It's time to learn all those things they never taught us in health class - periods, pregnancy and pelvic floor!
I'm a women's health educator, a nerd when it comes to learning "all of the things", and my obsession is teaching women how to take control of their health and create a life they love!
I get it, you’re already trying to remember to drink enough water, exercise every day, text everyone back, be a good friend, partner, mother, sister, employee…phew, it’s a lot. The last thing you could possibly add to your plate is complicated tracking and charting system. Every. Single. Day.
Fertility awareness and charting has a reputation for being time-consuming, overwhelming and just another thing on our never-ending to-do lists, and so many women are missing out on this incredible knowledge as a result!
In this episode, I’m going to walk you through exactly how I track my menstrual cycle and my body’s natural fertile signs every day. I’m doing it as I go about my day and I don’t have to add in a single thing to my day to get all the information I need.
And I do it in under 5 minutes.
Hello, and welcome to episode 31 of The Mana Women’s Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel and today I’m going to talk you through exactly how I track my cycle and use fertility awareness effectively in under 5 minutes a day.
Fertility awareness and charting has a reputation for being time-consuming, overwhelming and just another thing on our never-ending to-do lists. We’re already trying to remember to drink enough water, exercise every day, text everyone back, be a good friend, partner, mother, sister, employee…phew, it’s a lot. And so many women are missing out on this incredible knowledge because ain’t nobody got time for that!
So today I’m going to talk you through the most thorough version of fertility awareness and show you exactly how easy it is to incorporate into your day. I’m going to track the 3 main fertile signs, cervical mucus, BBT and cervix position, but please remember that you do not have to track all 3 for this method to be effective for conception or contraception. If you only want to track 1 fertile sign, you monitor your cervical mucus because it’s the most reliable indicator of your fertile window. If you want a back-up, and I do recommend a back-up, you can also track your BBT. My OCD brain likes the numbers I can attach to temperature whereas mucus is a bit more subjective, especially when you’re first trying to get your head around it. The third sign you can track, and this one is definitely optional, but helpful, is the position of your cervix.
So, first let’s just go over these three signs and what they tell you about your fertile window, and then I’ll talk you through how I track each of them in under 5 minutes a day.
Let’s begin with the queen of your fertility, cervical mucus.
Like I said, you might find that once you become familiar with your body’s fertile signs, the changes in your mucus on their own might be enough to give you all the information you need about your fertile window and ovulation. You may find that you don’t need to take your temperature or check your cervix or use any of the other fertile signs to confirm ovulation. And that is absolutely ok!
The cervix is the neck of the uterus that leads on into the vagina. The cervix contains glands that have the sole function of producing mucus. As hormone levels fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, these glands will produce different types of mucus.
During the non-fertile phases of the menstrual cycle, the mucus is thick and forms a dense plug at the cervix. This mucus plug closes the cervix and blocks sperm cells from entering the uterus, meaning they die in the vagina after a few short hours. When this mucus plug closes the cervix, you are not fertile.
When the thick mucus plug breaks down in preparation for ovulation, the mucus-producing glands begin to secrete a thin, watery, lubricative fluid that nourishes sperm and helps sperm cells to move through the vagina towards the egg. This type of mucus can keep sperm alive for up to 5 days inside the acidic environment of the vagina. Without it, sperm dies within hours and makes pregnancy virtually impossible. Fertile cervical mucus also forms channels that guide sperm through the vagina, through the cervix and into the uterus and towards the fallopian tube where an egg is waiting to be fertilised after ovulation.
Changes in cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle are the most obvious signs of fertility. Changes in colour, thickness, texture and amount are all influenced by hormonal changes, and so will change according to phase of the menstrual cycle. Every woman has different cervical mucus patterns. Some may easily be able to notice distinct wet and dry patterns according to where they are in their cycle. Others may notice fluid throughout their cycle, while others may struggle to observe any. If you find that it’s difficult to distinguish between fertile and non-fertile mucus, or you’re just not seeing anything, this is when it’s handy to be aware of the body’s other key fertile signs and that way, you can use a combination to help you to clarify when ovulation has occurred.
Charting your body temperature can be combined with charting your mucus if you want an extra indicator of ovulation and where you are in your menstrual cycle. If you can clearly identify fertile mucus and you’re really confident in tracking the changes throughout your cycle, then you might not need to track your temperature. But, if you want a back-up, if you want a second source of information, or if you’re not seeing clear differences in your mucus throughout your cycle – maybe you have mucus every day, or maybe you just can’t see any! Temperature also has the added benefit of observing a shift in temperature that helps you to confirm ovulation rather than relying on mucus alone. Then these are situations where charting your basal body temperature can come in handy. But remember, tracking your mucus is the key. Mucus on its own is certainly effective, but if you want to track your temperature too you need to combine it with charting your mucus, so it’s not enough on its own to just track your temperature and nothing else – especially when it comes to natural birth control.
Basal body temperature (BBT) is the body’s resting temperature after at least 4-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. It is assessed by taking your body temperature orally first thing in the morning after waking up and before any physical activity. The most accurate readings are given before we start moving around for the day, so you want to take your temperature as soon as you wake up and you’re still in bed. More on this later.
Now, the best advice I can give you is not to try to analyse your temperature every single day. Sometimes our temperature for the day can be off. Maybe we didn’t sleep well, maybe we’re hot and bothered, maybe we slept in for an extra hour or two. On most of my charts, I’ll have one or two really wonky temperatures that are either unexpectedly high or low and make no sense in the context of my complete chart. This is totally normal but the reason why you cannot rely just on temperature to tell you if you’re fertile. What we want to look at with our temperature is the overall pattern throughout our cycle, because the day after ovulation, our temperature rises. And it stays high until our next period.
So the day to day isn’t super important, but we can use our temperature to retrospectively confirm ovulation. Understanding patterns in your temperature can take a few cycles to understand, so daily tracking is the best way to get there faster. Try to be as consistent as possible and take your BBT at around the same time every day. But, don’t feel like you have to set an alarm for 6am every day, even on the weekends, just to take your temperature. A good night’s sleep is far more important, and if your weekend temperatures are taken an hour or two later, just make a note of it on your chart because they might be a little bit higher. Of course if you have a ridiculous body clock and a puppy like me that wakes you up with the sun every morning, just take your temperature, then roll on over and go back to sleep, and look at it later.
Now, BBT is used to retrospectively determine the timing of ovulation, due to a rise in BBT of 0.2 – 0.5 degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit) that remains high until your next period. Ovulation usually occurs the day before we see the temperature shift, but can be delayed in some women. With experience, you’ll learn when it happens for you based on your mucus Peak Day. BBT will then remain high until your next menstruation and so the day your temperature drops again, you’ll likely get your period that same day and it’s the best way to wake up knowing that it’s arriving so you don’t get caught out.
So now we can add a second sign that helps us to confirm ovulation. Now, your Peak Day occurs on the day of ovulation, and the rise in BBT happens after ovulation, and so for both there is no way of predicting when this is going to happen unless we observe the changes in our mucus in the lead-up. We can only look back the day after ovulation to confirm for sure that it’s happened.
So, what is it about ovulation that triggers these changes in mucus and temperature? Progesterone is the cause of the upward shift in basal body temperature after ovulation.
When one of the ovaries has released an egg, the follicle from which it was released becomes the corpus luteum and begins to produce progesterone. This hormone produces heat, so as progesterone levels rise after ovulation, so too does your basal body temperature. So your BBT is reflective of your progesterone levels throughout your menstrual cycle and the sudden drop in temperature as your period arrives is due to the sudden drop in progesterone at the end of your menstrual cycle.
If you still need some more clarity, then the next fertile sign you chart is the shape and position of your cervix.
Now, as a physiotherapist with a special interest in women’s health and the pelvic floor, as someone who relies on their hands to feel for even slight changes in muscle tension and soft tissue, I absolutely loved learning about the changes in my cervix throughout my menstrual cycle. Being able to physically feel changes in my body during my fertile window really helped me to clarify my knowledge when I was first learning about my fertile signs.
This step is absolutely not essential, if you’re not comfortable feeling your cervix every day that is absolutely fine. To physically be able to feel when your cervix is open or closed is incredibly helpful real-time information. But just like cervical mucus and body temperature, you need to do it consistently throughout your menstrual cycle in order to actually track the changes. Again, it’s all about comparing what you observe today with what you observed yesterday.
So, how does the cervix actually change throughout the menstrual cycle?
We already know that during menstruation, the cervix is open to allow bleeding to occur. We don’t need to check our cervix during our periods. But as our period ends, the mucus plug forms at the cervix and it closes, we can feel that the cervix sits quite low and we can feel that it is closed. As this mucus plug dissolves and the cervix opens for ovulation, we can feel that the cervix now sits high and is more open. Then, after ovulation, the cervix closes again and the mucus plug re-forms, it sits lower once again. And the beauty here is that you can physically feel whether the cervix is open or closed every single day. And let’s talk about how to track each of the main fertile signs, including cervix position right now.
So let me talk you through how I chart my fertile signs each and every day, with very little brainpower on my part, in under 5 minutes.
And it all begins the moment I wake up. Like I said, you don’t need to set an alarm to take your BBT at the same time every day. Most people have a regular time they wake up most days of the week, so that’s your baseline. If you sleep in on the weekend, that’s ok, just write a note on your chart if you notice that your BBT is a little higher than average when you sleep in, which is pretty normal. Some women have very temperamental temperatures that are affected by slight changes like a sleep in, others are pretty same same even if they’ve gotten up to pee during the night. With charting, you’ll work out what your BBT is like.
So, I take my temperature as soon as I wake up while still lying in bed. So not only is this before I get out of bed to pee, before I get up and put the kettle on, this is before I really move at all. It’s before I roll over to snuggle with my partner, before I start playing on my phone. Even my dog knows that she’s not getting her breakfast until she hears the beep of my thermometer. As soon as I wake up and go into that half-awake, half-dreaming state where I know I’m awake but not yet ready to open my eyes, I take my thermometer that I put on my bedside table the night before, and I pop it in my mouth for a couple of minutes. When it beeps, I take it straight out of my mouth and I pop it back on my bedside table without even looking at it. When I’m actually getting out of bed, I’m awake and slightly more conscious, then I turn the thermometer back on and look at the last recorded temperature. Then I’m in a better state to actually remember the numbers on the screen and write them down on my chart, and I literally just take a pen and circle the number for the day and I won’t come back to my chart until tonight. So the good news is that you barely need to be conscious to make this work for you.
Next, I go about my day. I observe my mucus in my underwear or on toilet paper after wiping. We all go to the toilet anyway so all you need to do is have a little peek at your undies while you’re having a wee or just take a mental note of whether you feel wet or dry around your vulva. Mucus may be even more noticeable after a bowel motion or after doing pelvic floor exercises – couldn’t help myself, had to throw that one in there because it’s yet another reason to do your pelvic floor exercises every day.
Then, at the end of the day, I have a shower. And if you have a shower in the morning, that’s all good, nothing changes for you. When I’m in the shower, I know my hands are clean and not going to pass on infection, I take a finger and insert it into my vagina and feel my cervix.
So, the easiest way to remember what the cervix looks and feels like during our fertile window is with the acronym – SHOW.
In the non-fertile phases between our period and ovulation, and again after ovulation and before our next period, the cervix does the exact opposite. It is firm, low, closed and dry.
So, right now I want you to take your finger and touch the tip of your nose. How does it feel? Kind of firm, closed, because we’re touching the tip, not picking our nose, and it’s dry. Now take your finger and place it on your lips. How does that feel? Soft, open and likely a little wet.
In your non-fertile phases, your cervix feels like the tip of your nose. It sits quite low, so if you insert your finger into your vagina, you will actually hit your cervix faster than you would during your fertile window. The opening at the cervix almost feels like a dimple as it’s closed.
As oestrogen levels rise with ovulation, the cervix softens, opens and rises and you might actually find that you really have to stretch your finger to reach the cervix. And when you feel this every day, you will notice the physical changes in your cervix. I suggest doing this in the shower because of the clean fingers, but also because we are all creatures of habit and we tend to have a shower around the same time every day. This means we are feeling our cervix at the same time every day, which gives us an accurate idea of how it is changing from one day to the next. If you’ve had sex before checking for the day, your results might be a little wonky because the act of sex itself will likely open up the vagina to accommodate the penis, and so it might feel like your cervix is open. Because you will notice that in your fertile window, your finger goes straight in, whereas in your non-fertile phases, your finger is met with slightly more resistance.
So, we’ve now arrived at the end of the day. I take out my chart and I’ve already circled my BBT this morning, now I just fill in the rest of the information. I write the temperature out, I reflect on whether I felt wet or dry today and I note down as descriptor words for my cervical mucus, so dry, sticky, creamy, slippery and so on. And then I draw a little circle on my chart to represent my cervix. So in the little box, I’ll either draw the circle at the top or bottom of the box, according to whether my cervix was high or low, and I colour the circle in for a closed cervix or leave it an open circle if my cervix was open. I then have a quick look at yesterday’s notes and compare. If all of these fertile signs indicate that I am in my fertile window, I take a pink pen and I mark it as one of my fertile days, otherwise I just leave it.
And that is it. And really, the only thing we’re adding in to our busy days is literally sitting down at the end of the day and writing things in to our chart. When you wake up, you lie there and stick a thermometer in your mouth. When you go to the toilet, you pay attention to your cervical mucus and when you’re in the shower, you quickly check your cervix. It’s really not time consuming at all! The most time consuming part will be analysing the results of your chart and remember I said that you don’t need to over-analyse day by day. Based on what cycle day you are on, you’ll know what you should be looking out for and you’ll know if you should be waiting for ovulation or menstruation.
If time, or being too busy, is your reason for not trying fertility awareness for yourself, I truly hope this episode helped you to understand how quick and easy it can be. The analysis part for me now really only takes a couple of moments of thought. It didn’t at first when I was still learning, but now it’s all autopilot. And it can be this easy for you too.
So, I want to hear from you. If you’re already charting how long does it take you? If you’re not charting and you thought it was all too time-consuming, are you converted now? Shoot me a DM on Instagram and let’s have a chat about charting.
So, if you want to know how to get started with charting and tracking your own fertile signs, you can grab a free copy of my Fertility Roadmap, along with today’s shownotes with everything I talked about in this episode, as well as links to freebies and other related episodes at fertilityco.com.au/31.
I will see you next week, same time same place.
Bye for now and don’t forget that knowledge is power!
When you truly understand your body, you are empowered to make informed decisions and take control of your health!
Until next time.
Want to say goodbye to hormonal contraceptives and their weird and unpleasant side effects?
Want to improve your chances of conceiving quickly and naturally?
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Does your pelvic floor need a little extra TLC? Take the Pelvic Floor Quiz and find out how to start strengthening your pelvic floor today!
Want to make sure you’re exercising safely during your pregnancy? Get your Free Guide: 10 Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy.
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