(Oringinally written for SymptoPro.org)
So you’ve taken a big step in awareness of your cycle and hormonal health to make the decision to begin charting. Congratulations! Whether you’ve taken a SymptoPro class, learned a different natural family planning or Fertility Awareness Based Method (FABM), or have simply been scouring the web, accurate charting is a must. That is, making sure what’s written on your chart actually reflects your daily fertility signs.
So how do you ensure that your charts are accurate? I’m glad you asked.
Here are 5 Tips for Accurate Charting to help you get the most out of your experience with fertility awareness.
1. Take your temperature at the same time, in the same way, every morning.
If you’ve chosen to observe your basal body temperature, or morning resting temperature, consistency is key. Erratic temperature taking practices can make it difficult (if not impossible) to detect the tell-tale temperature shift that serves as confirmation that ovulation has occurred.
To avoid confusion, make sure to take your temperature at the same time every day, preferably before 7:30am and after at least one hour of uninterrupted sleep. It’s also important that this is a true resting temperature. This means taking your temperature while still in bed, before rising, drinking water, brushing teeth, etc. The more accurate your temperature taking routine, the more accurate your chart will be.
1. Don’t skip cervical mucus observations
It’s vital not to miss any mucus observations. Sometimes fertile quality mucus may only appear once or twice a day. In this case, missing observations could create inaccuracies in your chart, potentially causing you to mislabel your fertile window.
For observing mucus on toilet tissue, make sure to check before and after every single time you use the bathroom. For observing mucus by vaginal sensation, make sure you are paying attention and noticing sensation throughout the day. At the end of the day, record on your chart the most fertile sign that you observed. Don’t save it until tomorrow thinking you’ll remember later!
Just like with temperature, make mucus observations in the same way every day. For example, if you learned a method that teaches tissue observations, do these diligently. If your method calls for internal observations, stick with those. Don’t mix and match observational styles – this creates inconsistencies in your chart that are confusing to interpret.
Note: The same principals apply to the optional cervical observation. If you choose to observe your cervix (checking for openness, softness, height, mucus, etc), make sure you do it daily. This is a subjective and comparative sign; if you’re missing days, you may be left feeling really confused about what you’re feeling and causing yourself unnecessary stress.
(Originally written for LiveWell Collective)
With all the cute planners, digital calendars, and fancy phone apps available, keeping track of your period is easier than ever. Whether you write little dots on your wall calendar or record it in your phone, many of us want to remember when our last period started.
But there is so much more knowledge to be gained than simply keeping track of when you bleed. I’m referring to the practice known as ‘cycle charting’. Have you ever heard of it? Cycle charting is simply observing and recording your body’s signs of fertility, which include cervical fluid, basal body temperature, vaginal sensation, and cervical position.
By doing this, you can create a visual chart mapping the various hormonal phases and events in your cycle, such as the pre-ovulatory estrogen build up, the tell-tale high progesterone phase that dominates the second half of your cycle, and of course, menstruation itself. Learning to chart is a fascinating process that often sets a woman on a journey of self-discovery.
Besides being simply interesting, cycle charting actually has practical applications as well. Here are my three favorites.
1. Cycle charting promotes body literacy.
Cycle charting will probably teach you more about your body than you ever knew before. For example, did you know that you can only get pregnant about 6 days each cycle? Did you know that your cycle can be divided into distinct phases? Or that your cervix changes shape and position throughout your cycle? Or that you don’t need to pee on a stick to know when you ovulate? Not only does charting give you a deeper understanding of how your body works physically, but it can also help you to discover how your cycle effects your relationships and emotional experiences on a day to day basis.
2. Cycle charting can be used to plan your family.
As I mentioned before, pregnancy is only possible during a short handful of days each cycle. Your fertile window is determined by hormonal and physiological conditions being just right for conception to occur, along with the timely presence of sperm and an egg. Your body has observable signs of fertility that allow you to accurately determine when the fertile window begins and ends. This knowledge can be used to practice natural family planning, or NFP. Not to be confused with the outdated Rhythm Method, which relies on counting days and knowledge of past cycles guess at the timing of the fertile window, NFP relies on real-time physical observations so you can identify the fertile window as soon as it starts, whether your periods come regularly or not. You can simply avoid intercourse during the fertile time, resulting in a 99.4% effective way to avoid pregnancy. This can mean freedom from the risks and side effects of the Pill and other forms of birth control. This is a game changer!
As you can imagine, this same skill set can be used to maximize your chances at conceiving. Not only does cycle charting allow you to accurately identify the best days for conception, but it also helps you asses if you have optimal fertility.
A simple description of natural family planning (NFP) is using knowledge of a woman's cyclical fertility to avoid or achieve pregnancy. The fertile window is determined by observing physical signs of fertility. Not terribly complicated, right? But what exactly are these fertility signs, and why can we trust them? Can a woman really tell if she's fertile simply by observing her body?
Fertility signs are physical biomarkers that reveal where a woman is in her menstrual cycle. Because the fertile window only occurs once per cycle, knowing when that window occurs is vital if a couple wishes to avoid pregnancy naturally (by abstaining during the fertile time), or if they are trying to conceive. Most fertility signs can be observed by the woman herself with no medical tests or specialized equipment. The signs commonly used in most methods of natural family planning are:
Why fertility signs are trustworthy
The reason that fertility signs can be relied upon to detect a woman's brief fertile window is this: fertility signs are direct reflections of hormonal activity. Since women's sex hormones fluctuate in a very particular manner throughout the stages of her cycle, her fertility signs will show exactly what her body is doing.
For example, a woman's basal body temperature will rise slightly in response to the hormone progesterone. Fertile quality cervical mucus is produced by the cervix according to a woman's estrogen levels. To a woman trained in fertility awareness, the presence of these signs is unmistakable and their timing tells the story of what her hormones are doing. Even though the moment of ovulation (the once-per-cycle release of an egg from an ovary) can't be detected without ultrasound, the hormonal events surrounding ovulation can be clearly observed through fertility signs. Because of this, a woman who uses NFP can confidently determine when her fertility begins and ends in any given cycle.
The implications of this are widespread. As previously mentioned, the ability to determine when she is and isn't fertile gives a woman incredible control and flexibility in her family planning. Pregnancy can be avoided with no pills, devices, or barriers. A couple can also optimally time lovemaking for achieving pregnancy.
But beyond family planning. learning to understand her fertility signs can help a woman to understand and monitor her health. Knowing her usual pattern of healthy cervical fluid will allow the woman to be the first to know if she has some kind of cervical or vaginal abnormality. Fertility charts, records of daily fertility signs, can reveal hormonal imbalances or other health issues. Learning fertility awareness can truly enable women to be active participants in their own healthcare.
Fertility signs are reliable, physical reflections of the day by day hormonal story of your cycle. Would you like to know more about how natural family planning works and why it's effective? Read some frequently asked questions or contact me!
As a natural family planning instructor and fertility educator, I'm not shy about praising the virtues of women's natural cycles. What I don't often discuss is those times in our lives where our normal, cyclical fertility may be suspended for a time. This could perhaps be from the use of artificial hormonal medication, from illness or over exercise, or for happier reasons such as pregnancy and breastfeeding. As much as a monthly cycle is the biological norm for women, these times without our periods can be a normal part of the feminine experience as well.
If you have experienced times of non-cycling, you may be familiar with the mixed emotions that accompany the return of your periods and fertility. Even a mature woman can feel like a teenage girl as she tries to get accustomed to having periods again. While this time can be unsettling, disorienting and distracting, it can also be exciting, rejuvenating, and grounding! Let's talk about some practical ways to gently reacquaint yourself with your period.
As your period returns, this can be an excellent time to evaluate your lifestyle and self-care routine. Are you happy with your old menstrual care products, or would you like to try something new? Are you consuming energy-giving, nourishing foods? Have you found a regular form of exercise that is fun and inspiring? Our period can act as our monthly health report. If it quickly becomes painful, too heavy or light, irregular, or difficult to manage, it might be a good time to assess what you can change about your lifestyle to support healthy periods and overall well-being.
This is also the perfect time to learn more about your cycle and practice fertility awareness. Remember, your cycle is everything that happens from the start of one period to the start of the next. The cycle is an intricate interplay of biological processes that affects us both physically and emotionally. Do you know about the different phases of the cycle and how they affect you? Do you know when your fertile window begins and ends? Do you know what your fertility signs are and how to chart them? There has never been a better time to learn than right now!
Finally, let this be a time of leaning in and engaging with others. Our feminine biology is something that connects us to other women. Remember puberty? Though it has its awkward moments, puberty is often a time when girls chat about their bodies and their feelings, share stories, and support each other in the reality of becoming women. I would love to see adults do this too! Whether we are living with regular cycles, no cycles, pregnancy, infertility, perimenopause, we can use our uniquely feminine experiences to draw us into deeper community and authentic relationships.
And if you have questions about the female cycle, or you want to know how to begin evaluating if you are living a cycle-supporting lifestyle, you came to the right place. I would love to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, contact me through this form, or join the Wellspring NFP and More Facebook group.
As a seasoned natural family planning (NFP) user, I must admit that at times I get sloppy. I know my body and my fertility signs very well, and I often know what I'm going to see on a given day of my cycle. Because of this, it's tempting to take shortcuts in my observational routine; that is, the way that I observe my body's signs of fertility. But having a solid observational routine is the fundamental skill that ensures effectiveness of natural family planning, so no matter how comfortable you are with the method, it's important to stay on top of this! Think about it; your observations are what sets NFP apart from the Rhythm Method. The Rhythm Method is a way of predicting your fertile window based on the length of your past cycles, but it does you no good if you have irregular cycles, are breastfeeding, perimenopause, or post-Pill. If you aren't diligently watching your body's symptoms of fertility, then your guesswork leaves you vulnerable to the occasional early or delayed ovulation. So how do you prevent this?
Here are the hallmarks of a good observation routine:
You are aware of your vaginal sensation throughout the day, and you are checking for cervical mucus on your toilet paper before and after each time you use the bathroom. This is key, as sometimes you'll only observe mucus once or twice a day, so it's easily missed if you aren't consistent! If you have trouble remembering, try creative ideas like leaving your chart in the bathroom or putting a bright sticker on your underwear! Eventually it becomes such a habit that you'll make your observations almost without thinking.
Natural childbirth is fascinating to me. Even before getting married and starting a family, someone recommended that I watch the documentary The Business of Being Born. I found it very compelling, and it inspired to me to look at women's bodies (and my own) in a new way. Of course I'm so grateful for modern medicine and good doctors to intervene when things go wrong. But I loved the idea that women were designed to give birth and that healthy, low risk pregnancies and births are natural processes and not medical events. Ever since, I've been interested to read about natural childbirth, watch birth videos, and listen to stories of women who've experienced it. I was even blessed enough to experience unmedicated births myself, one of which was a peaceful home water birth.
What is it that some of us find so appealing about natural childbirth? Why do we put ourselves through the pain (and sometimes ridicule!) that comes along with choosing to have a baby with little to no medical intervention?
I recently asked a group of natural birth enthusiasts this question, and here are some of their responses:
"It's empowering to have faith in your body."
"I love feeling the contractions and letting my body do what it knows to do."
"I believe women are made for natural birth, perfectly designed to bring our babies into the world with no need to intervene (in most cases)."
" After a very traumatic first birth, I knew there was something better. I began reading and researching natural birth, and it blossomed into a passion for all women to experience the beauty of it."
"Having a natural birth seemed to be in line with my other life choices- to do things that promote health, confidence, joy, and a respect of nature and my own instinct."
The practice of natural family planning (NFP) has numerous benefits. It’s effective, safe, free of side effects, can be used to avoid or achieve pregnancy, works with irregular (or non-existent) cycles, and helps women to manage their own healthcare. When presented with the many reasons to use NFP, many wary women and couples have asked the question, “But is it hard?”
There isn’t a quick answer to this question. It really depends on how you look at it.
For example: what if I gave you a task that needed to be done every morning, every evening, and even after some meals, every day, for the rest of your life? What if this task required special tools and supplies that needed to be regularly replenished? Would this seem hard? Perhaps, but most of us do this cheerfully without a second thought. I’m talking about brushing your teeth!
When it’s important enough, and the benefits are so clear (as in the case of oral hygiene), adding something extra to your routine doesn’t seem like a big deal. Many people feel the same way about NFP. And surprisingly, once learned, NFP actually requires less time and effort than your average brushing and flossing routine. Practicing the SymptoPro method of NFP takes a typical women just minutes a day, and she can use the information gained in those brief minutes to accomplish so much!
If learning how to observe, identify and chart your fertility signs and applying the guidelines seems daunting, I highly recommend finding a certified instructor to train you. Working with a professional will give you piece of mind and eliminate a lot of the guesswork, and soon enough you'll feel like a pro yourself!
So the actual charting clearly isn’t so bad. But what about the abstinence?
Yes, practicing natural family planning to avoid pregnancy effectively does require a couple to abstain from intercourse during the fertile window of a woman’s cycle. Depending on her experience and her individual cycles, this usually means about 8-12 days per cycle. Certainly, abstinence can be tricky, but when approached with the right mindset, it can actually serve to strengthen a couple's relationship (and even spice things up in the bedroom!)
So in my mind, weighing the pros and cons, NFP isn’t hard at all. At some times it requires sacrifice in the form of delayed gratification, but it is more than worth it. NFP provides freedom, peace of mind, increased intimacy, matchless self-knowledge, and so much more. And it's a skill that actually becomes easier, and more enjoyable, with time and practice.
So what do you think are the hardest parts of natural family planning? What are some of the benefits?
As a fertility educator and SymptoPro instructor, I'm passionate about helping couples to manage their reproductive health in a safe, effective, and empowering way. But what does that mean, exactly? What role does a fertility educator play in a woman's journey of using natural family planning (NFP)?
The first thing a fertility educator can do is to teach you the guidelines of natural family planning. During the main instructional period, you will learn about the function of various hormones, the phases of the menstrual cycle, the signs of fertility, how to observe and chart the signs, and how to apply the guidelines for avoiding (or achieving) pregnancy. Your instructor will work with you closely to make sure you feel confident in the method and can apply the rules correctly.
Your NFP instructor will also review your charts. Besides simply learning the guidelines of NFP, you will also be getting to know the unique rhythms of your own cycles. Your instructor will be available long after your initial class series has ended, to answer any questions you may have about observational techniques, your charts, your fertile window, and more. You'll probably have several in person follow up meetings, as well as continuous phone/email support.
A fertility educator is also trained to guide you through various reproductive circumstances. Whether you have long, short, or irregular cycles, are premenopausal, coming off of hormonal birth control, breastfeeding, or suffering from gynecological problems, your instructor can teach you to interpret and navigate charts that may look different than what you saw in class. This also means that an instructor can help you throughout your reproductive life, as your circumstances and body changes and matures. She can help you make the switch from trying to conceive, to trying to avoid pregnancy, and back again.
Your NFP instructor is someone you can ask anything without fear of embarrassment or funny looks. She is a coach, cheerleader, and a teacher with a wealth of experience.
Interesting in learning more about how a fertility educator can help you? Leave a comment below or contact me here!
If you are using fertility charting and natural family planning (NFP), you are learning some amazing things about how the female body functions, and about your own cycles in particular. If you’re like me, you are pretty fascinated by the whole thing. And if you are lucky enough to be paired with a science nerd or a guy with a dozen sisters, he's probably totally comfortable with it all.
However, if you are like many women, your man may find the consistency of your cervical mucus, cervical position, and daily temperature readings might be less than exciting. In fact, he may find them slightly freaky. If this is the case, the whole issue of deciding when to be intimate (especially if you are avoiding pregnancy) can feel awkward and decidedly unsexy.
Couples who are equally involved in the charting process often report a sense of shared responsibility, cooperation, and closeness. It’s one of the strengths of natural family planning. But how do you get a squeamist spouse on board?
Every couple has their own style and comfort level, but here are a few ideas. Feel free to add your own!
Learn NFP together.
Whether you’re taking an online course, learning in person, or just reading a book, this is actually one I think everyone should do. It’s crucial for both partners to understand what the guidelines of your chosen method are and why they are there. You’ll both know how to identify the fertile window, and which days to avoid if you’re postponing pregnancy.
Decide on your intentions.
This is vital to practicing natural family planning successfully. Are you avoiding pregnancy? Temporarily postponing? Actively trying to concieve? Not trying, but not avoiding? Have this conversation often; it's important to know where each person is coming from when making day to day decisions about sexual activity.
Keep the chart visible.
If you’re using a paper chart, put in on your bathroom mirror or on your nightstand. Make sure both of you have access to it and can check it any time. It will also serve as a reminder to chart consistently, and a way to prompt conversation.
Though a bit counter-cultural nowadays, some people desire a big family. There are many advantages to having a lot of children; maybe the idea of a house full of little ones fills you with joy and excitement! Perhaps you don't plan to prevent pregnancy, remaining open to as many children as God blesses you with. If this is you, and you've stumbled accross this blog, you may be wondering if learning natural family planning has any merit. After all, you're not interested in avoiding pregnancy, why should you bother learning how to chart your fertility signs?
You may be surprised to hear that charting your cycle can have numerous benefits besides limiting family size.
Charting your cycle allows you to accurately date your pregnancies
When you arrive at your first prenatal appointment, one of the first things your doctor or midwife will likely do is to calculate your due date. This calculation is typically based on an assumed conception date of 14 days after your LMP, or last menstrual period.
This can be fairly accurate if you happened to ovulate and concieve around day 14, but many women don't. If your estimated due date is off by a week or two it might not seem like much, but toward the end of your pregnancy it could make a significant impact on care decisions. Charting allows you to pinpoint the brief fertile window in each individual cycle, giving you a more accurate due date.