In my last article I provided somewhat of a whistle-stop tour of what the Fertility Awareness Method is, with a brief overview of the three primary fertile signs. In this article I’m going to go deeper into what our primary fertile signs are and how we can track them for fertility awareness charting.
In fertility awareness, our primary fertile signs are cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and cervix position. Now depending on what method of fertility awareness one uses, cervix position is either not included or is an optional sign that you can use if you so wish. However, I believe it is still an important sign to have (and use) when practising fertility awareness, and I’ll explain why shortly.
Your primary fertile signs are your body’s natural biomarkers of fertility (and health). These signs change throughout the course of the menstrual cycle, providing you with vital information as to when you are in your fertile and non-fertile phases of your cycle – aka when you can and cannot get pregnant.
This information your body provides you each and every cycle is essential for ovulation tracking, for correct timing of intercourse if you are trying to conceive, or for avoiding unprotected intercourse during your fertile phase to prevent pregnancy.
Before we go deeper into each fertile sign, I want to give you a quick summary of the menstrual cycle…
The Menstrual Cycle
Day 1 of the menstrual cycle begins on the first day of full flow bleeding, this is also day 1 of menstruation (your period). There are four phases within the entire menstrual cycle and menstruation (menstrual phase) marks the first phase. Once menstruation has ended, you then enter into your pre-ovulatory phase. This phase is all about the growth and maturation of the chosen follicle in your ovary that will release its egg at ovulation.
The pre-ovulatory phase then transitions into the ovulatory phase, also referred to as the fertile time or fertile window. Within this phase, the main event that is ovulation will take place towards the end of this phase. Once ovulation has taken place, you then enter into your premenstrual phase. If the egg is not fertilised by sperm it will die within 12-24 hours, resulting in hormone levels to eventually drop, triggering the release of the uterine lining and menstruation begins once again.
To hopefully not complicate things, your menstrual cycle can also be divided into two main halves. The first half is called the follicular phase, which begins on the first day of the cycle and ends with ovulation. Then we enter into the second half, which is the luteal phase, starting from the day after ovulation and ending the day before your next period. Ovulation is the event that divides the follicular phase and luteal phase.
If you’d like to learn more about these phases, you can read my article – Understanding the Menstrual Cycle.
Now, let’s dive into the first primary fertile sign, cervical mucus.
Cervical mucus (CM) or cervical fluid (CF) is a natural bodily fluid (specifically speaking, it is a natural hydrogel) that is produced within cervical crypts inside the cervix. The quality and quantity of cervical mucus is influenced by the fluctuations in the hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which results in changes of consistency, texture, colour and amount across the menstrual cycle. Oestrogen is responsible for creating fertile cervical mucus, whereas progesterone is responsible for drying up cervical mucus.
The presence of cervical mucus lets us know that ovulation is approaching and that our fertile window has opened – the time where conception is possible. Its role is to nourish sperm, helping keep sperm alive, and provides a super highway to the uterus in preparation for fertilisation with the egg that will be released at ovulation. Without fertile cervical mucus, sperm cannot survive in the acidic environment of the vagina and will die within a couple of hours and pregnancy would not be possible. Cervical mucus is essential for conception.
Cervical mucus changes across the menstrual cycle
During menstruation, any presence of cervical mucus will be masked by menstrual blood. The presence of cervical mucus during this time will also depend on the length of your follicular phase. Once menstruation has ended, in cycles over 26 days, you will enter into a pre-ovulatory phase where a mucus plug will have formed at the opening of your cervix, which stops sperm from entering the uterus. Usually, there is no cervical mucus present during this phase and you will feel a dryness at the vulva (the external part of the female genitalia – consisting of the vaginal lips and vaginal opening). If you have cycles shorter than 26 days, the pre-ovulatory phase is likely to be absent or only lasting a day or two.
As oestrogen begins to rise and continues to rise, the mucus plug will dissolve and your cervix will open. The cervix will begin to release cervical mucus, which indicates that you are entering into your ovulatory phase (fertile window). This is the phase where cervical mucus can be physically seen and/or sensed at the vulva. At first, you may notice a sticky, creamy or lotiony type of mucus and/or a moist sensation at the vulva. As you progress further into your ovulatory phase, approaching more towards ovulation, the increase in oestrogen causes cervical mucus to become wetter and of peak fertile quality. Cervical mucus may now appear slippery, stretchy and clear (like raw egg whites) or watery and/or with a wet and slippery/lubricative sensation at the vulva. This type of fertile mucus, usually is present closest to ovulation.
Once ovulation has occurred, the empty follicle that once housed the egg that has just been released, turns into a hormone-producing gland, called the corpus luteum. This gland is responsible for producing the hormone progesterone. With ovulation over, you enter your premenstrual phase/luteal phase. Within these phases is where progesterone dominates. The increase in progesterone causes cervical mucus to dry up and a new mucus plug forms at the cervix ones again, marking the end of the fertile window. This mucus plug remains intact until your next period, where it will dissolve 1-2 days prior to the start of menstruation.
How to check cervical mucus
The most accurate way of checking your cervical mucus is by noticing sensation at the vulva and observing physical signs of cervical mucus.
When noticing sensation, this is done by simply walking around throughout your day and literally noticing what you feel at your vulva. You may feel dry/nothing, slightly moist, moist, wet, lubricative, or slippery.
To observe physical signs of cervical mucus, a wiping technique is recommended. All you need to do is every time you go to the toilet, you get some toilet paper and fold it flat and wipe yourself from front to back (to the perineum) before and after you urinate or have a bowel movement. As you wipe yourself you are also paying attention to the sensation between the contact of your vaginal opening with the toilet paper. You may feel dryness or feel the toilet paper dragged or you may feel a smooth glide across the vulva area.
Once you’ve noticed the sensation with the toilet paper, you then go and look at what was collected on the toilet paper. You may see nothing at all or creamy, lotiony mucus, or clear raw egg white-like mucus. You may also like to feel it with your fingers or between the toilet paper, observing whether it is tacky and not very elastic or if it is quite stretchy or gel-like, or something else entirely.
So that’s cervical mucus. Now let’s explore basal body temperature…
Basal Body Temperature
Basal body temperature (BBT) is the body’s core waking temperature and is a measure of your resting metabolic rate after 4-6 consecutive hours of sleep. Temperatures are taken orally with a basal body thermometer upon waking each morning before getting out of bed and before any activity (this includes going to the toilet, having a drink of water, or cuddling your partner). Your BBT can be tracked using either a digital basal body thermometer or a wearable BBT monitor*.
BBT is used to track when ovulation is likely to have occurred in the cycle, marking the end of the fertile window. BBT cannot predict when you will ovulate, but it can tell you in retrospect that ovulation has occurred by a temperature rise that will remain elevated until your next period. The hormone progesterone is what causes the BBT to rise after ovulation and to remain elevated until the next cycle.
BBT changes across the menstrual cycle
During the follicular phase (from menstruation to ovulation), your basal body temperatures are usually at a lower range. Once ovulation has taken place, your temperature will rise (thanks to the warming qualities of progesterone) and the following temperatures should remain raised in a higher range of temperatures. (See image below). To confirm ovulation, you will need to have at least 3 consistent high temperature readings. If ovulation has been confirmed, the first day of the temperature rise marks the first day of your luteal phase. These high temperatures should remain high until your next menstrual period. For some women, their BBT may drop on the last day of their luteal phase, indicating that their period is to be expected that day or the next.
How to take your BBT with an oral thermometer
First you will need a basal body thermometer, also called an ‘ovulation thermometer’. This type of thermometer is different to a standard digital fever thermometer, which won’t be accurate enough to measure BBT. Ensure that your thermometer measures to two decimal places (i.e. 36.55oC). Basal body thermometers can be purchased at most local pharmacies or online.
From there, it is best to keep your thermometer close to your bed for easy access, such as on your bedside table. At around the same time each morning, take your thermometer and place it inside your mouth under your tongue and towards its base. In this area there is a heat pocket on either side of the underside of the tongue – this is where the thermometer tip needs to be placed. Once positioned, close your lips over the thermometer, holding it in place with your hand. I recommend leaving the thermometer in place for a few minutes to allow the tip to warm up before turning it on. This allows for more accurate temperature readings, especially in the cooler months. After a few minutes you can turn the thermometer on and lie still until it beeps, indicating it has finished taking your temperature.
When it beeps, you can remove the thermometer and look at the temperature reading on the screen. Make note of the reading in your cycle chart and if you wish, also note the time your temperature was taken. You can then turn off your thermometer and go about your day.
Now onto cervix position…
Checking your cervix position (also known as cervical position) is the third fertile sign, but is completely optional. When tracking ovulation, checking your cervix position can be useful when cross-checking with your cervical mucus and basal body temperature to confirm ovulation and can be helpful when there are any discrepancies with these two fertile signs (i.e. during illness/fever, etc.).
Cervix changes across the menstrual cycle
Just like cervical mucus, your cervix changes due to the hormone fluctuations across the menstrual cycle. During the menstrual phase, your cervix is open to allow menstrual blood to flow through. Once menstruation has ended and you have entered into the pre-ovulatory phase, your cervix closes, sits low in the vagina and feels firm (like the tip of your nose). As you transition into the ovulatory phase, the rise in oestrogen causes the cervix to open, feel soft (like your lower lip) and moves to a higher position in the vagina. This higher position is to allow sperm faster entry into the uterus. These changes indicate that your fertile window is open. After ovulation, during the luteal phase, the cervix will once again close, feel firm, and sit lower in the vagina until your next period.
How to check your cervix position
Before checking your cervix position it is essential that you have observed and recorded your cervical mucus for the day. This is because any internal palpation can cause the release of fluid secretions, which can make cervical mucus interpretation difficult.
Ensure fingernails are short, if you have long fingernails or have false nails, checking cervix position is not going to be possible. It is recommended to check your cervix around the same time of day or night, where you are going to be most consistent, such as during your evening shower. Make sure to wash your hands both before and after checking your cervix.
To begin, position yourself into a squatting position or something similar. This will make the cervix easier to find. Then place a finger into your vagina until you feel the cervix. This will be a round bump at the top of the vagina canal. With the tip of your finger, move over the cervix opening and notice what you feel. Does it feel open, with a little dimple in the middle (like a donut) or does it feel closed? Does the surface feel soft like your lower lip or firm like the tip of your nose? And finally, is the cervix high or low? How much of your finger has gone into the vagina to find your cervix?
Checking your cervix position probably takes the longest out of the three fertile signs to get used to and to learn how to interpret. When learning, the best thing to do is to check your cervix position everyday for one cycle (excluding your bleeding days during menstruation). In your preovulatory phase, it’s going to feel like nothing is happening for many days, but once you enter your ovulatory phase, you will notice a difference. The same goes for post-ovulation, the cervix will change yet again.
Charting your fertile signs
When it comes to charting your fertile signs, you mark down the observations and data you have collected from each fertile sign from that day and note it down on your cycle chart of choice. If you are using a Fertility Awareness Method for birth control or conception, there are certain rules or guidelines that need to be followed based on your intentions for use. But in terms of charting for cycle health or for tracking ovulation, you can use a cycle chart to keep track of your valuable cycle data.
I have created a cycle chart to specifically track your fertile signs, as well as other menstrual cycle related symptoms. This is an all-in-one cycle tracking chart that is a downloadable and printable paper chart. The Cycle Tracking Chart comes with a mini guide on how to accurately check your fertile signs and an instruction sheet on how to use the chart.
This chart is great for those who are just starting out on their cycle charting journey or who are experienced with charting – either menstrual cycle symptoms or fertility awareness charting.
You can learn more about the Cycle Tracking Chart here.
So there you have it, your three primary fertile signs! I hope you found this article helpful in understanding your fertile signs and how you can track them for ovulation and cycle awareness. If you are wanting to learn more about the Fertility Awareness Method and how to interpret your fertile signs for natural birth control or for conception, please reach out, I’d love to work with you!
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