If you ask most women how long their cycle is supposed to be they’ll answer “28 days”. This is because the current medical model is based on averages and the assumption that cycles can be evenly divided in half, with ovulation on Day 14. This makes conception and contraception difficult for those who try to use the rhythm method, counting 14 days from the first day of bleeding to estimate ovulation.
The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), often confused with the rhythm method, is much more than just counting. It’s learning how your body operates so that you can know when and when not to have intercourse and when to expect changes in your body such as menstruation.
The reason counting doesn’t work is that a normal, healthy cycle is 21-35 days long. Assuming ovulation in the middle of the cycle (which does not always happen) someone using the rhythm method will be a few days late for estimating ovulation for the short cycles and a few days early for the longer ones.
I want you to understand a little more about fertility awareness at the end of this post, maybe even be willing to start experimenting with it (though until you fully understand it, if attempting contraception use a back up!) I’ll also link a few resources at the end so be sure to check those out.
What you need to get started
You will need to find a thermometer that tracks temperature out to at least the tenths (one digit after the decimal place.) Many apps and programs allow you to record temperatures taken with thermometers that go to the hundredths (two digits after the decimal place). Also try to get one with a memory just in case you fall back asleep. Because that may happen a lot.
Try to chose a thermometer meant for tracking your BBT and not a fever thermometer, though a fever thermometer will do in a pinch. (Like when you leave it at your mother-in-law’s four hours away after visiting. >.< ) Many of the ladies on r/tryingforababy are fans of the Mabis because it’s affordable and has an easy to read screen. (affiliate link)
BBT Chart or App
Once you have your numbers you will need a place to put them. For some more techy ladies I recommend an app like Ovia or Clue. One website many people in the fertility community r/tryingforababy use is Fertility Friend which, while not very pretty, was awesome and I recommend it as well.
But if you like something physical some women like to add it to their bullet journal or print out a BBT chart to keep next to the bed with a pen.
“Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler
This is another ‘must have’ according to the ladies on TFAB (trying for a baby.) This book is so popular it even has its own acronym – TCOYF. (affiliate link) The reason it’s so awesome is that it’s the start of the Fertility Awareness movement. This book is the Bible, it has everything you need to know. Trying to use FAM for birth control? “TCOYF” Trying to conceive? “TCOYF” Weschler puts women’s health back in the hands of women and all it takes is a pen, some paper and a thermometer.
What you need to track
Cycle Day (CD)
The first thing you need to track is what day of your cycle you are on. The first day of your cycle (CD1) is the day you start bleeding. Mark at least the date of your CD1. This will be referred to as the date of your last menstrual period or LMP. This date is very important to your fertility practitioners for determining your guess date (also called your estimated due date.)
If you’re particularly detail oriented you can also track the day of the week. Who knows, maybe your uterus hates Mondays too.
Accurately tracking your BBT relies on two things: taking your temperature before getting out of bed for the day and taking it at the same time every day. Don’t get up and move around. Don’t have a drink of water. Just grab your thermometer and stick it in your mouth. If you can’t take it at the same exact time every day try to take it within the same half hour window.
If you are tracking with pen and paper simply put a dot in the day column at your morning’s temperature. Connect the temperature dots from day to day to get your chart.
Cervical mucus (also sometimes referred to as ‘cervical fluid’) is secreted by the cervix to help sperm get to where they need to be. However, it’s really only good at this task just before and during ovulation when it is clear and stretchy (often referred to as ‘egg white cervical mucus’). Any other consistency – dry, pasty or sticky – prevents sperm from traveling far in the vaginal canal as it is unable to properly nourish and transport sperm.
The closer we are to ovulation the higher and softer our cervix will get. Just after menstruation it will be low and hard, similar to how our chin feels. As we progress through our cycle it will slowly retreat higher, feeling like the tip of our nose eventually our lips.
When noting position it’s also a good idea to note how open you are. Your cervix will often be open when it’s high and soft to allow for the passage of semen and closed with it’s low and hard.
Tracking intercourse is a good idea if you’re using fertility awareness to support another birth control method (or as a birth control method) or for conception because you will have a good idea whether or not your intercourse fell within the fertile window.
What you may want to track
If you are doing fertility awareness for conception you may also want to track your ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) and pregnancy tests (HPTs).
Big stressors or emotional upheavals
Interruptions to your parasympathetic flow can impact your reproductive cycle. This means things like moving, changing jobs, getting married, etc.
Now you’re ready
You now have all of this information. Now what do you do with it? This is where we nerds will shine. We analyse it.
This next part is mainly for the ladies charting by hand (you can snag a free BBT chart here) but for those who are using an app on their phone that may not do a cover line and ovulation line (also known as ‘crosshairs’) it’s good to know how to do this.
Once your period ends, watch your temps. Usually around the same time you start to notice your cervical mucus becoming clearer and stretchier you’ll notice a jump in temperature. If you look at the previous six days of temps and find the highest one this “spike” should be at least 2/10s above the highest of that group.
Now you’ll draw your coverline: draw a horizontal line 1/10 of a degree above the highest temp in that group of six.
I like to wait about three days before drawing the coverline just in case the spike was a fluke. Generally if your temp stays higher for three days, you’ve ovulated.
Next, draw a vertical line on your O-day, or the day you’ve ovulated. The two to three days before your ovulation were your peak days.
Everything from O-day to the first day of your next cycle is your luteal phase. Your luteal phase or LP will be pretty much the same from cycle to cycle even if the length of your cycle changes. This is because outside factors like diet and stress affect everything pre-ovulation in the follicular phase.
It’s not always 14 days either. Mine was 13. Some ladies have 16 day LPs. It’s a matter of learning yours. Once you know your LP you can estimate the first day of your next cycle and know whether or not you are late.
The point of fertility awareness is to step outside of the 14 day follicular phase/14 day luteal phase understanding of the cycle and learn how your body works. Getting in tune with your body like this can be great for getting pregnant, supporting contraception or as a fun experiment.
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Resources and Links
Reddit – r/tryingforababy
Mabis thermometer (affiliate link)
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (affiliate link)
Also be sure to check out Acupuncture for Fertility
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
Follow Reverie Acupuncture on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram for updates!