Charting your Cycle


For some, conception is simple:

  1. Decide to conceive.
  2. Stop using any birth control/prevention methods.
  3. Have intercourse for a month or two or three.
  4. Announce with joy (and perhaps some trepidation) that you are pregnant at the end of the first trimester.

Or:

  1. Conceive an unplanned blessing.
  2. Announce with joy (and perhaps some trepidation) that you are pregnant at the end of the first trimester.

For 1 in 8 couples in the United States, conception is not simple, it is not easy, and it is not quick (resolve.org).  Regardless of whether you are in the former or latter group, charting is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about your body, identify problems faster should they arise, maximize chances for conception, and even to prevent conception.

Charting quite simply put is tracking your basal body temperature, mood, cervical fluid, and other physical and mental symptoms.

Charting has been used as the primary method in the Roman Catholic Church to prevent and/or encourage conception.    The use of natural family planning (NFP) or fertility awareness is good for any individual or couple, regardless of faith background.  It is all natural, there are no hormones to take, no condoms to buy, no IUD to have inserted.  It is all about understanding the female ovulatory cycle to plan intercourse with the goal of either achieving or avoiding pregnancy.  When used correctly and diligently it can be very helpful.

There are several key components to successful charting.

  1. Basal Body Temperature: In the follicular phase of the cycle, the basal body temperature is much lower than in the luteal phase.  More specifically, after ovulation occurs, a woman’s body temperature shoots up.  This is a great indicator that ovulation has occurred.  To take your basal body temperature you need to get, ideally, a thermometer that reads out to the tenths or hundreds (e.g., 98.9 or 98.99).  It is even better if the thermometer stores your temperature so that you don’t have to record it right away.  This is important because you will need to take your temperature at the same time every morning, before you get out of bed or move around.  What that means is that if your alarm goes off on a work day at 6am, you need to take your temperature at 6am every day of the week.  After a week or two, you get used to this.  I found it easy to take my temperature and then just go back to sleep on the weekends.  Because my thermometer stored the temperature I didn’t have to worry about hunting down a piece of paper to record the result. (Mayo Clinic)

    This chart shows a slow, but steady rise in basal body temperature after ovulation occurs.  It also shows menstruation, cervical mucous changes, and pregnancy test results.

    This chart shows a slow, but steady rise in basal body temperature after ovulation occurs. Menstruation, cervical mucous changes, and pregnancy test results are also included.

  2. Cervical Mucous: Throughout a woman’s cycle their cervical mucous changes greatly.  At the beginning of the cycle there is often little discharge or is sticky.  As ovulation draws near, the mucous changes to be more watery and then to the consistency of egg whites.  The watery or egg white mucous helps create a hospitable environment for sperm.  Toward the end of the cycle the mucous again dries up.  Recording these changes can give you a pretty good idea of when ovulation is about to occur. (Planned Parenthood)
  3. Cervix Openness and Softness: This is an optional component to charting that takes some time to master.  As ovulation nears, the opening of the cervix becomes wider and softer to allow sperm to pass through.  These changes occur in the days leading up to ovulation. (Couple to Couple League)
  4. Mood: This is far less scientific, however, some women can keep track of mood changes and tie these changes and fluctuations to different parts of their cycle.  This will vary for each woman and may not be as informative as basal body temperature and cervical mucous.

To get the most benefit from charting it is best to use all four methods in combination.  If you just use one method you may not be getting the whole picture.  It is also helpful to record any medications being taken, when intercourse occurs, if spotting happens, and how long bleeding lasts each month.  After several months of recording all of this data it begins to give you (and your healthcare provider) a good idea of your reproductive health.  It also has the side benefit of being “controllable”.  In the uncertain world of infertility, control is often elusive.  Making sure to take your temperature each day is something you can control.  It can also help you feel like you are doing something and sometimes that is everything.

You can certainly chart using a simple sheet of paper and your thermometer, but there are also fancy websites out there that give you a place to record all of your data, allow you to compare cycles, and even provide an analysis of your cycle and chances of pregnancy in any given cycle.  Check back soon for a review of one such service, Fertility Friend.

For now, I will leave you with some additional resources for understanding charting for fertility: