How to Chart Your Menstrual Cycle
Trying to get pregnant? It doesn't always happen as quickly as you'd like. But don't jump to conclusions too quickly -- you may just need to work on your timing.
It may help to chart your menstrual cycle -- that way, you'll better understand when you have the best chance of becoming pregnant.
As you go through your cycle, your body gives you clues about when it is going into ovulation. You just need to know how to look for them.
Why Chart Your Menstrual Cycle?
By tracking a few things every day, you may improve your odds of figuring out when you're most fertile and becoming pregnant.
- Taking your basal body temperature
- Examining your cervical mucus
- Noting when your menstrual period began
- Noting when you had sexual intercourse
Knowing this information can make a difference. Although the average couple conceives after about five or six months of trying, people who know when ovulation is occurring and have sex during that time can conceive in less than three or four months.
Charting your menstrual cycle is also a good way to put you more in touch with your body, and it comes in handy if you consult a doctor about fertility.
Taking Your Basal Body Temperature
Before ovulation, a woman's basal body temperature is usually about 97.0 to 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit, although those numbers can vary from woman to woman. During ovulation, the body releases the hormone progesterone, which slightly raises basal body temperature a day or two after ovulation -- usually by just 0.1 or 0.2 degrees. That temperature will probably stay elevated until your next cycle begins. If you become pregnant during that cycle, your temperature will stay elevated beyond that.
A tenth of a degree difference may not sound like much, but it may mean that ovulation has passed, as has the chance to become pregnant for that cycle. By charting your temperature every day over several cycles, you may start to see a pattern and be able to predict when you are most fertile.
Then again, it's not a sure thing. Recent research has shown that it may not be as effective as once thought. Still, there's no downside.
Although basal body temperature charting is a widely used technique, it is by no means foolproof. Some women may not see a clear pattern emerge by recording their temperature. Since ovulation can occur at different times in your cycle from one month to the next, your basal body temperature chart may not be effective at predicting when you'll ovulate.
Tips for Taking Your Basal Body Temperature
- Begin taking your temperature on the first day of your period.
- Take it at about the same time every day, preferably before you get out of bed in the morning and before any activity.
- Don't do anything -- eat, drink, smoke, or even move around -- before you take your temperature.
- You can take your temperature however you want -- orally, rectally, or vaginally -- but make sure you use the same technique each time.
- Write down your temperature every day on your fertility chart; you can make a graph with each day of your cycle on the bottom and temperatures on the left, connecting the dots as you go.
- Keep in mind that you will probably get some occasional freak readings -- either high or low temperatures -- that don't fit into the larger pattern. If they don't happen often, don't worry about them.
- You may want to have your doctor look at your chart to help you interpret it.
Cervical Mucus and Your Menstrual Cycle
Although it may take some detective work -- and may be a little off-putting to some -- learning to detect changes in your cervical mucus is an easy and highly effective of way of predicting ovulation. it may be a more accurate way of predicting ovulation than basal body temperature, although you can use both methods.
The mucus released by the cervix serves different purposes. When you're not ovulating or approaching ovulation, cervical mucus prevents sperm from getting into the uterus at a time when you couldn't become pregnant anyway. As you near ovulation, your cervix secretes an increasing amount of mucus, and when you're most fertile, your cervical mucus is stretchy and clear, like the consistency of egg whites. At this point, the mucus actually protects the sperm and helps it in its journey toward the egg.
For a woman with a 28-day cycle, the pattern of changes in her cervical mucus would look something like this:
- Days 1-5: Menstruation occurs.
- Days 6-9: Vagina is dry with little to no mucus.
- Days 10-12: Sticky, thick mucus appears, gradually becoming less thick and more white.
- Days 13-15: Mucus becomes thin, slippery, stretchy, and clear, similar to the consistency of egg whites. This is the most fertile stage.
- Days 16-21: Mucus becomes sticky and thick again.
- Days 22-28: Vagina becomes dry.
However, your menstrual cycle will may be different from that. That's why it's useful to mark changes on your own fertility chart.
Ideally, you should check your cervical mucus daily, possibly every time you go to the bathroom. If you rub some toilet paper or your fingers -- after washing your hands -- over the opening of your vagina, you should be able to detect cervical mucus. Examine the color and consistency between your fingers and make sure to write it down.
Cervical Position and Your Menstrual Cycle
Another way of learning about where you are in your menstrual cycle is to examine the position of your cervix.
First, make sure your hands are clean.
If you insert two fingers into your vagina, you should feel the cervix at the end. Before ovulation, it should feel hard and dry. During ovulation, you should notice that it seems to have shifted higher and that it feels softer and wetter.
However, it may be hard to tell exactly what you're looking for, so you may want to talk to your health care provider first.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs)
One generally effective way of finding out when you're ovulating, especially if you have an irregular cycle, is to use an ovulation predictor kit.
By testing the levels of lutinizing hormone (LH) in your urine, the kit can tell you when you're undergoing the surge in LH levels, which happens 12 to 36 hours before ovulation.
However, if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), your LH levels may always be elevated, making the predicator kit unreliable. Some kits provide a computerized monitor that analyzes the level of hormones in your urine.
Share this article