When you’re interested in learning about your fertile cycle, there’s a lot of information to sift through. Some are super technical and can be really confusing, especially for a beginner. There’s also information out there that’s too vague which makes it hard to accurately chart your cycle and use it to either prevent pregnancy or up your chances of getting pregnant. There are a lot of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs or “natural family planning”) and it’s easy to get them messed up. With any method, your cycle starts on the first day of your cycle and ends on the first day of your cycle. Even though ovulation only happens for 24 hours, sperm can live inside your body for several days so you have several days that are your “fertility window”. During that time you either abstain from sex or use a back up method if you’re wanting to prevent pregnancy or you have sex during that time if you’re wanting to get pregnant.
The method I suggest using is called the Sympothermal Method. It involves tracking your periods and getting to know the changes your body goes through during your cycle. You have to be willing to get to know your body very well and put in a lot of work, which is why it’s not for everyone. However, it can be very rewarding and just super cool to get to know your body better.
You’ll need a calendar that’s big enough for you to write notes in and a basal body thermometer. You’re going to be making notes and tracking your cycle for at least six months before you can start using it as pregnancy prevention, and it may take a few months to get a good idea of what times during your cycle you’d have a higher chance of conceiving.
Step 1: Tracking the days. First thing you put on your calendar is a circle or other mark on your first day of your period. Next, just count the number of days you have in your cycle. Usually you ovulate somewhere in the middle of your cycle. Make a list of how many days you were in your cycle for several cycles. See how many days your shortest cycle was and how many days your longest cycle was. Take your shortest cycle (we’ll say 26 days) and subtract 18 days (which would be 8) and that would be the start of your fertile window. Then you take your longest menstrual cycle (we’ll say 32) and subtract 11 (making it 21) and that’s the last day of your fertile period. What this means is you have an average cycle your fertile period would last from day 8 to day 21. If you’re lucky enough to have a regular period, it’s a lot easier to track and you’re more likely to ovulate at the same time every month. If you are trying to conceive and don’t have the energy or time to track your cycle changes, you can just use this method to find your fertile window. The benefit of using all steps is that you’ll know more precisely when you’re ovulating and it will be more accurate.
Step 2: Taking your Basal Body Temperature. Your BBT is your temperature when you’re completely at rest. It’s best to take it first thing in the morning before you get out of bed, so have your thermometer and calendar right beside you! The changes are going to be in fractions of the degree because your general range is from 96 degrees to 99 degrees which isn’t a big leap. You can buy special thermometers for this purpose. The most accurate thermometer is a rectum thermometer but you’re going to want one thermometer to use every day in the exact same way. My personal favorite is the forehead thermometer because it quick and easy. Once you record your temperature every day for a few cycles, you should start to see a pattern. Before ovulation, you should have approximately the same temperature. You may be slightly cooler when you’re close to ovulation and you should have a sharp increase right after ovulation. Your temperature then drops back to normal before your next period. Of course getting sick, not getting proper rest, or being stressed and many other things can mess with your temperature.
Step 3: Cervical Mucus Testing. After your period, you tend to have a few days without mucus. When the egg starts to get ready for ovulation you have more discharge, usually yellow or white and cloudy and feels sticky or tacky. You have the most just before ovulation and it’s clear and slippery. Usually it resembles raw egg whites. It can also be stretched between the fingers. These are your fertile days. After about four slippery days you suddenly have less mucus and it’s cloudy and tacky again. You may have a few dry days before your period starts. So how do you check your mucus? Wipe the opening of the vagina before you go to the bathroom in the morning. Check the color and texture of any discharge you wipe off or that you may find in your underwear. Then, put clean fingers into the vagina and check the mucus you find on them. Discharge can also be affected by infections, feminine hygiene products, and sexual arousal. Check every day and write down what you see on your calendar.
Step 4: Compare Results! Your calendar should now have when your cycle begins and ends and what your basal body temperature and cervical mucus were like each day. You should see that the slippery days happen around the temperature spike and this should happen around the middle of your period, somewhere in your “fertile window”. This makes it easier to narrow down which days you are probably ovulating so if you’re trying to get pregnant you known on which days you should try to conceive. On days before and after the period where you have your normal temp and either none or tacky cervical mucus you’re not fertile. These are the safe days if you’re trying to prevent pregnancy.
Step 5: Repeat! It’s a good idea to continue to check in on what your body is doing. Menstrual cycles can change and with practice you’ll start to notice subtle changes that let you know when something is changing. You may also start to notice other symptoms your body has for being close to your period or ovulation.
Although Fertility Awareness can take some preparation and practice, it can be fun to get to know how your body works and really also really helpful if your trying to conceive or prevent pregnancy. Some phone apps I’ve had recommended are Clue for IPhone and Android and MeLady which can be found for pretty much any phone. Lots of luck on your charting journey!