Fertility awareness refers to a set of practices used to determine the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. It involves tracking your natural menstrual cycle, developing a better awareness of your body, and using a variety of non-pharmaceutical methods to detect ovulation.
By learning your body’s monthly hormonal rhythm, this allows you to use fertility awareness as a natural form of birth control, in addition to helping you better understand the health of your hormones and fertility.
A menstrual cycle is a roughly four-week span of time when three key hormones—estrogen, testosterone and progesterone—rise and fall in a specific pattern. Knowing this helps you identify when you are ovulating, which is the only time in your cycle you can get pregnant. I repeat, the only time in your cycle when you can get pregnant!
What are the 3 different ways to use fertility awareness?
Well, let’s start with understanding ovulation. Ovulation is the main event to pay attention to in your cycle. If you don’t ovulate, any bleeding you experience is not considered a true menstrual bleeding.
How do I know if and when I’m ovulating?
Regular ovulation is only possible when your hormone and reproductive system are functioning normally and you are not on birth control. So an irregular or abnormal cycle is a warning sign of a potential underlying health concern. Please keep in mind, if you are on birth control, this can mask an irregular cycle.
An average cycle length is about 29 days, however, this can range for many women and be anywhere between 23-38 days. Your period marks the beginning (day 1) of your menstrual. If you ovulate during your cycle, your period will arrive approximately 12 to 14 days after your day 1. Please remember, ovulation varies from woman to woman, so stay informed by keeping track of these 3 fertility awareness signs.
#1 Basal body temperature (BBT)
BBT is a measure of your resting (or baseline) metabolism. Think of your metabolism as a measure of how efficiently your body transforms raw materials (protein, fat and carbs) into the vital energy your body needs to thrive. When you measure this each morning (and plot it on a graph) you’ll notice a clear difference between your preovulatory and postovulatory temperatures.
After ovulation your BBT rises and stays high due to rising progesterone, this shift is one way your body prepares for pregnancy. Similar to the way a mother hen sits on her eggs to keep them warm, your body temperature increases to keep your eggs warm during the second half of your cycle. The simplest way to measure your BBT is to take your temperature orally with a digital thermometer (preferably with 2 decimal places) each morning before you get out of bed.
Here’s how to do it:
Take your temperature first thing in the morning before you get out of bed, after a minimum of five consecutive hours of sleep.
Leave your thermometer in place for at least 2 minutes before pushing the button to get your reading (most people want to skip this step, but you are allowing for sufficient time for thermometer to warm up and for temp reading to stabilize)
Take your temperature around the same time every morning
You need at least 3 months of data to get a good picture of your reproductive health, so consistency is key.
#2 Cervical Mucus (CM)
CM is a hydrogel comprised of mucus molecules, water, a variety of enzymes, protein chains and other minerals. CM is critical for fertility because sperm depends on it for survival. Without CM, sperm would not survive long enough to get a shot at fertilizing your eggs.
Simply put, you are fertile on the days you observe CM (your mucus days) and infertile on the days you do not (your dry days). During your fertile window, your cervix is open and is actively producing mucus that you can readily observe, when you pay attention to it. Outside your fertile window, your cervix is closed and blocked with a thick, gelatinous mucus plug that prevents sperm from getting through. Wow, mind blowing right!? So you might be wondering how you distinguish your mucus and non mucus days.
During your fertile window, you produce two main types of mucus.
Peak Mucus: this is clear, stretchy and/or lubricative and slippery. It has the quality of raw egg whites and typically forms a thin thread when you stretch it between your fingers. You will notice that when you wipe yourself after using the bathroom, it feels very lubricative, while also feeling an obvious feeling of wetness throughout the day.
Non Peak Mucus: is cloudy or white in colour and doesn't stretch very much between your fingers. It’s similar to the quality of creamy white hand lotion.
Remember that BOTH peak and non peak mucus days are considered fertile because they keep sperm alive for up to 5 days.
#3 Cervical Position
Checking your cervical position in conjunction with CM and BBT observations allows you to feel more confident in your reproductive health by giving you an additional data point. If you’ve never checked your cervix before, this can feel a bit awkward and confusing, especially when you get started. But, the position and texture of your cervix both change during your fertile window, giving you more information about your reproductive health.
Your cervix is the lower part of your uterus. It fully dilates during labour to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal, and it dilated slightly to allow menstrual blood, CM and sperm to flow through.
As you approach ovulation, estrogen causes your cervix to soften, open and move to a higher position in your vagina, while progesterone causes your cervix to sit lower in your vagina and feel firm and closed. The challenge about monitoring your cervical position is that not every woman experiences the same level of softness during her fertile window, and it's not always easy to differentiate between high, medium and low positions. Fortunately with a little persistence, you can learn to identify how your cervix changes throughout your cycle.
Are you interested in learning how to increase your chances of getting pregnant using Fertility Awareness? Book a 30-minute call with me and I can help get you started.