Fertility Charting for Beginners

Today’s post is going to be a guide for fertility charting for those who just want to be educated about their bodies, ultimately with the goal of conceiving. I took Human Reproduction as my capstone senior year of college and that was the first time I realized how little women are taught about their own bodies, so when it comes time to try and conceive a child we can often be surprised when it doesn’t happen after having unprotected sex for the first time.

When trying to conceive (TTC) I feel like there are generally two different categories of people – the
“not trying, not preventing” crowd and the charting crowd, which obviously can be split into various degrees. Both ways are valid ways of conceiving but for women with various health conditions or have had trouble conceiving in the past, charting can be a more definitive way so see what’s up with your cycles.

This is going to touch on some of the basic things that you can chart when starting your TTC charting journey. This isn’t going to go in depth on things like menstrual flow changes or luteal phase or other things. You can make charting as simple or complicated as you want so today we are just going to cover some basics. I really recommending using a paper chart from the book “Taking Charge of your Fertility” or the Fertility Friend website and app.

PERIOD

The first most basic thing you’ll want to chart is the day your period starts and stops. The first day of your period is considered  “Day 1” of your cycle. The textbook example of a cycle is usually 28 days but there is a lot of normal (and abnormal) variation that can make this number inaccurate for many woman. If for some reason you don’t have a period (like me, due to PCOS or other issues), you can still track the following changes, just note that you may or may not ever be ovulating. We might cover this in another post.

TEMPERATURE
Your basal body temperature is another thing you’ll want to keep track of daily. Subtle changes throughout the month can clue you in on the start of each new phase of your cycle. In order to get the most accurate results, its important to record your temperature first thing in the morning. For the first part of your cycle, you may see some changes from day to day but overall you’ll hover around the same average unless you’re ill. During ovulation, the temperature will drop slightly followed by a rise in temperature the next day that is sustained until the end of the cycle.  It’s a common misconception, I think, that the spike in temperature signals ovulation but actually, it signified that it has already happened. The rise in temperature after ovulation is the start of your luteal phase.

You can use any kind of thermometer to chart temperature, typically the infrared forehead kind are not recommended. I find orally to be the easiest for me. Readings with two decimals are preferred but the cheaper thermometers usually only go to one decimal place which can be sufficient for most.

CERVIX
For many woman, temperature charting, or temping, can be enough to help you determine your most fertile days. For others, temperatures aren’t so clear and other signs are useful in determining when ovulation has occurred. Checking the cervix requires getting up close and personal with your body on a daily basis so if you weren’t comfortable with touching yourself before, you will be after charting. No pun intended. There are three main things to take note of when checking the cervix – position (and opening), texture, and fluid. Often it takes a cycle or two to really get used to the changes and what they feel like.

To check your cervix, you’ll want to insert a clean finger into your vagina at about a 45 degree angle towards your back. The cervix is round and honestly sort of looks and feels like the head of a penis. First take note of the position. If the cervix is high, you’ll have to insert almost the entire finger to be able to reach it. At a lower position, it is much easier to reach. You’ll also want to feel around for the opening – is there a small hole or is it closed? Next, gently press on the cervix and note its texture. Is it soft like a flaccid penis? Firm like a hard penis head? Or somewhere in the middle? If you don’t know what a penis feels like then perhaps think of the difference between your lips and the tip of your nose. Finally, swipe a finger around the cervix and inspect the mucus. Cervical mucus is categorized as either dry, sticky, creamy, watery or egg white. In general, around ovulation the cervix will be soft, high, open, and wet. Watery and egg white mucus are considered fertile, with egg white being the gold standard. Egg white mucus is easily distinguished by its ability to stretch between your fingertips without breaking. This should not be confused with arousal fluid, which is different although it has a similar consistency.

OVULATION TESTS
Ovulation tests are typically referred to as OPKs or ovulation predictor kits. Most drugstores sell some form of these but typically its more cost effective to buy the strip tests in bulk online from somewhere like Amazon.  These work very similar to pregnancy tests in that you dip the stick into a cup of urine, wait a set amount of time, and read the result. The different is that for the strip type tests, two lines does not always equal positive for ovulation. Ovulation would show the dark control line as well as an equally dark test line.  If one of the lines is fainter than the other, this is not a positive test.  OPKs are useful if you find your cervical signs and temperatures don’t match up. When the ovulation test shows positive, it usually means you will ovulate within the next 24 hours, not that you are currently ovulating.

WHEN TO HAVE SEX
All the statistics say that sperm can live in the vagina up to five days but really this is under ideal conditions which not everyone has. Experts agree that you have the highest chance of conceiving when you are intimate two days before, the day before, and the day of ovulation.

RESOURCES
Taking Charge of Your Fertility book
Cervix photo gallery (NSFW)
Lots of great resources and community for voting on your test if you can’t tell!
Fertility Friend log

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