…Even If You’re Not Concerned About Fertility Right Now
If you’re anything like me, you probably have used about a dozen ways to track your period before. These days, there are so many ways whether you track it on your calendar, through your fitbit, via Apple Health App, or other new fangled apps. You can sometimes input flow, cramping, mood changes, bloating, headaches, and other symptoms.
But period tracking and cycle tracking are two different things. Period tracking shows you what days you had your menstrual flow on and help you predict your next period, but cycle tracking can change your life. Stick with me. Cycle tracking is a quick, daily, observation recording that can give you invaluable insights into your health, uncover early signs of underlying problems, and help you live more in tune with the natural cycle of your hormones.
What does cycle tracking entail?
Cycle tracking can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. The most effective way to me is to keep it simple by using the most effective, easy to use tools, that require the least amount of time, but give you the most info. You ready?
BBT or Basal Body Temperature is the temperate of our body, recorded right upon waking up in the morning. Our temperature as females, actually changes throughout our cycle based on the hormones that are in our body at that time. During the follicular phase or approximately first 2 weeks of our cycle before ovulation, estrogen is the dominant hormone. Once you ovulate, progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum and progesterone raises your body temperature (which means it also raises your metabolism slightly). This way, seeing a clear shift in BBT can confirm that you’ve ovulated. There are other ways, but this is the most inexpensive and easy way to do at home. Ovulating is an important component of your health whether you are trying for a baby right now or not. Not ovulating can indicate possible issues such as PCOS, thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances, and more. My recommendation for getting an accurate BBT reading is the following
- Get an under the tongue thermometer that reads to the hundredth degree ( ie 98.65). I like this one but there are many out there with different features like lights, no noise, etc.
- Take your temperature under your tongue right when you wake up. The recommendation is to do this while lying in bed and at the same time every day. That’s not always feasible, so I think it’s fine to take it when you wake and record the time as well in case it becomes pertinent.
- Take it after getting at least 4 hours of consecutive sleep. If you didn’t go to sleep until 4 am for some reason and then woke up at 6am to start your day, then you body won’t have had the proper amount of time to lower its temperature which it does overnight during sleep. Your results may not be that informative.
Your BBT should be in the mid to upper 97 degrees Fahrenheit in the follicular phase and rise to upper 97 or into 98 degrees after ovulation. If your follicular temperatures are low 97s or even in the 96s consistently, that can help indicate a possible underactive thyroid, which can have implications for achieving and maintaining a pregnancy.
Menstrual Flow, Brown Blood, and Spotting
It’s more likely that you’ve already been doing this step, of tracking your period and the flow on those days, but let’s take it up a notch. Record any day that you also have spotting, but not a true flow. This would be characterized by any blood that’s super light and maybe earlier than expected. Spotting can indicate an issue such as low progesterone which can be a risk factor for miscarriage and infertility. Brown blood before or during your menstrual flow can also indicate a progesterone issue so it’s good to note the color. If you’re recording only 2 or 3 days of bleeding, it may indicate too thin of uterine lining, which may become an issue when trying to sustain a pregnancy. These aren’t diagnostic tools, but I hope you can see how they are giving you hints of what some possible underlying health issues are all in the comfort of your own home. That way, you also have information to present to a qualified health practitioner who can direct you to other diagnostic tools and tests to figure out what’s going on.
Length of Follicular Phase and Length of Luteal Phase
By cycle tracking, you can know exactly how many days your follicular phase (first half of cycle before ovulation) and how long your luteal phase is (2nd half of cycle after ovulation and before next period). One cause of infertility is Luteal Phase Defect, where the luteal phase is not long enough to sustain a pregnancy. Too short of a luteal phase is one that lasts about 10 or fewer days. This can have multiple causes, but by cycle tracking, you’ll be able to tell your practitioner of your suspicions and they can help follow-up with additional testing.
By tracking over time, you may also be able to link certain life events to changes in your cycle. For example, stressful events in the first half of your cycle can delay ovulation and you may be able to predict that delay. This can be useful for natural prevention of pregnancy and an attempt to achieve a pregnancy. If ovulation is constantly delayed past day 16 of your cycle, this can indicate underlying issues like PCOS, thyroid issues, chronic stress, and more.
If you know your average luteal phase length and know what day you ovulate, you can very accurately predict the start of your next menstrual cycle start and structure that new cycle day 1 day for relaxation, reflection, and self care or whatever activities you like to do to welcome in the new cycle
This is usually the newest marker for cycle tracking. Your cervix contains crypts that produce mucus in response to hormones in your body. As estrogen rises before ovulation, the crypts produce fertile type mucus that is slippery and like egg whites. This type of mucus nourishes sperm so that they can survive for up to 5 days before the egg is ovulated and they can be ready to greet the egg when it does. Days that you observe this fertile type mucus are the best days to achieve a pregnancy and can help time intercourse. They would also be the days to avoid intercourse or use barrier methods of contraception if you were looking to avoid pregnancy that cycle.
Fertile cervical mucus is important for fertility and if you can confirm you ovulate with BBT but you don’t have fertile mucus, there may be an underlying cause that you can discuss with your doctor. The quality and quantity of your mucus can also give insight into your hydration, nutrient deficiencies, and more. It can also help explain a phenomenon you may have observed throughout your life but didn’t really know what it was for! Many women observe normal, healthy mucus and unfortunately think they have an infection when they do not. Understanding your mucus pattern as an important part of your health can help you feel empowered in knowing your body and your health and being more aware when things change and what it can indicate.
A Note About Postpartum
Postpartum brings so many changes that can affect cervical mucus and other markers. I definitely recommend working with a practitioner if you’re looking for an alternative to hormonal birth control so you can be extra sure.
There are other markers that can be tracked, such as cervical position, etc. but the ones I’ve listed here are the most beneficial and easy to implement, in my opinion. I’ve still listed quite a few markers though! So how are you going to do it?! Below I’ll list my favorite resources for diving deeper into cycle tracking, getting more support, and how to record all your observations.
Books to Learn More
Where to Track
Any one that lets you track all the signs you need to
Find a Practitioner to Work With
Tracking these signs can take time to get used to and having support can be useful! Especially if you want to use these methods to achieve a pregnancy or to avoid pregnancy without the use of birth control (it’s totally doable and way more effective than your doctor will say). This method is often called Fertility Awareness Method so you can search for those types of practitioners to work with.
While I’m not a certified Fertility Awareness Practitioner, I often help give a second opinion or review of my 1:1 client’s charts to help them as they navigate the world of tracking their cycle. Since I work with my clients on nutrition and lifestyle, I often recommend they start tracking, if they aren’t already, so they can clue in to the impact the changes we make together have on their health, hormones, and cycle markers.
Got any questions about cycle tracking for me? Drop them below in the comments or send me a message via the contact form!