Imagine this scenario: you and your partner are ready to start a family, you both have an idea in your minds about how it’s going to go. You will get pregnant at this specific time, give birth approximately nine months later, breastfeed for a year, and then start trying for baby number two.. and so on. Or some version of this.
Unfortunately, you start trying, and months go by with no pregnancy. You begin to think something is wrong with you, or your partner. You get stressed out and anxious and worried about the future and your dreams feel like they are falling apart.
You’re imagining the worse. Are you irreparably infertile? Is your partner?
This can cause a lot of unwanted and unhelpful stress, especially during a time when stress can cause more harm and further interfere with fertility. And now the thought of how bad stress is for you is causing you to stress even more! (sorry)
For a lot of couples, this is a common story. And if you are lucky, it is simply a matter of poor timing. Many women believe that they ovulate exactly 14 days after their period begins. Because, after all, this is what doctors and other health professionals have always told us.
This is not always the case, however. Ovulation (the exact time when an ovary releases an egg to be fertilized) can occur well before or well after the commonly-accepted 14 day rule. It is different for everyone. Some women ovulate on day 12, while for others ovulation doesn’t happen until day 18 or 19. This is a huge difference when you are trying to get pregnant and can mean the difference between successful and unsuccessful conception.
So how do you know when YOU are ovulating? You could take a home-ovulation test (much like a pregnancy test, it will detect certain hormones that indicate ovulation). But this will only tell you once ovulation has started (which leaves you very little time to get busy).
What many women don’t know is that you are actually fertile for up to 5 days before ovulation. This is also different for every woman.
The good news is that there is a very easy and inexpensive way to tell when you are fertile on your own, in the comfort of your own home. No doctors or tests.
It is called the Fertility Awareness Method.
Disclaimer: I will give you a brief overview on how this works and explain it as best I can, but this can be a very complex subject, and I am in no way an expert on fertility awareness, so if you do decide to try it and are having trouble reading your chart or have other questions, I have added a list of excellent resources at the end of this article that should help.
The amazing thing about fertility awareness is that not only can it tell you when you are fertile and when you are not, but it can also give you valuable insight into your gynaecological health, your cycles, and your hormone activity.
All you need is a basal body temperature thermometer and a chart. This is how it works: every morning when you wake up, you take your temperature and mark it on a chart.
- In the first half of your cycle, from the first day of your period until ovulation, your temperature will be lower due to the activity of the hormone estrogen.
- In the second half of your cycle, from ovulation until the day before your next period starts, your temperature will be higher due to a switch in the primary hormone from estrogen to progesterone.
Progesterone stimulates a higher body temperature. Even though this may only be a few tenths of a degree, you may be able to feel this shift in your body without taking your temperature.
You may even notice a dip in temperature a day or two before ovulation, which indicates a surge in estrogen right before progesterone becomes dominant.
Here is an example:
This may be a typical chart for a 29 day cycle. You can see how the waking temperature is pretty consistently low for the first two weeks, and then jumps up around day 16. This would indicate the day of ovulation.
So that’s all well and good to see when you have already ovulated, but what if you want to predict when ovulation is going to occur before it happens, in the days that you are most fertile?
One easy but slightly more time-consuming way to predict ovulation, is to start charting your waking temperature at least 3 or 4 months before you start trying to conceive. In theory, your cycles should remain pretty consistent, bearing any unforeseen stress in your life (be it emotional stress, physical stress or nutritional stress).
In the case of the chart above, this woman ovulates on day 16 of her cycle. If she charts for at least 3 or 4 cycles in a row, she will be able to tell if this is normal for her. If it is, she can be pretty certain that it will continue this way for the months after. So she would know to start trying to conceive a few days before this in her next cycle, say on day 13.
The reason we are fertile in the few days before ovulation is because of the presence of cervical fluid, which has the precise pH and chemical makeup to keep sperm alive for up to 4 or 5 days, until an egg is released at ovulation. You can tell if your body is producing cervical fluid fairly easily. I won’t go into detail here, but for the most part it is more or less obvious. There are differences in the type of cervical fluid you may produce at different times as well, some more fertile than others, which is beyond the scope of this article, but there are many fantastic resources that can help (see below). Basically, if you are producing cervical fluid in the days before ovulation, consider yourself fertile.
Another fascinating thing about charting your waking temperature and fertility, is that you can determine if you are pregnant or not, just by looking at your chart. In the example above, the woman had 14 days of higher temperatures before her next period started (on day 30). She is not pregnant. But if you were charting your temperature and noticed 18 or more days in a row of high temperatures after ovulation, without any period, you are most likely pregnant. You can know this even before a home pregnancy test will be positive. Neat hey?
There are a couple of rules to keep in mind if you are going to practice fertility awareness, in order to give you accurate data.
- The first one is to make sure you take your temperature with a basal body temperature thermometer (this is different than your regular thermometer for testing for fevers).
- The second rule is to take your temperature at the same time every morning, using the same method. For example, if you take your temperature under your tongue, stick with this and don’t change up where you take your temperature. Set your alarm for the earliest time you would get up in a morning, and have your alarm go off at the same time every day, even if you go back to sleep after. Your body temperature can rise as much as a tenth of a degree every half an hour in the morning, so this makes a big difference.
- The third rule is to take your temperature before doing anything else. Don’t get up and go to the washroom, don’t sit up in bed, don’t drink water, etc. All of these activities wake up your body and your temperature will begin to rise quickly. Have your thermometer right beside your bed so all you have to do is reach over and grab it when your alarm goes.
- If you happen to have an especially late night, or drink alcohol or eat anything out of the ordinary for you, it could effect your chart, so just make a note of it on the day on your chart so that you will know why.
- In order for the most accuracy, it is best to take your temperature every single day. Try not to miss a day. Of course, we are human and sometimes things just get in the way, so obviously don’t become too stressed out about this. Just something to keep in mind.
Here is a list of resources for further reading:
Taking Charge of Your Fertility – by Toni Weschler
Garden of Fertility – by Katie Singer
Honoring Our Cycles: A Companion to Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions – by Katie Singer
To download charts for pregnancy achievement, or pregnancy prevention, in either fahrenheit or celsius: http://www.tcoyf.com/content/MasterCharts.aspx
I’d love to hear your experiences! Have you practiced Fertility Awareness before? Has it been helpful? Share your comments with our readers below!