The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is a natural and hormone-free alternative to birth control that involves observing and interpreting physical signs and symptoms occurring in response to the changing hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle.
Understanding your menstrual cycle and fertility can assist in effective monitoring of your fertile window to prevent pregnancy. Simultaneously it allows you to plan your lifestyle and intimate relationships to optimize your chances of pregnancy if you’re trying to conceive.
Your menstrual cycle serves as an internal health guide that shows you when things aren’t right or when you need to give your body a little more attention. It’s our fifth vital sign and something we should be mindful of just as we’re conscious of our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature!
Our menstrual cycle is our fifth vital sign. In addition to monitoring blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and breathing rate, we should always be alert of any changes in our monthly cycle.
4 Things You Need to Know About Your Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle occurs in three phases: follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. The follicular phase (pre-ovulatory) begins on the first day of menstruation and lasts for about 7 to 21 days. It is followed by the ovulatory phase which only lasts for one day. You then move into the luteal phase (post-ovulatory) which lasts for about 11 to 16 days in a healthy fertile cycle.
- A healthy menstrual cycle should occur in a cyclic pattern and is typically between 21 and 35 days long. If your cycle is shorter or longer than this, it may be an indication of an underlying imbalance that needs to be addressed.
- Healthy follicles are essential for healthy ovulatory function. It takes about 100 days for your follicles to mature. If your follicles were unhealthy for any part of their maturation process, this can show up in your period months later. This simply means that how you’re phasing in your current menstrual cycle can be a reflection of your health months back.
- Ovulation is the main event in your menstrual cycle and should always lead to menstruation 11-16 days later in a healthy, fertile cycle. In anovulatory cycles you may still experience bleeding which is then known as breakthrough bleeds or withdrawal bleeds.
Using fertility awareness methods can help in identifying any menstrual and reproductive dysfunctions so that you, from an early stage, can seek assistance to address the underlying causes of the imbalance. If you experience irregular cycles, short cycles, heavy bleeding or absence of menstruation, connect with one of our holistic health practitioners for further support.
Different Fertility Awareness Methods
You may have heard of various methods of using fertility awareness and how to track your cycles and fertile window in order to prevent pregnancy or optimise chances of conceiving.
Different methods will use different tools to identify the fertile window such as calendar charting, tracking body basal temperature, cervical position and cervical mucus. In this article you will get a short introduction to some of the commonly used Fertility Awareness Methods but we encourage you to work with a Fertility Awareness Method Teacher for safe and effective use of the methods.
Often women will start charting their cycle only paying attention to where they are in their cycles in order to estimate their follicular, ovulatory and luteal phase. Often the previous menstrual cycle is used as a mirror to estimate the time of ovulation and fertile window, although it is important to understand that ovulation may occur at a different time in each cycle hence why only using calendar charting is not a very effective tool.
It serves a great purpose in building a greater understanding of the physical, emotional and mental signs and symptoms you may be experiencing at different phases of your cycle and is a good first step in practicing menstrual cycle awareness.
Cervical Mucus Observation
What is cervical mucus?
Cervical mucus is produced by the cervix in response to changing hormone levels. As oestrogen and progesterone levels are fluctuating throughout the cycle, you will be able to sense and observe changes in the sensation and appearance of the mucus. This will allow you to identify your individual pattern of fertility and infertility.
The cervical fluid is essential for sperm survival and assists the sperm in traveling through the cervix and uterus to meet and fertilise the egg. The various types of mucus serve their individual purpose. They assist in keeping the sperm alive in the wait for an egg, provide nourishment for the sperm, filter out unhealthy sperm, and assist with sperm transportation.
Without cervical fluid, sperm can’t survive in the vaginal canal and will die within an hour or two. The cervical mucus is essential for fertility!
Identifying Your Basic Infertile Pattern
To use the cervical mucus observation as an effective tool for monitoring fertility, a woman must identify her individual Basic Infertile Pattern (BIP). This is the pattern of sensation and appearance of her mucus that is present during the times in her cycle when her oestrogen levels are low and she is infertile. This pattern may vary from woman to woman and working with a trained Fertility Awareness Educator can help in determining your individual BIP.
In order to be able to sense and observe the mucus, you must have been in an upright position for the mucus to drain down towards the opening of the vagina. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the mucus changes throughout the day and record the sensation and appearance at the end of the day.
The Fertile Window
As the ovaries begin to produce oestrogen, there will be a change in the sensation and appearance of the mucus pattern. This is an indication that you are entering your fertile phase. If you wish to avoid pregnancy, then abstaining from intercourse is recommended.
As the oestrogen levels rise, the mucus will change and develop and so will the sensation at the vulva. The oestrogen levels will continue to increase as the follicle is proceeding to ovulation. This changes the sensation of the mucus to become slippery and lubricative and is a sign that ovulation is nearing.
It is important to understand that the changes in cervical mucus is not necessarily a sign of ovulation. For ovulation to be confirmed, a peak must be identified.
Identifying a Peak
Right before ovulation there will be a spike in Luteinising Hormone (LH) which initiates ovulation. LH also initiates the production of progesterone which has a drying effect on the mucus. As ovulation occurs and the woman enters the luteal phase of her cycle, progesterone will increase significantly. The progesterone reverses the action of the oestrogen on the cervix and causes the cervical plug to form and close. As this occurs, there will be a distinct change in the mucus pattern, from slippery to dry or sticky.
In order to identify a peak, there must have been a changing and developing mucus pattern, ending in a slippery sensation with a distinct change to no longer slippery.
Once a peak has been identified, a woman will count 3 days of this dry/sticky sensation until intercourse can be resumed. This will ensure that ovulation has occurred and that no sperm can enter the uterus to fertilise the egg.
Remember that even though a change in mucus pattern has been observed, this does not guarantee ovulation. A peak must have been identified and working with a Trained Fertility Awareness educator is recommended in order to use the method efficiently. This will ensure that all rules are applied correctly and in alignment with the desired outcomes of the method.
By keeping a daily chart of the sensations at the vulva, you will learn to understand your individual pattern, learn to trust your body and be able to tune in to the changing activity of the ovaries.
NOTE: Some women do notice one or two days of wetness just before menstruation. If a peak has been identified, you can be sure that this is a sign that this cycle is nearing its end.
Basal Body Temperature
Basal body temperature (BBT) is a measure of your resting body temperature or resting metabolic rate, which is impacted by the hormonal changes that occur during your menstrual cycle.
Measure your BBT accurately by taking your temperature first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. During the follicular phase or the first half of your cycle, your temperature stays within a certain ‘low’ range. After ovulation, you’ll notice an increase in your temperature upon waking due to a rise in progesterone levels. With an adequate corpus luteum function to produce enough progesterone, the temperature will remain high until just before your next period. If the egg isn’t fertilised your temperature will drop again.
What’s important to understand is that with BBT, you’ll only be able to see in retrospect that ovulation has occurred. So tracking your BBT won’t tell you precisely when you are the most fertile, nor will it tell you when you’re ovulating. BBT is purely a way for you to confirm ovulation and can be helpful in determining the length of the luteal phase.
How to use BBT
- Take your temp first thing in the morning before getting up and doing anything. Keep your thermometer by your bedside, just next to your phone or calendar.
- Note down your temperature or add it to your calendar and then start your day.
- Be aware of factors that can affect your BBT such as late nights, poor sleep, alcohol consumption, or snoozing. You’ll need a minimum of five hours of sleep to fully be able to use the BBT method.
- Allow yourself three months to fully understand your personal temperature pattern.
- Always measure your temperature the same way and with the same thermometer (make sure it has at least two decimals). A standard thermometer will do but there are specialised BBT thermometers that you can get in the market.
Certain fertility awareness methods use only cervical mucus or body basal temperature to determine the fertile window, whereas some methods combine them, sometimes in conjunction with other signs of fertility and ovulation. Finding a method that you feel confident working with is essential and no matter what method you decide to use, we recommend connecting with a teacher for effective and safe charting.
The use of Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) allows women to be in control of their own body and identify when in their menstrual cycle that they’re fertile and not. It can help women trying to conceive to time intercourse during ovulation to improve their chances of conceiving. In the same way, those trying to avoid pregnancy will know when a barrier method or abstinence is necessary.
Charting and understanding the menstrual cycle creates a better relationship to our reproductive health.. By identifying changes and abnormalities in our cycle, we can work on addressing the root cause of menstrual and hormonal imbalances and irregularities. Our holistic health practitioner team is here to support you on your health and fertility journey.
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