Written by Nathalie Daudet
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a condition that is more strongly linked with androgen excess than the presence of polycystic ovaries. It's a condition affecting 10% of women (1 in 10), and fertility charting can be incredibly useful with this condition. Since this article is more about the benefits of charting with PCOS, check out this recent article on recognizing symptoms and getting a diagnosis. The root causes of PCOS vary from individual to individual, as do the symptoms.
How can charting your cycle and tracking ovulation help manage PCOS?
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is irregular or abnormal menstrual cycles. Many women with PCOS either find out they have PCOS because of their irregular cycles, or begin to notice them as a result of their diagnosis. A PCOS diagnosis is an opportunity to learn about your menstrual cycles and take charge of your hormonal health.
There are a few different ways you can track your cycle. You can use an app - the Tempdrop app (Android/iOS) allows fully manual interpretations, which is great for irregular cycles. Or you can track on a paper chart. If you want to use fertility awareness to gain even more insight into your cycles, you will want something that allows you to track both basal body temperature and cervical fluid. Things you want to pay attention to when tracking with PCOS are
- cycle length,
- ovulation (indicated by a combination of fertile cervical fluid and a sustained, raised basal body temperature), and
- menstrual cycle symptoms, such as PMS, acne, or painful periods, providing more information on your hormone balance.
Tracking Health Changes
The menstrual cycle is indicative of overall health. With menstrual cycle tracking, you can observe the impact of lifestyle and health changes on the menstrual cycle. There are several driving forces to PCOS and it is important to find out your own root cause of PCOS.
Exercising, managing stress, eating in a way that supports healthy hormones, reduces insulin resistance, maintains blood sugar balance, and lowers inflammation can be key in managing symptoms and regulating cycles with PCOS. Here are some things you can track in your menstrual cycle chart.
- Energy Level
- Sex Drive
- Food Sensitivities
Another thing to track is a return of a regular cycle. Over a longer period of time you will be able to observe your long-term cycle changes, and this can indicate that treatments or lifestyle changes are working. Charting your cycle is a wonderful way to track your progress.
One mainstream treatment of PCOS includes a hormonal birth control prescription. While hormonal birth control may restore what seems like a regular menstrual cycle, the root cause of PCOS is left unchecked. On most hormonal birth control, the intention is to suppress ovulation and give you timed bleeds to mimic a cycle - however, without ovulation, you don't actually have a true cycle, just a bleed. So the whole time, it actually just masks PCOS symptoms, meaning the root cause will still be there when you come off of it. Using fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) to achieve your family planning goals gives you the ability to see what's happening with the root cause of your PCOS, and allows you to switch between intentions as you desire.
While it may take some learning to use a FABM with PCOS, because of delayed ovulation, this can be eased by working with an instructor. Using a symptothermal FABM involves tracking your basal body temperature and cervical fluid to identify your fertile time. This means you can use Tempdrop to measure your basal body temperature, and you won’t have to wake up at the same time every day to get an accurate reading!
Irregular cycles that come with PCOS can be incredibly frustrating. Not knowing when you ovulate means that you don’t know when to expect your next period. This is because delayed ovulation can make cycles incredibly long and unpredictable. Once you ovulate, your luteal phase is generally the same time for you each cycle. Your luteal phase is the time from ovulation until your next period. The variable portion of your cycle is the follicular phase, which happens before ovulation. Since the variable portion is before, not after, ovulation, this means that once you ovulate, you will know approximately how long until your next period!
Tracking your cycle, especially when your cycles are irregular, will help give you some insights into what is going on and where you are exactly in a long cycle. The main reason for long and drawn out cycles is delayed ovulation. We generally don’t talk about ovulation outside of getting pregnant, but ovulating regularly is a sign of health. Tracking your cycle, including your cervical fluid and basal body temperature, will tell you if you are ovulating or not.
Maintaining Healthy Habits
Charting your cycle is a daily habit, just like flossing your teeth or drinking water. It eventually becomes a practice that reminds you to take care of your body, and prioritize your overall menstrual health. With a condition like PCOS, sticking with healthy habits is key. It can be hard to make these changes at first, but just like anything, eventually it becomes second nature. Charting your cycle can help you keep on track with lifestyle and health changes that are key to managing your PCOS.
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.