In this post, we’ll cover:
- How does the fertility awareness method work? What is it’s mode of action?
- Understanding the menstrual cycle to understand your fertile window
- Fertility sign basics: mucus and temperature.
Part 2: The Fertility Awareness Method Education Series
Welcome, sister! It’s exciting that you’re here because you’re about to dip into a world that you may possibly have never been before and will likely say at the end ‘why the heck did I not learn this at school??’.
I kicked off the series last week with an introduction to “what is the fertility awareness method?”. And this week we continue to how it works.
I’m very excited to share this old and new knowledge with you. It has changed my life and has transformed the way that I practice as a naturopath. We are in exciting times for women. A lot of knowledge is being reclaimed about the menstrual cycle. There is a rising in women world over who are learning to understand their menstrual cycles to give them full agency over their bodies and fertility as well as to help them tap into the power of their menstrual cycles and foster a deeper flow in their lives.
The fertility awareness method is a golden tool of sovereignty for women. Imagine knowing exactly when you’re fertile and when** you’re not. Knowing when is the optimal time to have a baby or when you need to take precautions to not.**
Imagine you’re sitting on my couch, we’re drinking tulsi tea and nibbling on some rose and cardamon oat cookies, and I’m going to explain the basics to you in this education series…
How does the fertility awareness method work?
The fertility awareness method’s (FAM) mode of action is through your knowledge and observations of your menstrual cycle and correctly identifying your fertile window. It is biology and the willingness to connect to your body and cycle.
The method works by having an intimate understanding of YOUR biology. Not a textbook woman’s biology. Not an app telling you about yours.
Your. Own. Knowledge.
It’s that simple and that tricky, as we’re typically not taught how to tune into our bodies so carefully.
The key to using FAM successfully is knowing the science behind the practice. And that’s what I’m going to share with you today.
If you are seriously considering using this method for birth control, I recommend that you make sure that you understand everything that I’m going to share over the next # posts. It takes at least three months charting to get the hang of the method and understand your unique cycle. You want to make sure you are confident before you rely on it for contraception.
If you are using FAM to get pregnant, knowing the details is also very important. I have women come to see me in my clinic who have been loosely using FAM trying to conceive, but they haven’t been correctly identifying their fertile window.
So buckle in, we’re going to talk biology!
The Fertile and Non-Fertile Phases in a Monthly Menstrual Cycle
Fertility status: Potentially fertile.
If no conception occurred in the previous month, your period will almost always follow ovulation 11-17 days later. The first day of bright coloured bleeding counts as day 1 of your menstrual cycle.
The cervix is open (see diagram). The lining of the womb is being shed. As menstruation comes to an end, the cervix closes and a mucus plug forms within it. When this plug is in place, no sperm can enter the womb.
You cannot judge if you are ‘fertile’ or not in the menstrual phase because any fertile mucus would is obscured by blood. Additionally, because the cervix is open (meaning the sperm can reach the womb), menstruation is a “potentially fertile” time.
This occurrence can be a big myth bust for women who thought that unprotected sex during her period was fair game. Ovulating on day two onwards is possible! So make sure you use a condom or diaphragm.
Pre-Ovulation (Follicular phase)
Fertility status: Not fertile.
The cervix closes with a mucus plug. There is a sensation either of dryness with no mucus present, or a slight moistness with an unchanging type of mucus present at the vulva.
The mucus plug prevents sperm from entering the uterus and die in a matter of hours.
It’s important to note here if you’re a woman with a short menstrual cycle (26 days or less) it’s possible that this phase is absent. Meaning, you go from menstruation straight into your fertile window. It’s not unusual for this to occur.
It is safe to have sex on alternate days during that time (I’ll explain more of this later).
Fertility status: Fertile!
The mucus plug dissolves, the cervix opens and releases mucus that becomes wetter and wetter through to ovulation. The fertile window is now open!
The sensation at the vulva changes from moist, to wet, to slippery, then back to dry/moist again. The last wet/lubricative day is the “Peak day”.
Ovulation usually occurs on the Peak day or the day after the Peak.
Pregnancy is possible on all days when fertile mucus is present, plus for three more days past the Peak day. It takes three days for the mucus plug to reform.
If you are using FAM for birth control, this is the time you would either abstain or use barrier methods. If you’re trying to conceive, this is the time to get sexy busy!
Post-Ovulation (Luteal phase)
Fertility status: Not fertile.
The post-ovulation phase begins on the fourth day past the Peak day (because of the three days for the mucus plug to form) and continues until your next period begin
The cervix closes with a mucus plug. The sensation at the vulva is either dry or slightly moist, or a combination of both. A day or so before next menstruation begins the cervix opens, and the mucus plug within it dissolves. The dissolving is that sensation of “oh, I feel something, I think I have my period”, and you look, and it’s only mucus. Then a couple of days later your flow begins.
Post-ovulation is the phase that you are entirely ‘infertile’ – it’s impossible to conceive in this cycle now.
Learning to observe your fertility signs: cervical mucus & basal body temperature.
Using FAM involves learning to interpret your two main fertility signs: cervical mucus and basal body temperature.
Cervical mucus is the gateway to your fertility.
Hopefully, the menstrual cycle explainer above has made it clear why this is so. If there is a mucus plug, no sperm can enter the womb. No mucus plug means that the little guys have got free entry.
A fascinating phenomenon is that the cervix makes many different kinds of mucus. Each type of mucus has its unique properties.
The wet, slippery mucus produced in the fertile window contains channels that create speedways for the sperm to travel.
And while the sperm swims hard, those channels use a negative pressure system to PULL THEM UP into the womb. They get a chauffeur service up into the fallopian tubes. During the fertile window, from the time of ejaculation to the sperm hanging out in the fallopian tubes awaiting our egg is 20 minutes. It’s a very efficient system!
The thicker mucus does not have this property. There are no channels. It contains more of a mesh that traps the sperm, and then immune cells gobble them up. RIP sperm.
Basal Body Temperature
(also referred to as ‘waking temperature’)
Our basal body temperature (BBT) is the lowest body temperature taken after 4-6 hours of complete rest (i.e. sleep) before any activity.
After ovulation, BBT will shift 0.2-0.5 degrees Celsius and will usually remain elevated until menstruation. The rise is due to the increased levels of progesterone produced by the ovary ONLY if an egg has been released. It is possible to have cycles where ovulation did not occur.
Progesterone is a hormone that increases our metabolic rate. When our metabolism goes up, so does our body temperature. A rise in temperature that remains elevated is a clear sign that ovulation has indeed occurred and that you are in the post-ovulatory phase.
Got all that?
That is a very quick primer on cervical mucus and temperature. Marinate in that overview, and I will go into more detail in the next post.
- We have infertile phases and fertile phases throughout a menstrual cycle.
- FAM works by learning to read these phases in our bodies and then applying a set of rules to either conceive or use as birth control.
- Cervical mucus is the gateway to fertile. Sperm cannot survive or travel without it.
- Temperature confirms if we have ovulated (it does not predict it).