How often have you heard women's menstrual cycle is 28 days, and you ovulate on day 14?
This is a myth that is widely accepted as truth. Sadly, this misunderstanding is the cause of countless unwanted pregnancies. And, this myth has prevented many couples who desired a pregnancy from attaining one. This myth is the residue or legacy of the inaccurate Rhythm Method.
In today’s episode of Apothecary Wisdom, we will talk about The Fertility Awareness Method; a better, more accurate way to understand your fertility and your body.
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How often have you heard women's menstrual cycle is 28 days, and you ovulate on day 14? This is a myth that is widely accepted as truth. Sadly this misunderstanding is the cause of countless unwanted pregnancies. And this myth has prevented many couples who desired a pregnancy from attaining one. This myth is the residue or legacy of the inaccurate Rhythm Method. This inaccurately assumes that individual women have cycle lengths that are precisely 28 days or that they are reliably consistent over time. The result is that rhythm is nothing more than flawed statistical prediction using a mathematical formula based on past cycles to predict future cycles.
In reality, women's menstrual cycles vary tremendously among women, and often within each woman herself, though most cycle lengths are 24-36 days, the myth of day 14 can lead to unwanted pregnancies.
The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) offers a means of understanding human reproduction. It is based on the observation and charting of scientifically proven fertility signs that determine whether or not a woman is fertile on any given day. The three primary fertility signs are waking temperature, cervical fluid, and cervical position. The FAM is an empowering method of natural birth control or pregnancy achievement. And it is an excellent tool for assessing gynecological problems and understanding your body.
Learning FAM not only helps women recognize the three signs of fertility; it also helps them communicate with their doctors to see patterns and diagnose several conditions such as:
- Anovulation (lack of ovulation)
- late ovulation
- short luteal phases (the second phase of the cycle
- infertile cervical fluid
- hormonal imbalances such as PCOS
- insufficient progesterone levels
- occurrence of miscarriages
- irregular or abnormal bleeding
- vaginal infections
- cervical anomalies
- breast lumps
- premenstrual syndrome
- miscalculated date of conception
As you can see, charting and knowing your body can reveal a myriad of potential obstacles to pregnancy. Women who chart know if they are pregnant just by observing their waking temperatures and can eliminate the recurrent doubt while waiting for the arrival of a late period.
Another considerable benefit of charting is for couples to see the exact date they conceived and to determine the actual due date. If you want to have a natural pregnancy and avoid unnecessary ultrasounds, you can apply this simple rule to your date of conception. Find the thermal shift on your chart, simply add nine months to that date and subtract 7 days and you will have the due date. For example, if your temperature shifted today, April 30th, you jump ahead nine months to January 30th and subtract 7 days, which is January 23rd.
Birth Control and Fertility
During every cycle, the woman's body prepares for a potential pregnancy much to the dismay of those who prefer not to get pregnant. But the woman is only actually fertile only a few days per cycle, around ovulation when the egg is released. The only practical, reliable, and non-invasive way to identify the fertile time frame is through observing the three signs of female fertility, which are waking temperature, cervical fluid, and cervical position. By charting these signs, a woman can tell on a day to day basis whether or not she is capable of getting pregnant on any given day. Because the actual day of ovulation can vary from woman to woman and cycle to cycle, the determination of those few days around ovulation becomes critical, and therein lies the value of the FAM.
Why unplanned pregnancies occur:
To understand natural birth control methods, we should look at the four most common reason's why most unplanned pregnancies occur in the first place:
People don't use birth control because they are swept away at the moment. Barrier methods leave people vulnerable to the type of passion that reduces them to a momentary lapse in judgment. "oh, I'm sure we're fine" However if a woman knows when she is fertile, it eliminates guessing. Being unlucky is no longer an excuse.
People don't use birth control because of ignorance. Many people believe that ovulation only occurs on day 14. Ovulation may occur on day 14. It may also happen on day 11, day 18, or day 32. In other words, couples may think they are having safe unprotected sex on the correct days when in actually for that individual woman on that unique cycle; they are not.
People don't use birth control because they feel no method is acceptable. Many couples find modern birth control methods far from ideal. Especially couples who are looking for natural alternatives to chemicals like the pill, Depo Provera shots, Nora plants, IUDs, diaphragms, cap, sponges, and condoms. Each one of these methods has aspects to them that are less than ideal.
People use birth control, but the methods fail. Of the 3 million unplanned pregnancies that happen each year in the US. At least 50% result from the failure of various forms of birth control methods. Many of these failures could be avoided if the couples understood female fertility better.
Let's take a brief look at the amazing menstrual cycle.
The Menstrual cycle is like a fine-tuned symphony, a fascinating interplay of hormones, and physiological responses.
You have four primary hormones:
In brief, when the estrogen, FSH, and LH hormone levels rise and suddenly fall that triggers the release of the egg. (ovulation) Once ovulation occurs progesterone takes over to support the potential conception. If conception occurs the levels of progesterone continues to rise. If it does not occur the progesterone levels fall and your period starts.
The 3 primary signs of fertility.
1-Waking Temperature- Basal Body
A woman's pre-ovulatory waking temperatures typically range from about 97.0 to 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit, with post-ovulatory temperatures rising to 97.6 to 98.6 degrees. After ovulation, they will stay elevated until her next period about 12-16 days later. If she were to become pregnant, the temperature would remain high throughout her pregnancy.
The temperature typically rises within a day or so after ovulation and are the result of progesterone. The corpus luteum releases progesterone. So usually, by definition, the rise in temperature signifies that ovulation has already occurred. It's important to emphasize here that the rise in temperature means that ovulation occurred, and it is not a sign of impending ovulation.
When interpreting temperatures, you must train your eyes to look for patterns of lows and highs. In other words, you'll find that your temperatures before ovulation will go up and down in a low range. And the temperatures after ovulation will go up and down in a high range. The trick is to see the whole picture, and not focus so much on the day to day changes.
Pre ovulatory temperatures are suppressed by estrogen. Post ovulatory temperatures are enhanced by progesterone. This is a way to remember the phases of your cycles. Your second phase is the luteal phase. It is regulated by progesterone. You can remember it by saying Pro-gestation. Your body gets warmer to incubate and nurture the egg that may have just been fertilized.
If your temperature pattern is not obvious in your first cycle, then I encourage you to chart for several months before you depend on FAM as a method of safe Birth Control.
Waking temperatures can be extremely helpful in projecting how long a cycle will be because they identify if you've had delayed ovulation that would cause your period to be longer than usual. Remember, for most women, the phase after ovulation doesn't vary more than a few days. For most women, it's 12-16 days after ovulation that her period will begin.
This information is incredibly helpful when you are under lots of stress, and your period is late. You can see your chart and note that your ovulation was delayed and now your cycle is longer. Once the stress in your life calms down, your period will regulate.
How To Take Your Waking Temperature:
1- Take your temperature first thing upon waking, before getting out of bed, before going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth. Before anything else. You'll take it every morning ideally during your menstruation too.
2- If you use a digital thermometer wait until it beeps which is usually 1 minute. Consider using a basal thermometer. If using a glass basal body thermometer leave it in for 5 minutes to get an accurate read.
3- Take the temperature orally. Some experts suggest vaginally. Whichever way you choose, stay consistent.
4- Take your temperature at about the same time every day within an hour or so. However, you do not need to be a salve to the thermometer. If you sleep in on the weekends or you take it earlier or later, just chart it on your chart.
5- Take your temperature after at least 3 hours of consecutive sleep. If you usually wake up at 8 and you woke up at 6 to go to the bathroom. It's better to take your temp at 6 am instead of only after 2 hours of sleep. This might cause an inaccurate temperature reading.
6- If you suspect you are getting sick, use a standard thermometer and not a basal thermometer because it will not read above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Certain factors may influence or increase waking temperatures:
- having a fever
- drinking alcohol the night before
- getting less than 3 hours of consecutive sleep before taking your temperature (really hard for breastfeeding moms and cosleeping moms)
- taking it at a substantially different time than usual
- using an electric blanket or heating pad that you usually don't use.
You don't have to worry about an occasional erratic temperature. Your body offers two other methods to check your fertility status.
One of the beautiful aspects of charting your cervical fluid is that you can discern what normal healthy fluid is and what are secretions from infections. Cervical fluid is to the woman what seminal fluid is to the man. Since men are always fertile they produce seminal fluid continually. Women, on the other hand, are only fertile the few days around ovulation and, therefore, only produce the substance necessary for sperm nourishment and mobility during that time. It's relatively intuitive. Sperm require a medium in which to live, move, and thrive. Otherwise, they will die. Once the sperm enters the vagina, they need a medium to sustain them. But the only time it is critical for the sperm to survive is around the time the egg is released. For this reason, women produce the substance that resembles semen for only a few days per cycle.
Fertile cervical fluid provides an alkaline medium to protect the sperm from an otherwise acidic environment. It also provides nourishment to the sperm; it protects it by acting as a filter and creates an environment for the sperm to move and travel to the egg.
The cycles of cervical fluid
Right after your period, you may have a very dry vaginal sensation and observe no fluid or slight moisture, just like how it feels when you touch the inside of your cheek. This is the way your vaginal opening feels when there is no cervical fluid.
After a few days of this dryness, you may begin to develop a type of cervical fluid that is sticky or like the paste you used in elementary school. Sometimes it's like rubber cement. It feels springy. The critical point here is that it is not wet. This is not fertile cervical fluid.
The next type of cervical fluid is you may notice is creamy or lotion like. It tends to feel rather cold. Just like hand lotion feels cool when you touch it. Some women describe it as watery and milky. The obvious clue here is that you're starting to feel very wet.
Now the final and most fertile fluid resembles egg white. It's incredibly slippery and can stretch from one to several inches in length. It's usually clear or partially streaked. It can also look, yellow, pink, or red-tinged, all of which indicate that it is mixed with ovulatory bleeding. It can also be very watery. The key thing to note here is that you will feel a slick, and it will have a lubricative quality.
I cannot stress this enough. It is essential to pay attention to the slippery sensation you will feel as you approach ovulation. You may even notice that the lubricative sensation continues a day or two beyond the actual stretchy egg white fluid. Pay close attention because this means you are still extremely fertile.
Of course, vaginal sensations and cervical fluid should not be confused with sexual lubrication and semen. The vaginal sensation I'm describing is something you simply feel throughout the day without actually observing or seeing anything. In the end, quality is more important than quantity when evaluating cervical fluid.
After the few days of fertile fluid, you start to feel dry again until your menstruation begins.
Types of Cervical Fluid Recap
- No cervical fluid
- Dry- no fluid, sightly damp but no fluid.
- Crumbly, rubbery, or gummy
- Lotiony, milky
- Egg white Fertile
- Slippery- clear and stretchy
- Streaked and stretchy
- Slippery and clear but not stretchy
This is interesting, fertile cervical fluid will also leave a round, symmetrical wet pattern on your underwear.
Non-fertile cervical fluid tends to form more of a rectangle shape or leaves a line on your underwear.
During ovulation, when you observe your saliva and your cervical fluid under a microscope, the stretchy egg white fluid will look like a beautiful fern pattern. This pattern is conducive to sperm motility. The drier, sticky types of fluid do not have the same fern-like appearance.
Just like there are a few conditions that can mask waking temperatures, there are a few factors that can potentially mask cervical fluid:
- Vaginal infections
- Seminal fluid
- arousal fluid
- spermicides and lubricants
- Antihistamines which can dry out your cervical fluid
Seminal fluid and arousal fluid are different from fertile cervical fluid because they are both much thinner and typically dry quicker on the finger. Fertile Cervical fluid tends to stay on the finger until you wash it off.
Remember, there are 3 fertility signs that you can cross-check if you feel unclear with one of the signs.
Cervical Position During Ovulation:
Your cervix is the lower portion of your uterus that extends into the vaginal canal. It changes along with your cycle and is a wealth of information about your fertility literally at your fingertips.
As with the cervical fluid, the cervix itself prepares for a pregnancy every cycle by transforming into a perfect "biological gate" through which the sperm can pass on their way to finding the precious egg. It does so by becoming soft and open around the time of ovulation in order to allow the sperm passage through the uterus and up into the fallopian tubes. Additionally, the cervix rises up due to the estrogenic effect on the ligaments that hold the uterus in place.
After your period, when the estrogen levels rise your cervix starts to change. This acronym can help you remember how your cervix feels as you approach ovulation. SHOW
The cervix is ordinarily firm like your nose an only becomes soft like your lips as you approach ovulation. Also, it is usually fairly low and closed. If you touch it, it will feel somewhat like a dimple. As you approach ovulation, it rises and opens in response to the high levels of estrogen. At this time, the cervix starts releasing wet egg-like fluid.
Increasing levels of estrogen cause cervical fluid to become progressively wetter. Also, her cervix becomes soft, high, and opens. But quickly after ovulation, the powerful effects of progesterone replace the influence of estrogen. Thus, her temperature shifts upward, her cervical fluid dries up, and her cervix reverts back to a firm, low, and closed position.
Image Credit- Taking Charge of Your Fertility Toni Weschler
Summary -optimize the chances of getting pregnant
The most important tip for getting pregnant is to have intercourse on the Peak Day, which is the last day of egg white cervical fluid or lubricative vaginal sensation. If you don't observe egg-white fluid, try for the last day of the wettest cervical fluid you have.
If your partner's sperm count is normal, have intercourse every day that you have fertile cervical fluid. If his sperm count is low, have sex every other day that you have fertile cervical fluid. Ideally, you will abstain from intercourse until your cervical fluid becomes slippery. In either case, try to have sex through ovulation and include the first morning you notice the rise in your temperature.
Birth Control Rules
If you are going to use FAM as a method of contraception as birth control, there are rules to follow. Here are the 4 FAM rules: The first two are pre-ovulatory and the second two are post-ovulatory rules
First 5 Days Rule-
- You are safe the first 5 days of the menstrual cycle if you had an obvious temperature shift 12 to 16 days before.
- The first 5-day rule applies to the first 5 days of the cycle, regardless of how many days you actually bleed. Any bleeding after the 5th day of the cycle should be considered fertile since it could mask your ability to check the cervical fluid.
- By noting an obvious thermal shift 12-16 days before you bleed, you have strong evidence that ovulation occurred that previous cycle. This confirms that the bleeding within the first 5 days of the new cycle is actual menstruation and not ovulatory spotting or abnormal bleeding unrelated to menses.
Dry Day Rule-
- Before ovulation, you are safe to have unprotected sex on the evening of every dry day. Dryness is determined by checking throughout the day and observing that no cervical fluid or wetness is present at any point during the day. But as soon as you see even sticky quality cervical fluid, you could consider yourself fertile.
- Sure the sticky fluid is not ideal for sperm to move around. However, the rules here are extremely conservative and take into consideration the woman might be new to the process and might not be able to differentiate the fluid yet.
- For clarity sake, the only days before ovulation that are considered safe are those dry days where there is no cervical fluid present. Sperm can't survive if there is no cervical fluid. They'll die in a few hours.
- Also, if you don't have fluid, you don't have estrogen, if you don't have estrogen you are not close to ovulation.
Temperature Shift Rule
You are safe the evening of the third consecutive day your temperature is above the cover line. (after ovulation)
- If the temperature falls below the cover line during the 3 days you have to start counting again :(
- If you are sick, you should not consider yourself safe until you've recorded 3 normal temperatures above the cover line.
- If your thermal shift is not obvious you can use the more conservative rule and consider yourself safe after the 3rd day provided the temperature is at least three-tenths of a degree above.
Peak Day Rule
You are safe the evening after 6 pm of the 4th consecutive day after the Peak Day.
- Identify the peak day, which is the last day of wetness. Remember if your last day of egg white fluid is Monday, but on Tuesday, you still had one more day of vaginal lubricative sensation and you still felt wet, then Tuesday is the Peak Day.
Putting it all together
You should be aware that the peak day usually occurs a few days before the temperature rise. This pattern has an advantage in that cervical fluid usually dries up quickly the day after the peak day, and thus most women can predict their temperature rise the day before it appears.
Note: Before ovulation, the cervical fluid is the critical fertility sign to observe because it indicates the impending release of the egg. But after ovulation, the temperature is the critical fertility sign, because it confirms that ovulation has indeed occurred.
Most of the time, the two post ovulation rules will complement each other so that the third evening of high temperatures will coincide with the fourth evening aft the peak day.
However, if in doubt at any time, don't risk it and have unprotected sex if the infertile signs are not clear unless you want to be parents.
Including Your Partner
Men fear women.
Men fear women period.
Men fear women's periods.
Men fear women not getting their periods.
Men are often criticized for not taking a more significant role in birth control. The truth is most men are very caring and loving and would be more than happy to be more actively involved. As you have seen with FAM there are many ways that partners can be engaged with charting. They can help by taking her temp and jotting it down. He can recognize her fertility signs and determine when her fertile phase begins and ends. And rather than perceiving it as work, most people agree that the minute or two a day is so enlightening that it can be fun rather than a chore. Men who help their partner's cart find they discover a lot more about them in the process too. Ultimately FAM can draw couples together.
Read The Book Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
If you are looking for herbs to help support your herbal journey check out Fertile Ground. We have lots of blogs and videos all about supporting fertility for you too!
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Until next time my friends, drink deep and always walk in beauty!
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