Tracking your cycle with fertility awareness involves paying attention to the signs your body is telling you. Your menstrual cycle is like your fifth vital sign, it will be the first to let you know if something is awry in your body and in need of attention.
There are a couple of different things that tracking your cycle can tell you about your health. In order to track your cycle, you will need to chart on either paper or using an app, and you may want to chart your basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical fluid.
You may also want to check the position of your cervix or your LH levels with LH testing or OPKs. Variations in menstrual cycles are normal, but there are indications to look for that will give you some insights on your overall health.
Ovulation is a Sign of Health!
Are you ovulating every cycle? Most women won’t know when they ovulate, or even that they ovulate at all. Be ahead of the curve by tracking ovulation with basal body temperature. Your BBT is your lowest body temperature attained during rest.
Prior to ovulation, your temperatures will be within a certain pre-ovulatory range. Your temperature will change from day-to-day, but it will be within a certain normal for you. After ovulation occurs, your BBT will raise by a slight amount due to the presence of progesterone, the dominant hormone post-ovulation.
You can track this by using a fertility charting app or on a paper chart, that allows you to track your temperatures on a graph separated by 1/10 of a degree. If your temperature isn’t rising at some point during your cycle, and stays within the same range, you most likely are not ovulating.
It is normal for some women to have an anovulatory (a cycle where ovulation does not occur) from time to time, and this may happen during different seasons of life, during postpartum, during perimenopause or following the use of hormonal birth control. If you are not ovulating regularly and you fall outside of these categories, it might be time to do some investigating.
The BBT and Thyroid Connection
Thyroid disorders are becoming increasingly more common in our society. Environmental toxins and stressful lifestyles can add critical stress to the thyroid. Common thyroid disorders are hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hashimoto's (autoimmune thyroid disorder).
There is a link between thyroid activity and BBT due to the way thyroid hormone maintains and creates heat in the body, and this is why persistently low BBT can indicate a thyroid disorder. A pre-ovulatory basal body temperature that is consistently below 97.5 F / 36.4 C can be indicative of hypothyroidism (note that this range is based on oral temps and axillary measurements may be different). Other signs of hypothyroidism include:
- Menstrual cycle irregularities
- Hair loss
- Pale skin
- Coarse, dry hair
If you notice consistently lower pre-ovulatory BBT as well as additional hypothyroidism symptoms, these are clues to take to your healthcare provider along with your chart.
The Lovely Luteal Phase
There are two phases to the menstrual cycle. The first phase from day 1 of your cycle (the first full day of menstrual bleeding) until ovulation is referred to as the follicular phase. The second phase from ovulation until the end of your cycle (the last day before your next period) is referred to as the luteal phase. The luteal phase is about the same length each cycle for each individual woman.
Once we ovulate, a temporary endocrine gland called the corpus luteum begins producing progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone that maintains cells and has a calming and nourishing effect on the brain and body. Healthy progesterone levels allow your luteal phase to last about 11-15 days. A short luteal phase can indicate low progesterone. If you consistently experience short luteal phases, you can take this information to your primary care provider to help diagnose potentially low progesterone.
Your Period is Important Too!
Another indication of overall health is the length and quality of your menstrual bleed. Pay attention to the quantity of your bleed - if you use a menstrual cup you can become very accurate in measuring the amount each day and recording that in your chart! You can mark down the exact amount, or if it is light, medium or heavy.
According to Lara Briden, a normal menstrual flow for your entire period is 50 mLs over the span of 3-7 days. Insufficient bleeding can indicate low estrogen, as the uterine lining relies on estrogen for it to be built up. On the contrary, extremely heavy periods may be attributed to excess estrogen.
With the information that your body can give you through your menstrual cycles, you become an incredible advocate for your own health. The more information and the more charts you have, the better picture you have on what your body is telling you! If you experience any of the symptoms I mentioned above, I would highly recommend working with a women’s health-minded practitioner to dive deeper into the health of your body and cycles.
More Reading on Thyroid and Basal Body Temperature
- Period Repair Manual, Lara Briden
- The Fifth Vital Sign, Lisa Henrickson-Jack
Nathalie Daudet is a social worker and FEMM instructor based in Winnipeg, Canada. She discovered fertility awareness after searching high and low for a non-hormonal method of birth control. After learning the magic of fertility awareness and the gift of body literacy, she decided to pursue formal fertility awareness training and share the knowledge of fertility awareness with women looking for a natural birth control option. Fertility Awareness Project is the hub for Nathalie’s FEMM classes in both group and individual formats, online and in person in Winnipeg. If you love this post and would like to thank Nathalie, shop Tempdrop with Nathalie's unique referral link.