The female reproductive system is both strikingly beautiful and amazingly complex — Alisa Vitti of Flo Living calls it the “crowning achievement of human evolution and reproduction.”
Efficient and highly adaptable, seven hormones work in symphonic relationship to cause four highly refined processes to take place in a given cycle: the development of multiple follicles, ovulation, the building of the lining of the uterus (to prepare for possible conception), and the release of the lining when conception does not occur.”Alissa Vitti, In the Flo
(This is the #femininegenius right here, y’all. Being a woman is pretty awesome.)
Fertility awareness gives us the ability to understand this complex beauty. By charting — observing and recording our scientifically proven signs of fertility — we can interpret what’s happening in our cycle on any given day, and get to know our body’s unique voice.
Charting is the way we make fertility awareness a tool for keeping track of our health and fertility; and it’s the one thing we can’t not do if we want to use fertility awareness for family planning. Especially if we’re trying to avoid pregnancy, careful charting is pretty vital. No pressure. 🙂
Whether you just started charting or you need some motivation to keep at it, here are 9 quick tips (plus a bonus!) to help you gain some skills to make charting both a habit and even a way of life.
First, let’s get a refresher on some terms. What is charting anyway?
(Already know your FA terms? Feel free to jump down to the tips!)
Charting is the process by which a woman observes and records her biomarkers, so that she can track her health and fertility and get to know her body’s unique voice.
Biomarkers are your body’s signs of health and fertility. These include menstrual bleeding, cervical mucus, temperature, as well as other physical and emotional symptoms experienced in conjunction with your cycle (headache, acne, cramps, mood swings, etc.).
In this post, I’m assuming you already understand the basics of fertility awareness — hormones, cycles, and cervical mucus. (If not, check out my free Fertility Awareness 101 ecourse.) But because it’s such a fundamental aspect to charting, we’ll very briefly do a review of cervical mucus before going any further.
Cervical mucus is defined as “a hydrogel comprised of mucus molecules, water, a variety of enzymes, protein chains, and other biochemical compounds including sodium, chloride, and potassium.” (Source: The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack.)
There are several types, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on fertile mucus — cervical mucus that is produced in response to estrogen and the developing egg follicle. After your period, when your egg is just starting to mature, your cervix begins to produce mucus in response to hormones, and you may feel moist.
But as estrogen increases the closer you get to ovulation, your cervix produces more and more abundant, slippery, stretchy fluid — and this type of fertile mucus is often called peak mucus.
Fertile mucus is the perfect pH for sperm. It keeps sperm alive for up to 5 days as you approach ovulation, and it prepares the sperm to be able to fertilize an egg. It’s usually hard to miss it, and it’s arguably the most important biomarker of our cycle.
I highly encourage you to explore the fabulously helpful Cervical Mucus Project to get a good visual on all mucus types. (Real life photos, so beware.)
Ok, now you’re set. Let’s get you to boss charter status.
Try these 9 tips to help you chart like a boss:
1. Make it a habit.
Chart every day. Set a gentle alarm in your phone before bed as a reminder to add your observations to your app (I recommend the FEMM app or the Ready Your Body app) or paper chart. The more you habitually record your cycle data, the more charting becomes a way of life!
2. Notice sensations.
Ask yourself throughout the day: Do I feel moist or wet? Is there any fluid or mucus in my underwear? Do I feel slippery? Does the toilet paper wipe across my vagina in a quick and lubricative way? Or does it rub or chafe a little because of a dry sensation?
3. Check your tissue.
Using the bathroom is the perfect time for getting in tune with your fertility. Wipe both before and after you urinate. Take a moment to examine the toilet paper. Is there any noticeable mucus? If so, note the qualities – color, amount, consistency. Record your observations in your chart.
4. Use the stretch test.
The closer you get to ovulation, the more mucus you’ll see and the stretchier it becomes. This characteristic is a tell-tale sign that you’re very fertile. So how do you know if your mucus is stretchy? Use the stretch test: After you wipe, take two sides of the toilet paper and close them together on top of any mucus that is present. Then, gently open the paper and observe the mucus. You can also do this between two fingers. (It’s not gross, it’s cool.) If the mucus stretches just a little before snapping, then you’re probably not about to ovulate. But if the mucus can stretch an inch or more, your egg is about to launch! This is the best time for sex if you’re hoping to conceive.
5. Most fertile sign.
You may observe more than one sensation or type of mucus throughout the day, especially as your hormones are kicking into gear after your period. Always record your most fertile sign at the end of the day. It’s also helpful to gently bear down while you’re peeing right before bed; this helps to bring down any mucus that might be present.
6. Call for backup.
Sometimes mucus signs can be hard to analyze, and you might have days when you wonder if you’re really fertile or not. Whether you’re TTA or TTC, using LH test strips or a fertility monitor such as Clearblue or Mira can help you to better understand your observations and determine fertility.
7. Take notes.
Did you know that your cycle and hormones are very vulnerable to outside influences? Stress, lack of sleep, diet changes, new medications, or even a headcold can all cause variations in your normal cycle patterns. Even symptoms that you might think unrelated to your cycle – like having a migraine the day before your period starts – can be significant indicators of hormonal imbalance. So take notes about any – and all! – changes in lifestyle or routine, as well as unusual cycle symptomsor mucus patterns. The more details you record, the better!
8. Add in temps.
Cervical mucus observations are a vital part of discerning your fertility each month. BBT — or basal body temperature — is another way to make an educated assumption about what your cycle is telling you. BBT is your body’s waking temperature after being at rest for several hours overnight. Your BBT rises ever so slightly — an average of 0.4 degrees celsius — after ovulation, and remains elevated until your next period. Carefully tracking your BBT readings over a period of time, at approximately the same time each morning, can help you to see a pattern of temperatures rising and falling each cycle. Mucus and BBT is a great combination that can offer you more certainty in understanding your fertility each month.
9. Find a coach.
All of us need fertility awareness coaching from time to time. We should definitely learn NFP methods with a trained instructor for best outcomes. But we should also find a coach to help us through any difficult cycle changes, such as postpartum, breastfeeding, or premenopause. It’s good to have a friend on your side when fertility awareness and natural family planning are hard to navigate.
Bonus! 10. Trust your gut.
You know your your body better than anyone. Learn your cycle, read your charts, and trust your gut when something seems off or out of balance. Then, don’t be afraid to seek medical help – and ask for health solutions that are best for you. This is really the icing of the fertility awareness cake — you learn your cycles, track your health and fertility, and become your own best advocate, an informed participant in your health choices. Knowing your body is such a gift. 🙂
What are your best tips for charting? Drop a comment and let us know what helps you make charting a way of life!
I’m excited to share with you that I’m just weeks away from opening up my first signature course, Cycle Genius! It’s an online, digital course combined with personal, virtual coaching — and I’ll be launching with a special price and bonuses! This course is everything you need to jumpstart your journey into fertility awareness and natural family planning. Stay tuned for more details. 🙂