The nuts and bolts of basal body temperature (BBT) charts and predicting when you will ovulate.
When a woman comes to my office for help with fertility, the first questions I ask are, “When do you ovulate?” and “How do you know you’ve ovulated?” While some women are able to give detailed answers to these questions, most of the women I see are guessing at when they ovulate and planning babymaking around that guess.
Think back to your junior high or high school Health Education class. You probably learned “how” babies are made, who puts what where and how sperm meets egg, etc. But what was that class really designed to do? It was designed to keep you from getting pregnant! In fact, it’s likely that most of the information you’ve encountered about reproduction up until now has been aimed at blocking conception rather than promoting it. Now that you’ve decided it’s time to have a baby, you’ve given up birth control and are actively trying to get pregnant, it’s time to get in touch with your body and give it a helping hand.
The truth is, there is only a small window of time during your menstrual cycle in which it is possible for you to become pregnant (about 2 to 4 days, the length of time most women secrete fertile cervical fluid). Even when your timing is perfect you still only have about a 20% chance of conceiving in any given cycle. When you consider everything that has to happen perfectly during one cycle, from building a new uterine lining to getting sperm and egg to meet in the fallopian tube, it’s really a miracle that anyone gets pregnant at all!
So what can you do to assist in the miracle? First, I recommend reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, which explains in plain English what’s happening during your menstrual cycle, how to chart each cycle using Basal Body Temperature (BBT) readings and other signs, and how to recognize when you’ve ovulated and which are your most fertile days. For those who like technology, check out the Ovusoft program at www.ovusoft.com or the free charting software at www.fertilityfriend.com. For everyone else, paper charts may be downloaded here.
Though BBT charting can be a little crazy-making, I recommend that you chart for 2 to 3 full cycles. It’s a great way to connect with your body, become familiar with your own fertility signs and give you something to bring to the fertility specialist, should you need to go that route. Before you begin, you’ll need: a digital BBT (Basal Body Temperature) thermometer, an ovulation predictor kit or a fertility monitor, a pen and a pad of paper to leave by your bed, and a chart on which to record your findings (paper or on your computer).
So, now you’re ready to start….as soon as you start your next period, which is called Cycle Day 1. If you are weeks away from your next period and want to practice taking your temperature, go ahead but be sure to record the data in the correct place on your chart (i.e. if you start on cycle day 10, don’t call it cycle day 1). On the first day of your period (not the first day of spotting, but the first honest-to-goodness day of menstrual flow), take your temperature in the morning after you’ve woken up and before you’ve gotten out of bed. Important: For this method to be accurate, you need to take your temperature at the same time every day and you cannot get out of bed before taking it. Record your temperature, add it to your chart and go on with your day.
If you have an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) or fertility monitor, you can start testing for a surge in LH (leutenizing hormone) as early as cycle day 8. LH surges about 36 hours before ovulation, so it can be a good indicator of your most fertile day (ideally, the sperm should be present 36 to 24 hours before ovulation occurs, so plan lovemaking accordingly). Important: An LH surge does not necessarily mean you have ovulated. Some women, like those diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), have LH surges throughout the month, so this method will not be accurate. When you see an LH surge, you should record this on your chart and plan to have sex that day and at least every other day your chart shows that you’ve ovulated.
Another important fertility sign to add to your chart is cervical fluid. In a perfect world, your cervical fluid will become more abundant and slippery (often described as being the consistency of an egg-white) when you are most fertile. When this type of cervical fluid is present, you may notice some discharge on your underwear or when you wipe yourself after using the bathroom. You can also insert two fingers into your vagina and try to gently touch the tip of your cervix and see if you come away with any fluid. For some women, this is easy to see and for others it isn’t. If you notice it, put it in your chart and, again, start having sex at least every other day until ovulation occurs. Important: If you never notice a change in cervical fluid, you could miss your most fertile day, so it’s best to plan to have sex every day or every other day from cycle day 8 until your temperatures indicate that you have ovulated.
Charting also allows you to keep track of things that might disrupt your cycle and change your ovulation date like lack of sleep, emotional stress or illness, and gives you a chance to note other physical sensations like a dull abdominal or back ache, cramping or a sharp pain.
My hope in writing this article is to help you understand how your reproductive systems functions, help you gain a clearer understanding of when you are most fertile and help you better time babymaking activities. If you have simply been missing ovulation, or if you are just getting started trying to conceive, charting and predicting ovulation may help you get pregnant more quickly.
If you think your chart looks strange, or if charting and predicting ovulation doesn’t help you get pregnant within 6-12 months, get some help. See your gynecologist for a thorough exam, have your male partner get a semen analysis, explore the various alternatives that can help prepare your body for conception and pregnancy (acupuncture, herbal medicine, Mayan abdominal massage, massage therapy, chiropractic, etc.). I invariably use my patients’ charts to help form a diagnosis (i.e. Kidney yin deficiency, Liver Qi stagnation, etc.), so be sure to bring your charts to whichever practitioner you decide to work with.
For a free consultation with Julie Permut, LAc, please call 603-924-6624. Ready to start treatment? Click here to book an appointment now.