What is cycle charting/tracking?
Cycle charting or tracking is simply a practice of observing and documenting body signs and symptoms that occur across the menstrual cycle. Cycle tracking consists of gathering information relating to your period and cycle lengths, signs of ovulation, mood and energy fluctuations, and any premenstrual symptoms you may experience.
Why should I track my cycle?
By charting your cycle and tracking the valuable data you receive during your period and throughout the rest of your cycle, you will be able to identify any potential health imbalances that may be related to your menstrual cycle health, fertility, thyroid, etc. When your health is on the rocks, your menstrual cycle will be sure to let you know.
Tracking your cycle also allows you to delve deeper into understanding your period and your menstrual cycle as a whole, as well as developing an awareness of how your mind and body changes from day-to-day, week-to-week, cycle-to-cycle.
Once you begin to identify and understand your own natural cyclical rhythms, you will know how to best support yourself throughout your cycle and in your life.
What do I track?
There are a number of things you can track throughout your menstrual cycle. Here is a list of the menstrual data you can keep track of:
- Cycle length – how many days from cycle day 1 (first day of full flow bleeding) to the day before the next day 1 of the next cycle. For example: 30 days, 27 days, 33 days, etc.
Not sure how to work out your cycle length? Read the example below.
- Example: How to count your cycle length
On the calendar above, the first day of bleeding was on Wednesday 3rd February 2021. This means it is Cycle Day 1. For each following day you count the cycle days all the way up to the day before the next menstrual bleed. You typically won’t know when the next menstrual bleed is until you start bleeding. In this example, the next menstrual bleed began on Friday 5th March 2021, which marks Cycle Day 1 of a new menstrual cycle and a new count begins.
If you look at the calendar, you can see 30 cycle days have been counted (shaded boxes) during this menstrual cycle. This means that this cycle was 30 days long.
- Menstruation days – how many days you see blood flow during menstruation (your period). Day 1 is the first day of full flow bleeding. If you usually have spotting a day or two before full flow bleeding, this is considered the last day or two of the previous cycle and not the official start of menstruation or a new cycle.
- Menstrual flow – how much you are bleeding, how often you are changing your menstrual products, the colour of your blood, the presence of clots (size and colour).
- Spotting days – what days of your cycle you see spotting and what colour and amount (i.e. dark brown spotting, 1 panty liner). Spotting can start a couple of days or so before menstruation officially begins and/or as menstruation is ending and bleeding tapers off to spotting.
- Menstrual pain/cramping – the presence of pain or cramping before and/or during your period, where the pain is felt, the severity of pain.
- Cervical mucus/fluid – noticing the changes in cervical mucus types, consistency, amount, colour. You can observe and chart cervical mucus regardless if you have a FAM practice or not.
- Basal body temperature – this is more so if you practice FAM, but you can track your temperature without using FAM.
- Cervical position (cervix changes) – this is more so if you practice FAM
- Any physical, mental, or emotional symptoms you may experience on any day throughout the entire menstrual cycle, not just during your period. Examples:
- Pelvic pain
- Back pain
- Breast tenderness/swelling
- Diarrhoea/loose stools
- Acne/skin breakouts
- Hot flushes/night sweats
- Changes in appetite/food cravings
- Libido changes
- Energy changes/fatigue
- Sleep changes
- Mood changes
- Cognition changes
- Checking-in and making daily observations of how you are feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually/energetically that day.
7 ways you can track and chart your cycle
There are many ways you can chart your cycle and keep track of your cycle symptoms. Not all methods of charting will suit everyone, so it’s a good idea to pick what you feel called to and commit for a full cycle to see if it resonates with you. You can experiment with a few or all of them until you find one that you love. Here are some examples of cycle charting methods:
This is the most basic of charting methods if you only want to chart when your period and menstrual cycle starts and the length of your menstrual cycle. Simply mark in your calendar or planner the first day of your period (and/or all bleeding days). If you are wanting to keep track of your cycle days, write down Cycle Day 1 on it’s relevant date and then continue to write down each consecutive cycle day on the corresponding calendar day.
Menstrual Cycle Map
The Menstrual Cycle Map is a circular chart where you can write keywords that you observe about your cycle each cycle day. You can also track the phases of the moon alongside your menstrual cycle or instead of if you are not currently cycling naturally. You can download the free printable Menstrual Cycle Map here.
Daily Cycle Check-in Journal
This method focuses on checking in and making note of how you feel in your four bodies – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual/energetic. You can write down keywords, jot down brief sentences, or even draw how you feel! You can download the free Daily Cycle Check-in Journal here. It’s both printable and interactive.
The journaling method is similar to the method above, but can be more free-form. You can journal specifically about your observations or how you feel on a day-to-day basis or journal about anything that comes to mind. You can write as little or as much as you like. Journal to your heart’s content! Make sure to write down your cycle day and date at the top of the page, to refer back to and compare, uncovering the patterns within your cycle. When journaling, a practice I love to use is writing in red pen on the days of my period. When I’m flicking back and forth in my journal, this helps me to easily find the journal entries I made during my period.
Period tracking app
Having a period tracking app on your phone can be super handy as you will have your data with you wherever you go. Many period tracking apps allow you to track your periods and other physical, mental and emotional symptoms. However, this method does come with a caveat. Most apps come with prediction features, where they claim to predict when you are fertile, your ovulation day, and what day your next period will arrive on. I highly recommend that you ignore any predictive features on your chosen app and if the app allows, turning them off completely. No app can predict when you are fertile or when you will ovulate. These apps use algorithms based on a calendar method of previous cycle lengths, not your actual fertile signs in real time.
For some, you may have consistent cycles, for example, 27 day cycles, which means your app would predict your periods to come every 28th day and for you that may be correct. The app may also predict that you will ovulate on Cycle Day 13, every single cycle. However, your fertile time and ovulation day can vary from cycle to cycle, regardless if you have 27 day cycles every cycle.
If you fall in the other camp where your cycle lengths vary (i.e. cycle 1 = 30 days, cycle 2 = 29 days, cycle 3 = 34 days, cycle 4 = 29 days, etc.) the app’s algorithm will adjust itself and ‘calculate’ your predicted ovulation day based on the average of previous cycle lengths. This isn’t so helpful if your app predicts you will have another 29 day cycle but in reality you end up having a 35 day cycle. When trying to conceive this can mean you miss your timing completely or if you are avoiding pregnancy, your app’s predictions can lead you into risky territory.
If you would like to learn more about cycle lengths and how the menstrual cycle works, you can head over here.
My favourite cycle charting app that I personally use and recommend to my clients is Ready Your Body. The Read Your Body app is highly customisable for charting your period, ovulation, menstrual cycle symptoms, lifestyle, and fertile biomarkers – such as cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and cervix position. It is a fantastic app if you use Fertility Awareness Based Methods! As you can customise your chart and charting features to suit the Fertility Awareness Based Method you use. You have complete control of the data you enter and there are no prediction features or algorithms. Best of all, your data is 100% private and completely yours! Meaning that all your data is stored on your phone and not on a server and cannot be viewed, shared or sold to third parties.
Menstrual Cycle Health Chart
This method is a simple tick-a-box or grading your symptoms kind of chart. This is a good one if you experience a lot of cyclical symptoms and/or premenstrual symptoms. This chart is a perfect companion to keep track of your progress if you are working on improving your cycle health. You can download the free printable Menstrual Cycle Health Chart here.
Learning the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) and charting your fertile signs
This method is slightly more advanced and in depth compared to the previous cycle charting methods mentioned. It requires some training (whether through self-study or with a certified Fertility Awareness Educator – like me!), but is highly valuable if you are wanting to go deeper and use the Fertility Awareness Method for natural birth control, achieving pregnancy, or for menstrual cycle health tracking.
What cycle charting method is calling you? You are more than welcome to try out one of my cycle charting options to get you started. If you would like to try either the Menstrual Cycle Map, Daily Cycle Check-in Journal, or Menstrual Cycle Health Chart, head this way.
Happy cycle charting!
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