How and why to chart your menstrual cycles

charting-cycles

Would you like to gain insight into your menstrual cycles and hormonal health?

Charting your cycles is a great way to find out a lot of valuable information about your body, especially if you are have having issues with period irregularities, infertility or any kind of hormonal imbalance.

(This only works of course if you are not taking any hormonal contraceptives that suppress your natural cycles.)

You’ll need to measure and record two main things:

Your basal body temperature and cervical mucus quality

There are many apps out there than make charting very easy, such Fertility Friend or Kindara. You can also use old-school pen and paper 🙂

Start charting on cycle day 1 (first day of your period) or the first day after your period ends (cycle day 4/5/6/7 depending how long your period is).

If you have never charted cycles before or if there has been a long break, then aim to complete 3 full cycles of charting to have enough information to get a clear understanding how your menstrual cycle works.

Step 1. Take your temperature

Basal body temperature is the lowest body temperature you will have in a 24-hour period, in the early morning after sleeping. 

So, take your temperature first thing every morning when you wake up and before getting up. Aim for about same time each morning for consistency.

Ideally you should purchase a basal body temperature thermometer which is more accurate than a standard one BUT you can absolutely get started with a normal digital thermometer (but it can’t measure those small temp changes so it’s less accurate).  

Oral vs vaginal temperature

Either take your temp by putting the thermometer in your mouth under the tongue or inserting the tip into your vagina lightly. Pick one method and stick to it! (for consistency and for hygiene reasons). If using the vaginal method, then buy your own thermometer to use just for this purpose.

Don’t use underarm temping because it’s not very reliable at all.

Vaginal temperature will be the most reliable method because external conditions won’t affect the temperature and it will be the closest reading to your true basal body temperature.

If you are squeamish about it, then take your temperature orally. But be warned that if you are sleeping with your mouth open, then the recordings might be unreliable or inconsistent.

What temperature changes should you be looking for?

In general your temperature should rise post ovulation and this is the confirmation you’ll be looking for to know that you did actually ovulate. This information can be used to avoid or to achieve pregnancy. (By the way, you can still get regular periods without ovulating).

This is the pattern you would like to see in your chart (first half of the cycle low temps, second half sustained high temps). 

Step 2. Check your cervical mucus

During the fertile phase, you will likely see more cervical mucus (CM) than normally and it’s usually watery or egg-white like. The more stretchy, the better. This kind of CM helps the sperm to live longer and to move up to the fallopian tube to aid fertilization. After ovulation, CM will either dry up or change into more sticky, creamy type of discharge that is not very fertile.

For charting, check your CM quantity; is there any, a little or a lot? Sometimes you will see it in your underwear or when wiping. You can also gently feel it with clean fingers.

Then check the CM quality. Is it sticky, creamy, watery or egg-white like (clear and stretchy)?

Step 3. Cervix position (optional)

Some women also like to keep track of their cervix position which is low and open during fertile phase and high and firm during non-fertile days.

To test this, just insert a finger into the vagina and touch the cervix, squatting down helps if you can’t reach otherwise. Many women can’t reach it anyway so this an optional test for those who wish to use it as a confirmatory tool.

If you touch the tip of your nose with your finger, this is how your cervix will feel in non-fertile phase.
If you touch your lips, this is how the fertile cervix will feel.

Other things to record that can be helpful:

  • Spotting before periods
  • Ovulation pains
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood

What can you learn about your health from charting?

Fertile times

If you are avoiding pregnancy: By learning your body’s patterns, you can use this method as a contraceptive awareness together with abstinence or barrier method during fertile days. But first complete 3 full cycles at least to have enough data to work with! And learn more about this Fertility Awareness Method by reading Tony Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

If you are trying to get pregnant: You will learn when your fertile phases happen with a lot of accuracy (many women ovulate earlier or later than they think!). So get to know your cycle and you will have a better chance of getting pregnant. Aim to have some bedroom action in the 4-5 days leading up to and on the day of the ovulation for best chances.

Are you actually ovulating?

First of all, by charting you can confirm if you actually ovulated. Ovulation tests can’t tell you this because they are only showing that your body is trying to ovulate.

Sustained higher temps post-ovulation is considered a sure sign of ovulation and often also a confirmatory sign of pregnancy when you don’t get a period and keep having higher temperature.

Apart from getting pregnant, ovulation is important for your health for other reasons too. If you are not ovulating, chances are that your progesterone levels are not high enough in relation to estrogen. And this can cause PMS, infertility, estrogen dominance, problems with bone, breast and heart health etc. So it has an overall effect on your body!

Some medical conditions that cause non-ovulation are polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism and pituitary tumour.

Luteal phase

“Normal” luteal phase (2nd half of the cycle after ovulation) length is considered to be about 12-16 days. If yours is less than 10 days, it can be a sign of hormone imbalance, especially progesterone deficiency, and it can make falling or staying pregnant more difficult.

Progesterone levels

Short luteal phase (see above) is often a sign of not having enough progesterone in relation to estrogen. Spotting before periods is usually a sign of low progesterone as well. Progesterone deficiency is probably one of the most common hormonal imbalance issues due to the wide use of contraceptive pill, not ovulating regularly, exposure to environmental estrogen-mimicking substances and the list goes on. Homeopathic treatment can really help bring progesterone and estrogen back to balance. 

Thyroid health

If you are recording consistently low temperatures (under 36.4 C/ 97.6 F – this is only a guide range), your thyroid might not be functioning properly. Especially if you have other  symptoms such as depression, fatigue, weakness, cold intolerance, weight gain, dry skin and hair loss.

Adrenal health

If your temperatures are erratic (up and down for no reason) but still often relatively low, you might have some level of adrenal fatigue. This is very common these days due to the stressful lifestyle most of us live. Adrenal weakness is often an underlying issue in hormonal imbalance but it’s something doctors are not actively looking out for. Adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism often have a link as these two glands work together very closely. 

When your period is approaching

When your temperature drops in the end of the cycle, usually you’ll get your period in the next day or 2. It’s nice to get the heads up!

Shortcut to charting

After completing 3 full cycles you should be aware of your personal menstrual pattern and you can start “cheating” to make life a bit easier.

You only need to take temps starting a few days before suspected ovulation and stop once you have recorded 3 or 4 sustained high temperatures post ovulation and you’re not having any fertile-type cervical mucus.

However, if you want to get a warning when your period is due, then keep temping until a drop in temps happens and Aunt Flo should appear shortly.

If you have any questions, please join my Natural Solution for Hormone Imbalance group where you can share your charts with others and I can help you interpret them.

Good luck!