Every woman has a unique cycle and if you are trying to get pregnant charting your menstrual cycle can be one of the most empowering and informative things you can do during your reproductive years. Studies have shown that women who track their ovulation have higher conception rates. It can teach you about your body, your hormones, and when your “fertility window” occurs so you can better time intercourse and increase your chances of conception. Knowing when you ovulate can decrease the anxiety and stress that I see so many women experiencing while trying to get pregnant. Using the fertility awareness method, timing of conception is no longer a mystery. It is best to chart for at least 3 full menstrual cycles to see a pattern so you can predict ovulation in future cycles.
There are 3 primary signs that you should be tracking when you are trying to get pregnant. Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT), your cervical fluid, and your cervical position. Tracking all 3 of the primary signs will give you a more accurate picture of when you are ovulating.
Your basal body temperature is your lowest temperature throughout a 24 hour period. It is lowest in the early morning while you are still sleeping. Because of this it is important to take your temperature right when you wake up before you get out of bed. Once you start moving around your BBT will change and will not give you an accurate reading. Your basal body temperature is lower in the first half of your cycle before ovulation. After you ovulate, it rises by 0.4 - 1 full degree in fahrenheit and should stay high until you get your next period. If it stays high for more than 16 days you should take a pregnancy test. If you are pregnant, then your BBT will stay high for the remainder of the pregnancy.
Your cervix produces fluid throughout the cycle that can give you clues to when you are about to ovulate and should also be tracked on your fertility chart. Cervical fluid (CF) also known as cervical mucus (CM) will change in color, texture, and consistency depending on what stage of your cycle you are in and what hormones are being produced. Fertile cervical fluid, the fluid that will support conception, is stretchy, slippery, watery, and clear like raw egg white. It generally appears around day 10 - 15 of your cycle but this can vary among women. This is why it’s so important to keep track of your cycle. Fertile cervical fluid allows the sperm to swim better and survive longer in your reproductive tract. Ovulation will most likely occur on the last day you see fertile cervical fluid but an increase in BBT must be observed for 3 consecutive days in order to confirm ovulation.
An important note: fertile cervical fluid appears before ovulation, a rise in BBT temperature will appear after ovulation.
Sometimes you can see CM on your underwear but if you don’t you will need to insert 1 - 2 fingers inside your vagina to get a sample. Observe the color, texture, and consistency. Do this a couple times a day and record the data onto your chart.
Potential fertility starts when fluid becomes moist and continues for up to 2 days after you stop seeing fertile CM. Keep in mind that although rare, some women ovulate more than once during the cycle. If you notice fertile CM at different times during your cycle it is important to note this on your chart. Double ovulation is common in women who are stressed, eat a poor diet, who have long cycle, who travel, and/or who have cysts.
During the course of your menstrual cycle the position and texture of your cervix will change. Your cervix is the opening to your uterus. When you are infertile the position of the cervix is low in the vaginal canal and it is firm to the touch . When you are fertile, the position of the cervix will be higher up in the vaginal canal and be more soft. A soft cervix will allow sperm to pass through into the uterus more easily. To check the position of the cervix insert 2 fingers in your vagina and palpate.
You will need to take your temperature every morning at the same time before you get out of bed. 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. Although you may have heard that ovulation occurs 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.
How do you know if you’ve ovulated? 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, then you know you have ovulated. It is best to use a BBT thermometer but a digital one will do if you are unable to get a BBT thermometer.
You will need a BBT thermometer and a fertility chart. A fertility chart can be downloaded here. 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 start charting your temperatures at a time other than the first day of cycle, be sure that day one on your fertility chart is day one of your cycle. In other words, 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.
Upon rising, before you get out of bed take your temperature. 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.
After you take your temperature immediately record it in the appropriate box on the chart. Remember to take your temperature at the same time every morning within an hour. If you normally wake up at 7:00am then it is ok if you take it as early as 6:00am if you wake up early, and as late as 8:00am if you decided to sleep in. I recommend keeping your thermometer, the fertility chart, and a pen close to your bed.
If you breath out of your mouth or snore this can interfere with an accurate reading. Other things that interfere with your BBT are drinking alcohol, thyroid conditions, having insomnia, being in a different time zone, or taking anti inflammatory drugs or sleep aid drugs. For example, hypothyroidism could show low overall temperatures while hyperthyroidism could show high overall temperatures. If any of these apply to you be sure to track them on your chart. It’s also a good idea to keep track of moodiness, intercourse, cervical fluid, and other events that might affect your results.
Below is what a normal chart will look like. Note the temperature changes, cervical fluid signs, sleep cycle, and times of intercourse. You can see that the last day of low temperature before high temperatures is day 15. So, this person ovulated at day 15.
If your chart doesn’t look like this one and you have been trying to get pregnant then it would be a good idea to see an acupuncturist who can help you get your cycle back in balance. In my practice I use acupuncture, herbal remedies, and nutritional supplements as well as educating women about dietary and lifestyle choices that can greatly increase her chances of conception.