Know When You Are Fertile: Charting Natural Fertility Signs
There are a number of different natural methods for monitoring your fertility and predicting when you will ovulate - the time of month when you are most likely to become pregnant. These methods include recording your basal body temperature, monitoring changes in cervical mucus (CM), locating the position of the cervix (cervical position), and monitoring physical symptoms of ovulation (ovulation pains or mittelschmerz).
To help organize this information, women use a graphed fertility chart to record and track daily fertility signs and basal temperature data. Rigorously charting natural fertility indicators and ovulation signs is a proven, Ob/Gyn-recommended strategy designed to boost your odds of conceiving.
On your fertility chart, common fields for natural fertility signs include basal temperature, cervical mucus quality, cervical position, mittelschmerz (ovulation pains), ovulation test results, days you had intercourse, and pregnancy test results. In addition, you may wish to note mood, illness, stress, travel, sleeping problems, or general feelings about the ups and downs of trying to conceive.
Basal Body Temperature and BBT Charting
The BBT charting method is based on the principle that your body increases in temperature, due to hormonal changes, directly after ovulation takes place. This change can be measured using a special thermometer called a "basal thermometer". During the first part of your cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone in your body. Estrogen, during the pre-ovulatory or follicular phase of your cycle, helps facilitate the production of an egg in your ovaries. Right after ovulation - the release of the egg and the short window of peak fertility - there is a dramatic increase of the hormone progesterone. From ovulation to the end of your cycle, progesterone warms the body. Progesterone warms you up, and this is the cause of the temperature increase you await when bbt charting. A progesterone-driven temperature increase indicates that ovulation has taken place.
Your basal body temperature (or bbt) is the temperature of your body before any activity and after at least 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Your basal temperature should be taken in the morning before any activity or movement, even before leaving bed. This is your body's baseline - or basal - temperature. It is critical to take your temperature immediately upon waking. Remember to log the time your btt temperature was taken and note sleep problems, illness (fever), jet lag, or any other variables that might influence your basal temperature reading.
Ideally, begin charting on cycle day one with our fertility chart (spreadsheet or graph). CD1 is the first day that you see red menstrual blood. Upon waking, immediately take your temperature and record it on your fertility chart. Typically, temperatures range from around 97.0 to 97.6 before ovulation. Once ovulation takes place, you should suddenly see a "spike" in temperature readings. A minimum temperature rise of 0.4 to 0.6 degrees F can be measured - and this change will last through the duration of the menstrual cycle. By monitoring when this temperature change takes place, you know when you ovulated.
As a rule, basal temperatures range from 97.7 or higher following ovulation (the luteal phase of your cycle). If a pregnancy occurs, your basal temperatures may remain high - even past your expected period date. Typically, if pregnancy does not occur, temperatures will decrease over time and return to pre-ovulatory levels by cycle day 1 of your next cycle.
By charting your basal temperature, you can predict ovulation over time based on past cycles. Do note, however, that the temperature increase signaling ovulation will typically take place the day after you ovulate. To predict ovulation and anticipate fertility, you can augment fertility charting with ovulation testing (using urine lh tests, an ovulation microscope, or a fertility monitor).
Cervical Mucus and Fertility
Cervical mucus (CM) is produced by the lining of a woman's cervix and cervical canal (the passage between the vagina and the uterus). From cycle day 1 (CD1) through the early part of your pre-ovulatory phase, most women typically experience a time of dryness or limited CM. As the cycle continues, the cervical mucus may increase and is typically cloudy and sticky. Just before and during ovulation, cervical mucus is abundant and becomes clear and slippery and will stretch like "egg white" between the fingers. This is "fertile" cervical mucus - the perfect transport medium to help sperm both move through the cervix and sustain sperm vitality and sperm longevity on the way to the egg.
When fertility charting, you can check your CM in a number of ways: wipe the vaginal opening with toilet paper or extract CM directly from the vagina using clean, dry fingers. When examining cervical mucus, note the color (white, creamy, opaque, or clear) and the texture (dry, tacky, or slippery and stretchable). Note your observations on your daily fertility chart to see if you are fertile.
Non-Fertile CM: Following the menstrual period, there is a feeling of dryness. There will be no visible mucus. Gradually, more mucus will accumulate - yellow, cloudy, or white in color and sticky to the touch.
Pre-Ovulation: As you approach ovulation, your cervical mucus will increase. First, there will be a moistness or stickiness to the mucus, as well as a white or cream-colored appearance.
Ovulation: When you ovulate, the quantity of mucus will increase and CM will resemble "egg white". Sometimes clear or semitransparent, the texture will become slippery or "stretchable"'. When CM stretches like egg white, then you know you are most fertile.
Post-Ovulation: Following ovulation, the fertile quality of the cervical mucus will decrease and the CM will become sticky and cloudier. More dryness will follow and the CM will one again appear cloudy or sticky.
What is Hostile Cervical Mucus?
Hostile cervical mucus is CM that has infertile properties and is typically resistant to providing a fertile media for sperm; it obstructs (rather than facilitates) the passage of sperm through the cervix and into the uterus. There are several possible causes of hostility in CM, including hormonal issues. In hostile cervical mucus, the CM may be sticky and thick and may not become slippery (like egg white) even during a woman's most fertile time of the month.
Natural products like FertileCM and Evening Primrose Oil are used to help thin CM or help women produce abundant, fertile-quality cervical mucus during ovulation. Pre-Seed is a sperm-friendly lubricant designed to mitigate the problem of dryness with a lubrication that emulates natural bodily fluids.
During your cycle, your cervix changes position. Monitoring cervical position can help you predict ovulation. Observe your cervical position as a daily part of fertility charting - and you can do this in conjunction with monitoring cervical mucus. Try to examine yourself at the same time every day.
When conducting any self-exam, make sure that your hands are clean. Gently insert one or two fingers into your vagina - and by reaching back you should be able to feel your cervix. During the exam, ask yourself the following questions. Is the position of the cervix relatively low (easy to reach) or high (less easy to reach)? Does the cervix feel relatively soft or firm? Does the opening of the cervix feel open or closed? Is the cervix dry to the touch - or relatively moist - or very moist? Note that the answers to these questions are relative, so over time you will be able to draw better conclusions about cervical position.
Prior to ovulation, during the first half of your cycle, the cervix will feel relatively firm (like touching your nose) and dry to the touch - and the position of the cervix will be low in your vagina (easy to reach). The entrance of the cervix will feel closed. However, as you approach ovulation, the cervix will become increasingly soft and will increasingly moisten in order to create a more fertile environment for the sperm. The entrance of the cervix will feel open and begin to lift. At the highest point, the cervix may be a bit difficult to reach and the entrance of the cervix will increase in size. The feel of your cervix will be softer - like touching your lip. At this point, you are at your most fertile time. Following ovulation, the cervix begins to return to a firmer state and the entrance will begin to close. Also, the position of the cervix will again drop and become easy to reach.
Mittelschmerz and Ovulation Pains
Mittelschmerz is a lower-abdominal pain that typically takes place around the time a woman ovulates. Not every woman will experience mittelschmerz, but it is a natural fertility sign and if you experience mittelschmerz, note it on your fertility chart. Only 20% - 30% of of women will have mittelschmerz or ovulation pains - and mittelschmerz may occur before, during, or even after ovulation.