This chart shows body temperatures throughout one woman’s menstrual cycle. Note the low temps before ovulation (the follicular phase) and the comparatively higher temps after ovulation (the luteal phase). Also note the dropping temperature in the days leading up to menstruation.
Fertility charting absolutely helped us get a good view of whether or not Susan was ovulating when we first began investigating our infertility issues. We’ve since met so many people for whom charting was a helpful. And it is, in two ways.
1. The first way charting can help is to let you know, if your cycle and/or signs are consistent at all, when in the future you may ovulate. You will want to have intercourse for up to five days before you think you’ll ovulate, up to the day after you believe you’ve ovulated in order to maximize the chances of pregnancy.
2. The second way fertility charts come in handy is that you can present them to your doctor to show her evidence of irregularities, anovulatory cycles (no egg) and the like. If you’re not ovulating regularly or not ovulating at all, that’s a huge piece of the puzzle for your doctor, and for you.
There is a third way some people find charting useful: for preventing pregnancy. We find this much less reliable the more irregular you are. And since you never know for sure when you’re ovulating until after it’s over when it comes to charting, our personal feeling on this is that an “oops” is more likely than with other forms of birth control.
For now, though, we’ll be concentrating on charting for fertility with the goal being to get pregnant. Here’s how to do it:
1. Download a fertility chart. These are everywhere on the net, and many of them are free. We liked this one. Also look for fertility apps, these make things even easier. But all you really need to get started is a chart, even if you print it and fill it out by hand.
2. Buy a digital or basal body temperature (BBT) thermometer. We didn’t find we needed any special sort of thermometer — just the kind you can find at Rite Aid that gives tenths of a percent (97.2, for example).
3. Take your basal body temperature (BBT) on the first day of your cycle (CD1) (the first day of your menstrual period). It’s easy: upon awakening in the morning, BEFORE doing anything (don’t get up out of bed, sit up, use the bathroom, etc.), take your oral temperature. Any movement during this time could cause your temperature to read a tenth or two higher than it would have otherwise. Sue kept hers under her pillow. When the alarm went off in the morning, she lifted one arm to turn it off, reached under her pillow, withdrew the thermometer and took her temp. That was it.
4. Note the temperature on the corresponding day of your chart. Just make a little dot. Your BBT will generally be lower than your normal daytime waking temperature because you haven’t had any activity yet and because your body is coolest upon awakening after six or more hours of sleep.
5. Make sure you note the EXACT temperature – for instance, 97.2 if you’re using Fahrenheit. Those percentage points are important — a few more or a few less could mean your body is at different points in your cycle.
6. Try to take your temperature at the same time each morning. At worst, try to take it no more than 45 minutes to an hour earlier or later on any given day.
7. Also make a note of your cervical mucous on each day you’re charting. Note that for your day as well. We will go into this in more depth in a future post, but for now, here are the basics.
7. Continue this procedure every morning of your cycle.
That’s it — that’s how to monitor your BBT for fertility charting. So what good does all this do you?
First, you will begin to see the chart take shape. It will have little up-and-down spikes. Here’s what to look for:
- A sharp drop in temperature could mean your body is getting ready to ovulate. Please note that not every woman experiences a notable drop before ovulation.
- A sharp spike in temperature could mean you have ovulated, usually either the day before or the day of the spike. As an average, this spike should be about four-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit or two-tenths of a degree Celsius lower than the average of your pre-O temps, but remember, every woman is different. You may experience more of a spike than this, or less.
- A continued higher temperature over the course of three consecutive days usually means you have ovulated. Your BBT should stay elevated over your pre-ovulation temp for most of the rest of your cycle. That’s because after ovulation, progesterone, a heat-generating hormone, is made in a much larger ratio to estrogen than before ovulation.
- A dropping temperature could BUT DOES NOT ALWAYS mean menstruation is imminent. Some women experience a weird BBT dip here or there during their luteal phase, the two weeks or so between ovulating and menstruation. However, a continued decline often means menstruation is on its way. Generally, your BBT will stay low from this point until you have ovulated.
- Some women stop temping during their period and only begin again a few days later; that’s because they know ovulation that early in the cycle is unlikely. However, at least for the first few charting months, we recommend temping every single day. You never know when you’ll have a very early O date — we had one on CD9! Yes, for real — and in order to note that, you’d have to have temped for several days beforehand. So at least in the beginning, chart every single day.
You will see as the days go by that your chart develops patterns. It looks something like an EKG, or at least that’s what Sue and I always thought. If you’re ovulating, you should see a definite pattern, by the end of the cycle, of lower v. higher body temps.
If you never experience a notable and fairly consistent temp difference during a given cycle but do eventually experience bleeding, chances are you didn’t ovulate at all during that cycle. That’s what’s called an anovulatory cycle. These aren’t uncommon, but if you’re consistently having them, it’s important to know so you can start or change your plan for getting pregnant.
Once you start charting, you’ll find it isn’t complex at all. It’s basically the same procedure every day. Nevertheless, you’re bound to have questions. This is only the most basic of primers — there’s so much more that goes into charting your fertility signs.
Join a community if it will help you to brainstorm; asking questions and looking at other people’s charts can help tremendously when you first start charting. We were big on fertilityfriend.com for a while. In fact, Sue still uses it as she has experienced what she thought might be some early pre-menopausal symptoms once or twice. Great site! (We are not affiliated.)
Good luck and remember to ask questions if you have them — that’s what we’re here for!
Image credit: Fertilityfriend.com