Welcome to part 3 of the fertility awareness education series! We’re just about halfway there. So far we’ve covered what the method is and how it works, and today, we’re launching into how to getting your charting on. Hopefully by the end of this post you’ll feel confident to begin your own charts! And to get you started, you can download the chart I give to women in my practice who are starting out. There is also a moon cycle chart at the bottom of this blog you can download, but I recommend starting with this one while you’re in the learning phase.
Download Fertility Awareness Method Chart
Fertility Awareness Method Charting: what we’re going to cover…
- Learning how to understand and accurately observe your two significant fertile signs: cervical mucus and temperature. Plus the optional sign of cervical position
- Explain what the coverline and Peak day mean.
Fertility Awareness Method Charting Basics
The most important take-home message of the fertility awareness method (FAM) is:
FAM is based on what you see and feel today.
Not last month.
Not from a fertility predictor app.
…what you see and feel today.
This is THE KEY to using this method effectively.
I may begin to sound like a broken record, but it’s the most important pillar. Without it, the method cannot be effective.
It can be tricky for some women, as it is an entirely new way to think. Some of us are led to believe that we can become pregnant at any time throughout the month. In school (and university for that matter) we are taught that the menstrual cycle is 28 days long with ovulation being on day 14. It is a textbook example. It is not your body. This is what the “The Rhythm Method” is based on. And what many of the apps available now are based on as well.
FAM is about what you see in your body today. It brings you into the now with your cycle and forges a wonderful relationship. So let’s jump into learning all about your fertile signs.
Charting your Fertile Signs
Using FAM involves learning to interpret two main fertility signs: cervical mucus and basal body temperature. There is an optional third: cervical position.
The cervix is the gateway to your fertility and understanding your cervical mucus is the key to effectively using FAM.
Because when cervical mucus is present, you can get pregnant.
It is the sign that you are in your fertile window. Some mucus types are more fertile than others, but to use FAM for birth control, all mucus should all be treated as fertile.
In a healthy cycle, your cervical mucus will change in a pattern like this:
The different types of mucus you may observe…
There is a lot of variation in the colour, consistency, and texture of cervical mucus at different times throughout the cycle. These also vary from woman to woman, so it’s crucial for you to learn what yours is doing.
This is the part of FAM that can prevent women from using the method because it may feel too complicated. It is simple, and it is very easy to catch on quickly. It takes a little longer – typically three months – for women to get the hang of charting and to understand what her unique cycle pattern is. Rest assured, it becomes easier to interpret.
Remember, all cervical mucus is fertile!
What’s the best way to check my mucus?
- The vulva is a highly sensitive area of a woman’s body, and walking enables even the smallest quantity of fertile mucus to be sensed there, as the motion of walking spreads it over the entire inner surface.
- Only sometimes there is enough fertile mucus produced in the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle for it to be observed as well as sensed.
- This is why sensing fertile mucus at the vulva can more accurately identify the fertile phase than seeing fertile mucus. When you’re walking around throughout the day ask yourself “what do I feel down there?”. Is it wet? Moist? Or do I feel nothing at all?
Observing cervical mucus…
- When you go to the bathroom, use a piece of toilet paper and gently wipe from front to back.
- What do you notice? Is the sensation dry, smooth or slippery?
- Look at the paper. Is there any cervical mucus present?
- NOTE: There is no need to insert your fingers into your vagina. Sensing at the vulva is more accurate.
Basal Body Temperature
When you track your temperature every day, you will notice a pattern. It is different for every woman, but will generally be divided into low temperatures in the first half of the cycle, and high temperatures in the second half. Image from Kindara.
Basal body temperature is also referred to as ‘waking temperature’ and is a measure of your resting metabolic rate. It is the lowest normal body temperature taken after 4-6 hours of complete rest (i.e. sleep) before any activity.
Before ovulation, your basal body temperature typically ranges from around 36.2 – 36.6 degrees Celsius. 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 a little gland in the ovary (the corpus luteum) that is ONLY produced if ovulation has occurred. Progesterone is a hormone that increases our basal metabolic rate that is measurable by temperature.
On a chart, you will see two distinct groups of temperatures on your chart. Low temperatures and high temperature, and this way you can confirm if you have ovulated, and when it happened. The coverline is the line you can use to split the two groups of temperatures apart when using a temperature graphing chart. Many apps allow you to map out your temperatures too. On the diagram it’s the purple horizontal line.
Setting the temperature myth straight
A common myth about basal body temperature is that it can help you to predict when you’ll ovulate. You’ve probably seen it on TV when the woman takes her temperature and exclaims she is ovulating and that male lead should make a bee-line for the bedroom. * Sigh *. Television playing havoc with our understanding.
Unfortunately, basal body temperature has no predictive value. Because the temperature rises after ovulation have occurred, it’s a retrospective sign that ovulation has passed.
For this reason, temperature alone is not a valid method of contraception. But when combined with the mucus method, it can confirm ovulation by cross-checking the temperature shift with mucus signs. This is why it is a useful tool in confirming ovulation.
Taking accurate basal body temperature…
- You will need a basal body thermometer
- Check your temperature as soon as you wake up in the more morning before you get out of bed or move around (before you have a shower, get a drink of water or brush your teeth).
- Try to check your temperature around a similar time each day.
- If you get less than 4 hours of sleep your temperature is not considered to be accurate – make a note of it.
Factors that affect basal body temperature
Make a note of any of these on your chart.
- Having a fever
- Getting less the four consecutive hours of sleep (particularly important for breastfeeding mums).
- Using an electric blanket or heater in the bedroom
- Drinking alcohol the night before
- Certain medications may lower BBT (such as aspirin or paracetamol)
This is an optional sign to check for. Some women love to check, as it provides that extra set of data to corroborate with the cervical mucus and basal body temperature to pinpoint exactly when her fertile window is. But it is not necessary to do for the method to be effective.
Around ovulation, the cervix rises and becomes soft and open. This is to allow sperm easy entry into the womb and fallopian tubes. An easy way to remember how the cervix should feel around your fertile window is SHOW.
Image from “Taking Charge of your Fertility” by Toni Weschler
S – soft.
H – high.
O – open.
W – wet.
The softness is like the softness of your lower lip.
When you’re in a non-fertile phase, the cervix sits lower; it is firm (like the end of your nose), closed and not wet (dry).
How to check your cervix?
After you’ve observed your cervical mucus. Wash your hands, and slip two fingers up into your vagina and feel for your cervix. If it is very high, you may not even be able to feel it. Other days you will feel it immediately.
NOTE: It is important to record your cervical mucus BEFORE checking your cervix. Manually checking your cervix is enough to stimulate “arousal” fluid (even if you’re not aroused, it’s the body response to any stimulation to these parts) and can obscure your cervical mucus sign.
What is the Peak Day?
The Peak Day refers to the day of ovulation. The signs that will help you identify your Peak day are:
- Cervical mucus: it is the last day of the mucus being wet and slippery before returning to dry.
- Basal body temperature: when you experience the rise in temperature of 2/10ths of a degree (and is confirmed by your temperature remaining high).
- Cervix position: when the cervix is SHOW – soft, high, open and wet.
- The first step of using FAM is to become confident in charting your cycle and observing what you see each day with your mucus and your temperature.
- You determine whether you are fertile or not based on what you see TODAY.
- Do not rely on past charts or previous cycles to tell you when you are fertile.
- Cervical mucus and basal body temperature are your primary fertility signs. Cervical position is an optional sign.
- Treat all cervical mucus as fertile.
- The sustained temperature shift confirms you that you have ovulated already.
Free Download // Charting by the Moon
I created this chart for women who would like to track their fertility with the cycles of the moon. It’s a lovely self-care practice.
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Would you like to know exactly when you can and cannot get pregnant each month?
Mediatrix Wellness offers Fertility Awareness consultations: holistic reproductive education to empower women and couples to take charge of their fertility. This service teaches you how to observe, chart and interpret your unique fertile signs.
Available in person in Sydney’s inner west or via Skype/phone.
Would you like to know more? Just pop over here. I also offer a specific preconception care program.
About the Author
Naturopath, Herbalist and Fertility Awareness Educator Clara Bitcon is a hiking enthusiast, oolong tea connoisseur, paperback book devotee and creator of Medi.atrix Women’s Wellness, a natural medicine practice helping women learn how to take their reproductive health into their own hands so that they are empowered and free to make their own informed health choices. Clara provides 1:1 consultations online and offline and education programs.