Charting your menstrual cycle involves tracking several criteria related to menstruation, vaginal discharge, basal body temperature, ovulation, cervical mucous and mood. Using this data, one can predict when ovulation occurs and time intercourse to either enhance the chances of conception or prevent pregnancy or just monitor the function of your reproductive organs to ensure hormone balance.
You can manually chart this data on a graph with columns for each day of your cycle and rows that represent temperature numbers, along with boxes to record the above information throughout your cycle.
Period tracker apps will also often allow you to track this data digitally and organize and analyze the data. You can begin at any point in your cycle, but it’s usually best to track 2-3 full cycles at least to get a sense of whether cycles and ovulation are erratic or consistent.
6 Important Things To Track
Let’s look at each of the factors you would be tracking.
You want to record the first day of your period, whether the flow is heavy, light or seems normal, whether there are clots or mucous, the color of the blood, whether you have cramps and record each day that your period lasts. Very heavy periods can be a sign of excess estrogen, or lower levels of progesterone. Very light periods can signify excessive male hormones or androgens or too little estrogen.
2. Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge varies throughout the menstrual cycle. Your period you will have charted in step 1. Once your period ends, you may find that there are “dry” days, where there really isn’t much if any vaginal discharge. As you are approaching the middle of your cycle, you may start to see a clear, slippery, stretchy mucous discharge.
This is called cervical mucous and it is a sign that your body is preparing to ovulate, usually within 24-72 hours after the appearance of this mucous. After that, there may be a milky discharge, a white pasty discharge, a cloudy watery discharge, or not much discharge at all until your next period starts.
White chunky discharge can be a sign of a yeast infection, particularly if you also have vaginal burning or itching. Greyish, foul or fishy smelling discharge can mean you have bacterial vaginosis, again if it’s accompanied by vaginal burning, pain or itching. If discharge seems abnormal, see your doctor for investigation.
3. Basal Body Temperature
Your basal body temperature is your resting temperature. It should be taken after at least 4 hours of continuous sleep as soon as you wake up, before you roll around, get up, go to the washroom or anything else.
It should be checked at about the same time each day, so if you get up at 6 a.m. Monday to Friday, try to catch your temperature at the same time on Saturday and Sunday, you can always roll over and go back to sleep after you get the temperature reading.
The temperature should be recorded to the nearest 0.1 degrees. Typically pre-ovulation temperatures range between 36.0 to 36.5 degrees Celsius, and post ovulation temperatures range from 36.5 to 37.0 degrees Celsius. You may notice about a 0.2-0.3 degree drop at ovulation before the temperature increase.
These temperature numbers can be input into a period tracker app or plotted manually on a graph to see the pattern that indicates whether hormones are appropriately balanced at each phase of the cycle and whether ovulation occurs and when.
The basal body temperature numbers will help determine if ovulation is occurring and if so, when in your cycle. The other signs you can note regarding ovulation are mood, breast tenderness, whether you feel a slight twinge in either your left or right lower abdomen, cervical mucous and the feel of the cervix.
Around ovulation, your cervix should feel more soft like your lips and the rest of the cycle feels more rigid like the tip of your nose. Ovulation predictor kits can also be used to get a sense of when your body is trying to ovulate.
5. Cervical Mucous
As mentioned above, cervical mucous is a clear, slippery, stretchy glob of mucous that you may notice on the toilet paper when you wipe. It signifies that your body is trying to ovulate and ovulation should occur within 72 hours of seeing it. If you are trying to conceive, this is a good time to have intercourse.
Your mood can vary throughout your menstrual cycle as the levels of estrogen and progesterone rise and fall. Estrogen starts low on the first day of your period, rises to a peak two weeks later, falls a bit after ovulation, rises again to a lower peak a week after ovulation and then falls again to initiate your next period.
Progesterone begins to be produced at ovulation, rises to a peak after ovulation and then falls along with estrogen to initiate your next period, assuming you are not pregnant.
Women will sometimes find that their mood changes at three main points of the cycle: ovulation (around day 14), a week after ovulation (around day 21) and 3-4 days before their period starts. Making note of your mood can help understand what is happening with hormones and whether they are well balanced.
Monitoring ovulation through the above is called the fertility awareness method. There are several resources available for more information.
Be aware that use of these methods of contraception may have a high failure rate (meaning you may get pregnant) if not followed meticulously, even then there is a 3% risk that you may get pregnant.