It's a gentle afternoon that finds me sitting at my desk, typing on a fresh word document. I take a deep breath and gaze out the window for a second, watching the snow fall and savoring the taste of hazelnut dark chocolate from Aldi. I want to share with you what I’ve been studying and dedicating much of my energy to lately. My goal is to provide a little snapshot so that you can get an idea of what I do and see how it resonates. Perhaps you’re simply curious about fertility awareness and this blog will satisfy your curiosity. Maybe you’d like to dig deeper and take advantage of the resources I share at the end of this post.
Wherever you’re at, I invite you to settle in for a few moments and take a few deep breaths to find connection with your body before moving forward.
Okay, let’s dive in. In this blog, I’ll cover the who, what, when, where, why, and now what of fertility awareness. We’re only gonna skim the surface, but know that this is a beautiful world of getting to know your female body and understand its wisdom on a deeper level. And dudes - if you’re reading this - it’s good information for you, too, so stick around.
Fertility awareness is for any person who has a menstrual cycle. This includes young women who have just started their cycle (postmenarche), middle age, and even older women in premenopause. While I think the information is helpful for everyone, it is not able to be utilized by women who are on hormone-based contraceptives, such as the pill or IUD, as these interfere with the body’s natural cycle. Many women interested in fertility awareness are looking to transition off the pill or prepare for conception. Other women are looking to understand their bodies better or get rid of unpleasant symptoms. I’ll get into that further in the “why” section of this blog. It’s important to know that you do not need to have a “perfect cycle” or a regular cycle to do fertility awareness. Many women who have irregular cycles due to underlying conditions can also successfully incorporate fertility awareness into their lives.
So what actually IS fertility awareness? It is simply the process of collecting data to assess which days we are fertile and infertile throughout our cycle. Did you know that as women, we are not fertile - or able to get pregnant - 100% of the time? Unlike men, who produce sperm daily, women have a multiphase cycle that normally lasts anywhere from 24-35 days. This includes four unique phases called menstruation (bleeding), follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases. I won’t go into the nitty gritty of those here, but just know that our bodies’ signals change from phase to phase, and that is what allows us to track our fertility.
What are those special signals, you may ask? While there’s not one universal fertility awareness tracking method, most of them use a combination of our three main fertile signs: cervical mucus, body temperature, and cervical position. Some methods incorporate tracking hormones in our urine via dipsticks or other tracking devices. You can read about all of the different fertility awareness methods HERE.
As a fertility awareness coach in-training, I teach the sympto-thermal method, which focuses on the two main signs of cervical mucus and body temperature. To give a VERY brief overview, cervical mucus is our primary sign of fertility, since our mucus patterns change over the phases of our cycle and it is an essential component of being able to conceive a baby. Learning this method of fertility awareness means learning how to observe and identify the mucus we sometimes see on the tissue paper when we wipe after using the bathroom. Additionally, basal body temperature is taken each morning after waking up. Body temperature is a sign we use to track fertility because it rises in the second half of our cycle after ovulation, helping us to confirm that the fertile period of our cycle has come and gone.
We then record these mucus and temperature observations daily in an app or paper chart. We may choose to check cervical position or other signs. Collectively, this information gives us a picture of our cycle: which days we are fertile, which days we are not fertile, and any abnormal characteristics of our cycle that may need to be addressed. Based on that, we can make decisions about trying to become pregnant, avoid pregnancy, or optimize our health and hormone balance.
Let me be very clear on something: fertility awareness is NOT the same thing as the “rhythm method” of birth control. The rhythm method involves predictions of what day you will ovulate based on your previous cycles. It will give you an estimate of which days you are fertile. While it may work for a small percentage of women, most women have cycles with some natural fluctuation in length from cycle to cycle. Fertility awareness teaches you specific signs to track so that you can pinpoint your fertile window. There is no guesswork or projection involved.
Fertility awareness happens consistently. It is truly a lifestyle shift that involves getting to know your body on a deeper level. One you learn these skills, you will have this empowering knowledge for life. Every day, you will track your observations and interpret them. While it is a learning curve at first, most women learn to chart in 2 to 3 cycles with the help of a trained coach or instructor. It will get easier and become intuitive with time. I personally spend 15-20 minutes each day in the form of data collection: taking my temperature, observing cervical mucus, and inputting my observations into an app on my phone. That’s it. I don’t need any fancy supplies except for a temperature-taking device, like a basal body thermometer or a Tempdrop band, and my phone.
Fertility awareness happens everywhere, all the time. You take your knowledge of fertility awareness with you wherever you go, whether that’s at home, at work, on vacation, or elsewhere. The more practice you have, the more comfortable you’ll become with the process. You may have to plan ahead and navigate around trips or unusual circumstances, but most challenges can be worked around as your daily habits start to incorporate fertility awareness.
Women come to fertility awareness for different reasons and from all sorts of backgrounds. Many fertility awareness methods stem from the Catholic tradition, which traditionally promotes natural family planning over hormone-based contraceptives for ethical and moral convictions.
Some women want to learn fertility awareness to optimize their chances of conception. Other women want to learn fertility awareness because they have a wonky cycle or bothersome (or even debilitating) symptoms ranging from PMS to bad cramps they want to address. Amazingly, a woman’s cycle can be used as a “vital sign” to assess her health, as it gives her valuable information about her health and hormones. Also, the four phases of the cycle I mentioned earlier tend to mimic the energies of the four seasons we experience throughout the year. For example, the follicular and ovulatory phases tend to mirror the high-energy seasons of spring and summer, with luteal and menstruation more closely aligned to the quiet, reflective nature of fall and winter. It’s *really cool.* By tuning into our body’s different signals during each phase, we can live more closely aligned with the natural ebb and flow of energy and needs that we experience throughout our cycles.
Fertility awareness is a great option for natural birth control for women who want to avoid other forms of contraception, whether that’s for ethical or health reasons or both. Unfortunately, in my experience, fertility awareness is not something regularly promoted or encouraged in conventional medicine, as doctors are not routinely trained in this knowledge. I believe this does a disservice to women, because women are often not fully educated on the side effects or mechanism of action of hormone-based contraceptives before being prescribed them. That being said, I’m not completely against hormone-based contraceptives. I just believe women should have the whole picture AND alternatives to consider to make a fully informed decision before started on this route. That’s a conversation for another day, but nonetheless, fertility awareness can be a highly effective form of birth control when learned and implemented correctly.
How effective is fertility awareness, you may ask? And the answer is very effective, when used properly. One study published in 2007 looked at 17,638 cycles worth of data from 900 women who used the sympto-thermal method as a form of birth control. The study found this method to be 99.4% effective in preventing pregnancy, resulting in less than one pregnancy per 100 woman per year with perfect use (source).
Regardless of whether women choose to learn fertility awareness or not, I believe that it is every woman’s right and should be highly accessible to every person should they choose to use it. Regardless of relationship status, sexual orientation, age, or belief system, I believe that ALL women can benefit from fertility awareness and should be taught the basics on how our bodies work. Not all women are going to choose into fertility awareness - and that’s totally okay! - but it should be accessible to all.
Whew! That was a lot of info I packed in one post. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, you are not alone. There are lots of resources out there to help you get started on your own journey of fertility awareness. Not all are created equally or presented the same. It’s important to pick an instructor or charting format that resonates and works well with your lifestyle.
As a great starting point, check out the FACTS website to read about the different types of fertility awareness methods. Check it out HERE. From there, you can jump over to the websites of the various charting methods.
I am biased, but my favorite teaching resources are those from Lisa Hendrickson-Jack of Fertility Friday. She is my current mentor and instructor, as I’m taking her Fertility Awareness Mastery Mentorship to become a Certified FAMM Practitioner. Lisa uses her decades-worth of experience working with clients and her deep dive into the research to present evidence-based, straightforward information.
If you like podcasts, you can listen to her Fertility Friday podcast.
If you’re a book person, check out her book, The Fifth Vital Sign. This is a great starting point as an intro to fertility awareness. It got me charting my own cycles several years back and taught me so much foundational knowledge I still refer to frequently.
And if you’d like to work one-on-one with an instructor, *yours truly* will be opening up spots soon to walk you through the entire process of learning the sympto-thermal FAMM method of fertility awareness, how to chart and interpret your cycles, and how to optimize your fertility and hormones to start feeling better. I could not be more excited to bring this service into my coaching work! Hop over to my Work With Me page to schedule a free discovery session with me to learn more. If you have questions, feel free to drop a comment or reach out via email or social media. I’d love to connect with you.
I’ll see ya next time!