Now we have covered the phases of your cycle, I want to talk about why we should be tracking our cycles and how to do it. This is something I have been doing since coming off the pill. Through doing this I understand that my cycle is not healthy and that it needed addressing. That is part of the reason I wanted to start this series. I want to learn as I go and help others understand their cycles and the importance of a healthy cycle. Often, if there is some irregularity in your cycle, there are underlying health conditions. Let's hope through lifestyle changes I can have a happy period!
Why should we track our Cycle?
Through tracking your cycle you can start understanding how your body works, you can find out how long your cycles are, how heavy your periods are, how long or short each phase of your cycle is to name a few. There are so many apps available across all mobile platforms. I used Clue in the past but unfortunately they don't offer a chart for tracking your basal body temperature (BBT), so I made the switch to Femometer. If you would rather, you can always track your cycle using a diary and writing it down daily. Personally I prefer an app as it collates all the data for me. It takes time to get the big picture of your cycle and tracking is something that should be done daily for, well ever (or at least a year)! The more you track the more you can start to see patterns in your cycle. There are two ways in which you can track your cycle, basic and advanced. I would honestly suggest going advanced straight away but if you are new to this, the basic is a good starting point
If you use an app, the data fields will already be set up for you so I suggest just filling in as much as you can, if using paper to track you should consider the following: .
The first and last day of bleeding
How heavy was the flow
Spotting before or after your period, or during your cycle
Physical and emotional changes throughout the entire month. Are you feeling happy, angry, irritable? Are you full of energy or are you feeling fatigued and achy? How are your sleeping habits and bowel movements?
If you choose to use an app, it's likely that it will start to give you 'warnings' around certain points in your cycle as it builds a picture about your patterns. The more you track the more you will find yourself understanding why you feel the way you do. For example, I know ovulation is close when I start getting tongue tied. I have no idea why, but my sentences never come out as I intend. Even my partner now knows this is a sign of ovulation! I also get really irritable around ovulation and feel the need to retreat for a day or two.
For those who want to know more and go even further (this is the method I use) there are more factors that can be tracked to get a more precise picture of your cycle health. The biggest things to consider here are cervical fluids, basal body temperature and cervical position. If you want to know if you are ovulating and when, this is the best method.
When we get an understanding of our own cervical fluid, we are able to determine when we are fertile and when we are not. In an ideal world I would use this method and just use condoms when I was in my fertile phase, but as my cycles are irregular I am not confident enough to do this. After your period, your vagina will likely feel dry with little to no cervical fluid. As estrogen begins to rise, cervical fluid will become creamy or milky. As you enter your fertile phase, you may notice that it becomes more watery, slippery and stretchy (like egg whites). After ovulation, with the rise of progesterone, the fluid becomes thicker with a sticky or tacky texture. For the remainder of the luteal phase you will notice less fluid and it may become very dry, similar to what you experienced immediately after your period. You should be able to track your cervical fluid when you go to the toilet, you tend to notice the feeling of toilet paper when you wipe. Wearing black underwear can also be helpful as it's easier to see your cervical fluids. The other option is to use a finger internally and notice how it feels on your fingers (it's really not gross so don't turn your nose up in disgust).
You are also able to tell whether you ovulated by tracking your cervical mucus. Every month (if ovulating regularly) you will have a peak day. A peak day is not the day of the most cervical fluid but rather the last day that you observed the wettest fluid. The peak day tends to occur 1-2 days before ovulation. It tends to be the day before your cervical fluid changes to a stickier consistency.
Charting your Basal Body Temperature
Basal body temperature is a person's temperature first thing in the morning when they wake up before doing ANYTHING! Before ovulation your temperature tends to be fairly low. After ovulation your temperature will increase ever so slightly and it will stay high until your period arrives. In order to record your BBT you need a thermometer that tracks to two decimal places (I use this thermometer which syncs straight the app). In order for your readings to be accurate they need to be taken after at least 3 hours of sleep and at the same time (as close as you can) each day. I tend to take mine between 04:00 - 05:00 am as I tend to wake up, or get woken up and end up going to the toilet. Things like medication and alcohol can alter your BBT so you may need to disregard readings that appear to be abnormal after a night of drinking. Most apps allow for you to enter your BBT and chart it for you. You can track it on a paper chart which you can find online. It can take time to see patterns in your cycle so you need to give it a good few months. If you do not get a spike in temperature this would indicate that you're not ovulating. I don’t often have anovulatory cycles but my ovulation date happens anywhere from day 27-32, which is very late (something else I am looking to resolve using a holistic approach).
Monitoring your Cervical Position
This is the third sign of fertility that you should monitor closely. This is not always necessary but it confirms what your cervical fluids and BBT are telling you. Your cervix tends to sit low and feel firm and closed throughout your cycle. As estrogen rises during the lead up to ovulation, your cervix will become softer, sit higher and feel more open. This is all to aid you in becoming pregnant. Before checking your cervical position, make sure you wash your hand. And a tip from personal experience, do not do it if you chopped chillies for dinner!
What if you have irregular cycles or missing periods?
This is where I fit in, by tracking my cycle I have learnt that I have an irregular cycle, a long follicular phase and a short luteal phase and that I need to address this. If you do not see a rise in your BBT temperature you are not ovulating, your cervical fluids won't change and tend to fluctuate between creamy and sticky but never reaching a watery consistency. I am hoping that as I learn more and adjust my lifestyle I will start to see consistent ovulation and more regular cycles.
I hope this has helped you and that you will now start tracking your cycle if you do not already. It really can be very insightful and offer a bigger picture regarding your overall hormone health.
Next week I will be talking you through the Hormonal hierarchy and how hormones influence your cycles. Make sure you subscribe so that you don't miss any posts.