Myths, misinformation and body illiteracy have all contributed to the idea that we can fall pregnant at any time and that our cycles are something unmanageable and difficult to understand.
Fortunately, it isn’t so.
Let’s take a brief look at the cycle and hormones at play before each event occurs.
In this phase hormone levels are very low, which allows the uterus to shed its lining.
This is the phase where the body prepares for the release of an egg (ovulation). In the follicular phase, estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone carefully balance to help the egg ripen and increase the production of cervical fluid. This helps sperm reach the egg. Estrogen begins to rise and triggers luteinizing hormone about 12-36 hours before the egg is ready to release.
The egg releases.
After ovulation happens the follicle that grew the egg transforms into the corpus luteum. This phase provides an immediate increase in progesterone and then later estrogen. If conception happens, these hormones will provide signals to the body to sustain a pregnancy. If it does not occur, menstruation will be triggered as progesterone drops.
Cycle events are controlled by the HPO axis, starting with your hypothalamus (H) signaling your pituitary (P) to initiate follicular stimulation in the ovaries (O). It looks something like this (note: not all cycles last 28 days, and only 24% of ovulations occur at cycle day (CD) 14 to 15. 28 days is commonly - and problematically - viewed as a standard for cycle length).
This three-part communication is quite delicate and responds to internal and external factors like illness, travelling, stress, and diet. Ovulation may be delayed if your body feels it has to prioritize your health over a pregnancy.
After ovulation, the body produces progesterone during the luteal phase of 9-16 days to support a possible pregnancy. If the egg isn’t fertilized, the uterus lining will shed and you’ll get your period.
Cycles will change throughout our fertile years and can also vary each month, but if you learn how to read your fertile signs, you’ll be able to track fluctuations and be aware of your own unique fertile pattern.
There’s only one secret to successful charting: consistency. The first two months will take the most effort, but then it will be smooth sailing, especially if you’re working with a FABM instructor.
Looking for some motivation to get you started? Here’s what charting can help you do:
1. Solve the Puzzle
Gathering cycle info will help you be more attentive to what might be causing cycle disruptions. You might notice delayed ovulation, a short luteal phase, scarce cervical fluid, low temperatures, or erratic spotting.
You will then be able to assess the root cause of the cycle imbalance you are experiencing and, with the help of a holistic women’s health practitioner, treat the root cause. Charting is your own pre-diagnosis tool.
2. Find Your Fertile Window
Charting will help you find your fertility window - the real one! - not the “period + 14 days” estimate that many apps incorrectly use.
You only have about 6 fertile days each cycle: your ovulation day and the 5 previous days (that’s how long sperm can live up to).
Tracking your fertile signs will allow you, over time, to recognize when you’re fertile so that you can:
- Get pregnant faster - research shows that timing intercourse with your fertile window will double your chance of conception!
- Avoid pregnancy - by following the rules of the FABM you can get up to 99.6% effectiveness as a natural birth control.
Contrary to what many think, charting is ideal for women with irregular cycles or PCOS. For them it’s even more important to understand their overall fertile pattern.
3. Go With The Flow And Improve Your Lifestyle
When you’re aware of what’s going on in your body, you’re able to adapt and flow with your cycle at your own pace, learning how to take better care of yourself. Believe it or not, your cycle corresponds to your energy levels, sleep needs, moods, and more. The more you know your cycle, the more you know yourself.
You can choose to chart with pen and paper or you can use one of plenty of apps. You’ll be able to track your basal temperature, cervical fluid and position, when you had sex, ovulation prediction kit (OPK) results, custom data or personal notes. Talk about a window into your overall health!
An Introduction to Fertility Charting
Here’s an example of one of my client’s charts on the fertility charting app Kindara. The hot pink blocks from CD (Cycle Day) 1-4 indicate menstruation, the pink dots on CD 5-6 and 30 spotting, the heart on CD 16 intercourse, the circles cervix positioning (another key fertility indicator), the pink block on CD 16 cervical fluid consistency indicating high fertility, the purple dots basal body temperature readings, the purple line the coverline dividing the pre-ovulation follicular phase and the post-ovulation luteal phase, and the sustained elevation in temperature… pregnancy.
Don’t worry if none of that makes sense to you. We’ll cover it in more detail in this blog! For now, the takeaway is this: charting is powerful and empowering. What are you waiting for?
This is the second chapter in our free Introduction to Fertility Awareness, a beautifully-designed guide written by seven certified fertility educators (including Patrícia!) If you'd like to learn more about FABM, including how to chart your cycle and identify your fertility window, download the Introduction!
Patrícia Lemos is a menstrual health and fertility educator, a NFP certified instructor, and an activist. She’s the founder of Círculo Perfeito, a pioneer evidence-based fertility and menstruation educational platform, running in Portugal since 2012. Her book for girls, The Goddess in You, was published in 2017 in the UK.