wake up, before you get out of bed. If you skip or miss a day you may miss ovulation so it’s best if you can set yourself a reminder to do this.

N: Ok, how do we know when we are about to ovulate or if we have already ovulated?

D: Again fertile mucus which is the mucus that is stretchy, clear, and slippery appears before ovulation. It may last between 3 – 5 days. Your cervix will soften and rise up, and lastly your BBT will go up after you’ve ovulated. Remember to be recording cervical fluid on the chart as well. Once you see fertile mucus make note of it on your chart.

N: When are we most fertile?

D: The days you are most fertile are the 2 days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation. This means for most women you are only fertile for 3 – 5 days total during your cycle. Remember that sperm can last up to 5 days with the presence of fertile mucus. Once the egg is released during ovulation you only have up to 24 hours for fertilization to take place because the egg starts to deteriorate and die. So it’s important to start having intercourse before ovulation takes place. Although you may have heard that ovulation occurs midcycle or around day 14, this may not be the case for you. Some women ovulate as early as day 9 while other women ovulate as late as day 17 or even later, some women ovulate more than once during the cycle, and some women don’t ovulate at all. This is why it is so important to be keeping track of your cycle. It can tell you so much about your body.

N: How long does one have to chart their cycle for?

D: Well you can do it for just a month but the whole idea of charting is so you can see a pattern and predict fertility of future cycles. I generally tell women to chart for at least 3 full menstrual cycles to see a pattern.

N: Ok, sounds good. How do you know if you’ve ovulated? What signs should we look for on the chart?

D: You’re going to have to look for changes in your cervical fluid and for a rise in temperature on your BBT chart. Remember, like I said before, slippery stretchy egg white clear cervical mucus tells you you are about to ovulate. A rise in temperature on your chart will tell you that you’ve already ovulated. This is why I recommend to all my clients coming in for fertility to not only check for CF but to also chart your temperature for confirmation. Your basal body temperature (BBT) will rise 0.4 – 1.0 fahrenheit after ovulation has occurred. This means ovulation usually occurs on the last day of low temperatures. When you get 3 consecutive high temperatures in a row after 6 low temperatures, then you know you have ovulated.

N: Ok, so we are looking for a rise in temperature for ½ – 1 degree for at least 3 temperatures?

D: Yes. you can confirm ovulation once you have 3 temperatures that are higher than the previous 6 temperatures.

N: Does it matter where we put the thermometer to take the temperature? Are we supposed to only do this orally?

D: You can take your temperature orally, vaginally, or rectally but once you chose a method continue using it the entire month, don’t switch or you may get a false reading.

N: Ok, great. So is there anything else we need to cover before we wrap up here?

D: I think I need to mention that there are things that can interfere with a true BBT reading. Things like mouth breathing, snoring, alcohol consumption, insomnia, being in a different time zone, or taking anti inflammatory drugs or sleep aid drugs will affect your temperature. Also if you have an untreated thyroid condition this can interfere with your temperatures as well. For example, women with hypothyroidism may have low temperatures overall while women with hyperthyroidism may have high overall temperatures. If any of this applies to you be sure to make a note of this on the chart and get your health conditions treated. So like I said earlier, you will want to chart for at least 3 full menstrual cycles to get an idea of your personal fertility pattern. It’s pretty informative and fascinating to learn what’s happening with your cycle once you start charting. I’ve had women come in with all kinds of charts. Some discovered that they were missing their fertility window and some women discover that they are not ovulating at all! And btw, if this is you don’t get discouraged, there are lots of things you can be doing to get your cycle back into balance.

N: What do you do once you find out these things?

D: Well in my practice I use herbal remedies and supplements that will help get a woman’s cycle back into balance. I educate women about dietary and lifestyle choices that can greatly increase her chances of conception. I also use acupuncture to increase blood and lymph flow to the pelvis.

N: Why do you want to increase blood flow to the pelvis?

D: Because blood carries hormones, oxygen, and other nourishing elements throughout the whole body and increasing blood circulation to the pelvis will help with with hormone transport to and from that region.

N: How long does it take to get a woman’s cycle back in balance?

D: Well it depends on the person. Each person is unique, each case is unique. It depends on their age and if there are other factors present that might interfere with conception but generally I say you should continue a course of treatment for at least 3 months. Natural medicine moves a little slower than conventional medicine and depending on the case and severity it could take some time to regulate your cycle and hormones. And one thing that I will say is that one of the best things a women can do for herself and the health of her future baby is to eat an organic whole foods diet, get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, find ways to manage stress, and practice positive thinking. All of these things can help regulate her cycle.

N: What is a whole foods diet?

D: Food in it’s natural form. So basically if something comes in a package or can then don’t put it in your cart. Whole foods can be found in the produce section and meat section. You know, fruits, vegetables, organic unprocessed meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and raw dairy assuming the person doesn’t have any allergies or intolerances to it.

N: Ok, so I think we covered all the basics about using the fertility awareness method to increase your chances of conception. If you you liked what we talked about or want more information about Dawna and this podcast please visit her website at www.dawnaara.com and sign up for the free newsletter. Thanks Dawna!

About Dawna Ara
Dawna is an acupuncturist, herbalist, functional medicine practitioner, a mom, wife, writer, nature lover, chef and whole foods advocate. She teaches how to live a healthy lifestyle through her website Eat Play Work Sleep.