In this digital world we're living in, technology plays a role in every aspect of our lives. It's no surprise that when you're trying to get pregnant you look for the latest app to help you hack your cycle. But I've got news for you. Using an app to track your ovulation is not your best method for getting pregnant.
Your cycle is dynamic. It is not always the same.
We've all heard the myth of the 28 day cycle. (NOTE: when I use the term "cycle" I am referring to the entire cycle from day 1 of menstruation, through ovulation, to your next menstrual period) The average woman has an average cycle length of 28 days, and on average she ovulates on day 14. The problem is that we may believe that our cycles reflect this average and stay the same each month. In reality, each woman's cycle is as unique as her fingerprint. Not all women have 28 day cycles (although it is fairly common), and not all women ovulate on the 14th day of their cycle.
A healthy cycle can vary from 21-35 days in length, and most women ovulate between days 11-21 of their cycle. First of all, if you're trying to conceive (TTC) that's a huge range in ovulation dates that can leave you dizzy with "baby dancing". But here's the real kicker: no matter what your average cycle is, the actual day you ovulate (and therefore menstruate) can change, without notice!
That's right- there's no guarantee from one month to the next that you will ovulate on the same day of your cycle. You can ovulate 4 months in a row on the 15th day of your cycle, and then suddenly ovulate on the 18th day of your 5th month without warning.
Why? Because your cycle is a result of a precarious balance of hormones. These hormone set off bodily processes that ideally lead to ovulation, conception, implantation and viable pregnancy. Anything that throws these hormones off will through your cycle off, too.
You probably have heard many times that stress affects your cycle. It's true! Cortisol, the "stress" hormone, can alter your cycle. But did you know irregular sleep patterns, diet changes, overuse of plastics, gaining weight, losing weight, pesticides, chemicals in cleaning and hygiene products, travel, medications and more can all affect your cycle too? Believe that! If your cycle is erratic and doesn't seem to have a rhythm, you need to get it togther: here's some tips for regulating it without birth control.
Okay, so our cycles are dynamic and may not be as easy to predict as our apps suggest, even with their built in calendars that study our cycle history. So what's a busy girl with work, gym, family, a social life, and oh yeah- a partner with his own hectic schedule- to do? Well ladies, you have a few options. They won't be as techy and convenient as an app and you won't get a reminder to do the deed on your Google calendar, but you will notice small variations in your cycle and therefore gather a more accurate understanding of your fertile days, even when your cycle changes.
First, get in touch with your body. Depending on your comfort levels, you may find this part to be a challenge. But hey, now is a good time to get used to it. Pregnancy and birth will bring about a whole new world of bodily changes that will require you to get up close and personal with your feminine parts.
To start, pay attention to your cervical mucous. That's right: there are tell tale signs of ovulation waiting for you in your underwear, or your next swipe of toilet paper. To check most effectively, you should use your own fingers. Wash your hands carefully and then place two fingers comfortably into your vagina. After you have enough mucus to work with, pull your fingers out and open them to check the consistency. Cervical mucus during fertile days is typically slippery and wet, with an egg-white consistency and the ability to stretch a few inches without breaking. If your cervical mucous is thick, milky, lotiony, creamy, dry, non-existent or breaks apart easily, you are probably not fertile. Think about it this way: Your body produces the slippery, egg-white mucous so that the sperm can easily swim to the egg, like a slip-n-slide.
While you're here, go ahead and check your cervical head position as well. You will find your cervix if you reach your middle finger into your vagina until you can't any further. If you've ever felt a partner go too deep, they were hitting your cervix. Your cervix only opens for ovulation, birth, and slightly for menstruation, so it can help you decide if you are close to ovulation or not.
If your cervix is soft, high, open and wet, you are likely fertile. If your cervix feels like your lips, you are closer to ovulating. After you ovulate, it becomes firm, low, closed and dry. If it feels like the tip of your nose, you are likely not fertile. You may not have a good grasp of what to feel for, so the best method is to try feeling your cervix at different points in your cycle. Start during your period and continue on, feeling for changes until you get a better idea of your personal changes.
Next, step: check for other signs of ovulation. Every woman is different, but here are some common signs of ovulation: increased sex drive, slight cramping or pain on side of pelvis, increased sensitivity of taste, smell or vision, bloating, and breast tenderness. These are signs we may not notice or attribute to our fertility because we are too busy in the daily grind of life. A fertility journal is a great way to track your moods, cravings, physical symptoms, mucus and cervical changes. When you start writing these things down you will find patterns and will be able to better differentiate between signs of fertility and other unrelated bodily changes.
Another way to monitor ovulation is with Ovulation Predictor Kits. These tests measure the levels of Luteinizing Hormone (which surges just before ovulation) in your urine. These can be helpful, especially while monitoring other signs of fertility. However, it is possible to miss your ovulation because the hormone only stays in the urine for 8-12 hours, and ovulation kits can be up to 48 hours off. This method is best used in combination with other methods.
A tried and tested form of monitoring ovulation is Basal Body Temperature tracking. Your BBT is your lowest body temperature in a 24 hour period. You need a special thermometer and you must check your temperature before you start your day: that is, before eating, sex, using the bathroom or even stepping out of your bed. Take your temperature at the same time each day and it will help you predict when you will ovulate. Your temperature will drop slightly 1- 2 days before ovulating and hike up after ovulation. It will stay elevated until your period comes. Tracking your BBT in addition to other methods is a great way to monitor your fertility. For example, let's say you notice your cervical mucus is slippery, and your cervix is feeling soft, you will know to be ovulation is near and can be prepared for BBT signs of ovulation.
Now we know why using an app isn't the best way to determine your ovulation date and what alternatives you have. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If you are using an app that records your BBT, luteinizing hormone levels, or even cervical fluid contents daily, it can be a very useful tool for tracking your fertility. This is because it's using biofeedback to measure your fertility the same way you would with a thermometer and pen and pencil, but with fancier tools.
Just remember that it is just that- a tool- and should not be relied upon as your only method of monitoring your cycle, or getting pregnant for that matter. Ultimately, being aware and in tuned with your body, preparing your body for conception, and having a fertile partner are your biggest assets to healthy conception and pregnancy. After all, even if you are having sex during your fertile period, if your body is not prepared for conception, all the sex in the world won't help you conceive.
If you've been tracking your cycle for some time and not sure why you're still not pregnant, we can take the guesswork out of TTC. There is more to getting pregnant than timing sex with ovulation. Your body and your partner's need to be primed for fertility and for some of us that requires extra time, resources and attention. Your first step towards improving your chances of success is to schedule a Natural Fertility Consultation. Together we can identify your most acute needs and create a unique game plan for prepping your body for healthy conception and pregnancy.
Good luck and baby dust