Why is charting important?
By charting your cycle, you can predict when you will ovulate in order to increase your chances of getting pregnant by timing intercourse with ovulation. In addition to charting aiding in informing you and if and when you will ovulate, it’s also a tool to tell you when to take certain fertility supplements and also keep track of previous doses.
Keeping either a written or digital chart helps you tap into the inner workings of your fertility, including fluctuations of hormones, so you can get to know your most fertile days and use them to your advantage as you try to start or grow your family.
If you are having difficulty getting pregnant, one of the first courses of action to take is to chart your cycle in hopes of finding emerging patterns that signal fertility. Charting your cycle and identifying your most fertile days will increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Your body sends out many signs during your cycle that tell you where you are in it, but you need to be trained to look for them. Charting will help you do that.
Fertility Charting Basics
What is the “fertile window”?
The fertile window spans the days that a woman is most fertile during her menstrual cycle. This is on the day of ovulation and about 4 days prior.
Fertility awareness method
The fertility awareness method refers to using fertility charting as a means of natural family planning. Proponents use charting to identify non-fertile days when it’s safe to have sex and not get pregnant.
They avoid days that he charting patterns indicate are in the fertile window.
Observing and recording your basic fertility signs
Charting your cycle involves capturing a variety of information:
- Your daily basal body temperature, which is your lowest temperature at rest
- Characteristics of your cervical mucus each day, which offer insight into whether or not you’re ovulating
- When your period begins
- Each time you have sex
All of this information combines to help you understand your cycle of fertility. Knowing these things can make a big difference in whether or not you get pregnant.
The average couple (without fertility issues) conceives after 5 or 6 months of trying. But couples who use fertility charting to identify when a woman releases an egg during ovulation increase their chances of getting pregnant by knowing when to have sex with the highest odds of conceiving.
Primary fertility signs:
Waking or basal body temperature (BBT)
Basal body temperature, or BBT, is your lowest body temperature at rest. It dips when you ovulate and can therefore be charted and examined for emerging patterns that can help you predict when you will ovulate next so you can time sex for conception.
The color and texture of cervical fluid changes during your menstrual cycle. Tracking these characteristics can help you determine when you are most fertile.
Estrogen levels also produce observable changes in the cervical position, which can predict fertility. Cervical position provides the same information as cervical mucus, so it may not be necessary to measure if you’re able to clearly detect changes in your cervical mucus.
How to measure BBT
Charting your BBT is one of the longest standing ways of predicting ovulation. Knowing this information has helped many women get pregnant.
Right before ovulation, your BBT is usually about 97 to 97.5 degrees fahrenheit. This number can vary from person to person, but is usually consistent cycle to cycle in the same woman.
When you ovulate, the body releases a hormone called progesterone. The increase in progesterone causes the basal body temperature to rise slightly (by about .5 degrees) a day or two after ovulation and it is likely to remain higher until your next menstrual cycle begins.
If you become pregnant, your BBT will stay around this temperature.
Since the change happens after ovulation, charting is the key to finding patterns in your cycle—hopefully in your first month of charting—that can be used to predict ovulation in subsequent months and get pregnant as quickly as possible.
You should start taking your basal body temperature the second day of your period. For accurate results, you must take your BBT first thing in the morning before getting out of bed (even to go to the bathroom). This is why you cannot usually start charting on day one of your period.
You will need a basal body thermometer, which measures temperature more accurately (to a tenth of a degree) than a regular thermometer. They are affordable (about $15) and readily available online and in drug stores.
You may take your temperature any way you choose—the easiest being by mouth—and should use the same method every day. Record your BBT daily. If doing so by hand, plot the days on the X axis and temperature on the Y axis, connecting the dots as you plug in daily data points.
Eventually the line will show a pattern of when temperature rises each month and you will know that ovulation proceeds the bump.
How to identify cervical fluid
Some sources say that tracking changes in your cervical fluid is even more accurate than charting BBT. The cervix is a strip of tissue that connects the uterus and vagina.
As you get close to ovulating, the cervix releases more mucus to aid the sperm as it journeys to the egg. When you are not ovulating, the cervix closes up and does not release much mucus since you cannot get pregnant anyway.
Cervical mucus that indicates fertility is clear and stretchy. The most common comparison is to egg whites. Tracking the consistency of your cervical mucus throughout your cycle can help you identify which days you’re most fertile.
A typical pattern looks something like:
- Menstruation for days 1 through 5
- No mucus, vagina is dry for days 6 through 9
- Thick, sticky mucus becomes thinner and whiter during days 10 through 12
- Mucus is stretchy, slippery, thin and clear (like egg whites) on your most fertile days–13 through 15
- Mucus gets thick and sticky again days 16 through 21
- Vagina is dry days 22 through 28
Your cycle may look different, which is why consistently charting the changes in your own body is so crucial. You should check your cervical mucus daily.
You can do so by swiping clean fingers over the opening of your vagina where you’ll find the mucus. Examine it between your fingers and write down your findings.
For the most accurate results, avoid using a douche or use of spermicides while tracking your cervical mucus.
The 2-day method of tracking cervical mucus involves asking two questions—Did I notice any mucus secretions yesterday? Did I notice any today? If the answer to both questions is “yes” you are potentially fertile. If the answer to both questions is “no,” it is not probable that you will get pregnant if you have sex that day.
How to track cervical changes
Before ovulation, the cervix softens, opens and heightens to allow sperm to travel through it and into the uterus. Following ovulation, the tissues firm up, and the cervix closes and returns to a lower position.
You can feel your cervix if you put two fingers in your vagina.
Just following menstruation and proceeding your period of peak fertility, the cervix is low, firm and hard and easy to feel with your fingers. It should feel like the tip of your nose.
As you reach your most fertile days, it straightens and lifts and becomes higher, softer and more open as estrogen levels increase. Always make sure to use clean hands and caution when feeling your cervix.
How to start charting
There are many charting tools out there, from paper templates to period tracking apps to more robust fertility tracking software. The biggest key to starting your cycle charting journey is to pick a method of recording that you can stick with.
The process is tedious, long and highly dependent on consistency. Once you have a tool you think will be best for you, you should start charting on the first day of your period as it’s the most visible marker to where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Same time each day
Fertility signs can be extremely subtle changes. To help ensure accuracy you should chart your cycle the same time each day.
This is beneficial when charting each of the signs—basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical position. It’s best to do them all at the same time when you first wake up in the morning, and before getting out of bed.
This method will yield the most accurate results possible.
How to read your chart
The goal of all this painstaking charting is to get enough data (at least a month’s worth) to start seeing patterns emerge. Since BBT is numbers based, you will begin to chart a trend line.
The hope is that you will see when the small spike in BBT occurs during your cycle so that you know when ovulation is coming (just before the spike). Be cautious of getting hung up on an outlier data point here or there as these are common.
The longer you chart your cycle, the easier the chart will be to read and the more visible the fertility signs will be.
How to find your most fertile days
Women have about 5 fertile days per month, which are those leading up to ovulation and the day of. By understanding the inner workings of your menstrual cycle—which can be achieved through charting—you’ll begin to see when ovulation occurs.
Once you know that, you know that you most fertile days are that day and the few leading up to it.
How effective is the fertility charting method?
Fertility charting has been known to help couples get pregnant 5 to 7 times faster than couples who do not chart. The charting method can be especially helpful for couples experiencing fertility issues.
While it can be a tedious process, it can pay off big. Charting is a way to ensure that you capitalize on the fertility windows available to you as much as possible.
Can this method be used as natural birth control?
Some people have had success using fertility charting as a means of natural birth control. However, it is not widely recommended by the medical community as a recommended form of birth control.
The argument in favor is that if charting can so closely identify fertile days, then it can be used to identify both safe and unsafe days. But, just as charting is not a surefire way of getting pregnant, it is by no means a surefire way of avoiding pregnancy.
In addition, charting your fertility signs does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases and infections. The bottom line is that charting your cycle is a much better tool for helping you get pregnant versus providing peace of mind that it will be avoided.
Is charting your cycle right for you?
If you’ve had any trouble getting pregnant, there’s not much reason to not give charting your cycle a try. The great thing about charting your cycle as a fertility tool is that it’s exceptionally low cost—just the $15 or so to buy a basal body thermometer.
There are tons of free and low-cost tools to help your track all your fertility signs, many of which event plot the data points and can analyze patterns for you. Charting your cycle also helps you get more in tune with your body by highlighting when things like stress and fluctuating hormones may be affecting you.
Finally, one advantage of charting your cycle is that it can replace certain costly doctors appointments by accelerating your fertility discussion.
The downsides of cycle charting that it’s tedious and can be quite a chore. It also takes keen observation skills and a lot of intimate poking and prodding of your body.
Since the noticeable changes are so minute, it can be difficult to get accurate readings and data, which makes it difficult to make the method work for you.