Updated: Jan 31, 2021
For something that happens to those of us with a uterus on a monthly-ish basis, this is information you deserve to have at your fingertips and decide how you want to use it. I’m going to break down the basics of cycle tracking and then give you some references for more in-depth ways to get to know your cycle. I’ve given all the methods I write about in this post a try and its really helped me to get to know my body. And there is no rush or pressure to take this on all at once. Start small and build so it doesn’t feel like too much at once
How do I measure/track my cycle length?
When counting the days in your cycle, day one is when you experience your bleed (menstruation/period) in full flow. You may experience some spotting beforehand, but this is not the first day of your period. Simply count the days from your full-flow bleed until you have a full bleed again. We're always told that 28 days is a normal cycle length however a cycle that is regular and lasts between 21 and 40 days is normal. Please don’t worry if you are not a 28-day kinda person.
Once you have a few cycles tracked you can start to predict when your period will be. For example, I’ve been on a 26/27-day cycle for the last year; I started my period on 5th January, so I can expect my next period to be on the approximately 1st of Feb. This is great because it means I’ll plan a night in with a bath and great book rather than a HIIT session or wild night in Zoom Quiz (who else is missing real nights out?).
You can track on paper or download an app. I have used a really basic free app called ‘period tracker’ (told you it was basic) for years. You just enter the day you start and overtime it will work out your average cycle length and predict when your next period will be. I’m still faithful to my app but most smart phones have this feature in the health app that counts your steps if you have a look.
What is happening through the cycle?
It is good to start thinking of your cycle in two halves with a little party in the middle
The first half it's called your Follicular phase. This starts at day one of your cycle when you begin your period and lasts up until up ovulation, your little party break. During this phase your pituitary gland in your head talks to your ovaries and tells them to stimulate follicles in the ovaries. As the follicles are stimulated it causes eggs to mature and you experience a rise in your oestrogen levels. The biggest, juiciest egg will be released across to the fallopian tubes. This releasing of the egg is ovulation
The second half is called your Luteal Phase. The dominant hormone here is progesterone which helps to prepare the body for implantation of a fertilised egg by thickening the lining of your womb (endometrium). If implantation doesn't occur the body stops producing progesterone which causes the lining of the womb to be shed. This shedding is your period. If implantation does occur and the egg nestles its way into your plump endometrium the body will continue to produce progesterone to support a pregnancy
How do I know roughly when I’m ovulating?
If we use a 28-day cycle as an example, we would expect to see ovulation on roughly day 14 as it usually happens mid cycle. But that's not the case for everyone which is why tracking provides such valuable information.
When you start tracking your cycle it’s good to note down how you’re feeling each day, and if there are any changes you see or feel in your body or mood. Things you might notice mid cycle include
· Breast tenderness and fullness
· Pain on one side – this can be your ovary releasing the egg
· Increased libido - due to rise in oestrogen
These are great indicators for giving you a rough idea when you are ovulating. And that’s great! It might be all the information you need right now. However, if you are looking to use cycle tracking to increase your chances of pregnancy or as a form of contraception, you’re going to need to collect some more data from your marvellous body.
Why do I need to know about cervical mucus?
Your cervical fluid/mucus changes throughout the month and can tell you a lot about your cycle. You can feel it by putting your fingers in your vagina, have a look at the damp patch in your pants, or maybe when you wipe after going to the loo there’s some other fluid on the paper. That is your cervical fluid!
Image from https://www.verywellfamily.com/checking-cervical-mucus-to-get-pregnant-faster-1960279
What is my fertile window?
Whilst ovulation occurs on one day, you are also fertile in the days running up to ovulation. In those days prior to ovulation your mucus is at the right consistency and PH balance that sperm can live inside of you for up to 5 days! If you want to get pregnant make sure your getting busy in the run up to ovulation rather than just the day of it to increase your chances. However, if you have no plans to reproduce this is really important information as you could still get pregnant a few days prior to ovulation if you aren’t using contraception
After ovulation the cervical mucus dries up and is super hostile for sperm so they have a hard time surviving in this fluid and unlikely you will fall pregnant during sex. However, pleaseeee proceed with caution if you aren’t using barrier contraception, it is NOT impossible for you to get pregnant now
Is there another way I can know when I’m ovulating?
Measuring your Basal Body Temperature (BBT). This is your temperature first thing in the morning when your core temperature is at its lowest after several hours of sleep. You measure your temp with an oral thermometer, get out of bed, eat, drink, anything! You take it at the same time each day and throughout the month you will see your temperature has slight variations.
What you would expect to see is in the first half of your cycle (bleeding up to ovulation) your temperatures will be lower. After ovulation they will increase by 0.2/0.3°C, as progesterone has a heating effect on the body. Often people find just before ovulation occurs their temp has a little dip before it rises which is a great indicator that ovulation is about to happen.
The best way to get a clear picture on when your ovulating is to use your BBT and monitor cervical mucus together. This is called the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM)
If you plan on using SMT I suggest gathering some more information about the technique first – this is a real basic intro in terms of SMT! I recommended looking at the following practitioners for more information. They explain in depth how to track BBT, interpreting your charts, mucus and your cycle throughout the month. You can also hire a SMT coach who can guide you through the process.
These people are also where I gathered a lot the information for this post and have hugely informed how I treat clients when it comes to their cycles
· Maisie Hill
Book - Period Power
Podcast - Period Power
Membership to the Flow Collective for group coaching
· Lisa Hendrickson-Jack
Book - The fifth vital sign
Podcast - Fertility Friday
· Jessie Brebner
· For Reflexologists
Barbara Scott - Reflexology for Fertility (book)
Apps you might want to look at for tracking:
· My super basic and free app – Period Tracker by GP’s
· Natural cycles
And there we have it! I really hope this helps you understand your cycle and the options and resources that are available to you. If this has been useful and you are looking for another way to support your cycle keep your eyes peeled for my reflexology home tutorial for menstrual health which will be available later next week!
See you back here soon