Written by Patrícia Lemos
For many people myths, misinformation, and body illiteracy have contributed to believing the idea that we can fall pregnant at any time and that our cycles are something unmanageable and difficult to understand.
Fortunately, this just isn’t so. Let’s take a brief look at the cycle and hormones at play before each event occurs.
In the menstrual phase, hormone levels are very low, which allows the uterus to shed its lining. Technically it actually falls under the category of the follicular phase below, but it's easily identified by itself.
This is the phase where the body prepares for the release of an egg (ovulation). In the follicular phase, estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) carefully balance to help the egg ripen and increase the production of cervical fluid. Cervical mucus helps sperm stay viable long enough to reach the egg, and even creates paths to help sperm on its way. Estrogen begins to rise and triggers luteinizing hormone (LH) about 12-36 hours before the egg is ready to release.
The egg releases. This phase is the shortest part of your cycle. Once the egg releases, it's viable for 12-24 hours, and if a second egg is released (how you conceive fraternal twins) it will be released within 24 hours.
After ovulation happens, the follicle that grew the egg transforms into the corpus luteum. The luteal phase provides an immediate increase in progesterone. 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.
Cycles will change throughout your fertile years and can also vary each month. That means you can't expect your cycle to look exactly the same every time - after all, we're not robots. 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 each individual cycle.
There’s only one secret to successful charting: consistency. The first two months will take the most effort while you're learning and establishing habits, but then it will be smooth sailing, especially if you’re working with a fertility awareness instructor.
Looking for some motivation to get you started? Here’s what charting can help you do:
1. Solve the Puzzle
Gathering data about your cycle by charting 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, and/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 and even doctors incorrectly use.
The fertile window lasts about 6 days each cycle, though we can only say for sure which 6 days after they have passed. Why 6 days? Sperm can live for 3-5 days in ideal conditions, and an egg can be viable for another 12-36. Overall, that means there are about 6 days where having unprotected sex could result in pregnancy.
Tracking your fertile signs like cervical mucus and basal body temperature will allow you, over time, to recognize when you’re fertile so that you can
- become 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 works incredibly well for women with irregular cycles for any reason, including postpartum and PCOS. In fact, it can be even more important to understand your cycle in those cases.
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 like Tempdrop (iOS/Android). You’ll be able to track your basal temperature, cervical fluid and position, when you had sex, urine hormone test results, custom data or personal notes. Talk about a window into your overall health!
Don’t worry if this doesn't make complete sense to you yet. For now, the takeaway is this: charting is powerful and empowering. If you want to get started, download Tempdrop's free fertility awareness guide. What are you waiting for?
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.