Frequently asked questions about charting
Whether you’re a beginner at charting your fertility signs or a seasoned pro, there are always questions about what may or may not affect your results. So I asked Kimberly from FertilityFlower.com to answer some of the most asked questions I get.
1. Is evening primrose oil the only way of improving cervical mucous?
The short answer is no. While a 1,500 to 3,000mg daily dose of Evening Primrose Oil is ‘the classic’ pre-ovulatory herbal prescription for improving the quantity and quality of the cervical fluid, there are certainly others that support healthy cervical fluid production. My top suggestions for alternative herbal preparations are:
Red Clover Blossom – yes, that little common field herb – often found in 430mg capsules or infusions made by the quart and taken as 2-4 cups daily, can be taken at any point during your cycle. Susun Weed in her ‘Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year’ calls red clover blossom ˝the single most useful herb for establishing fertility.˝ It’s a true workhorse.
Cod Liver Oil – full of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin A (a vitamin A deficiency has been linked to scant cervical fluid and heavy/prolonged menstrual periods in Marilyn Shannon’s research). Lavonne Dunne, the author of Nutrition Almanac, recommends a minimum of 20,000 UI per day for preconception, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
Red Raspberry Leaf – is primarily a uterine tonic which leads to the toning and strengthening of the muscles of the uterus but it also increases blood flow to the uterus and surroundings which improve the overall health of the reproductive system. It’s a nourishing source of vitamins A, B complex, C and E, and an easily assimilated source of both calcium and iron.
Like all herbal remedies, it can take a month or two of use to produce the desired results. A good naturopath can also do wonders in terms of righting any imbalances.
Fantastic (offline) Resources on Herbs and Nutritional Healing:
Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, New Trends Publishing, 1999
Marilyn Shannon, Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition, Couple to Couple League, 2001
Susun Weed, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Ash Tree Publishing, 1986 (available on Amazon)
2. Does breathing through your mouth while sleeping effect BBT or cause it to be unreliable?
Your oral temperature is likely to be affected by mouth breathing (your temperatures will be lower than they would’ve been) but it shouldn’t impact your ability to see temperature patterns over the course of your cycle.
3. I have read that morning is the best time to take your temp, but what if (like me) you are up in the night tending to your child? Does that affect the results?
(and) I get up when my husband does at 5:45, sometimes after only 3-4 hours sleep, but then go back to bed for 3- 4 hours. When would I take my basal temp, getting up with him, or later when I get up for the day?
I combined these two questions because they’re similar in nature. They both speak to the issue of temping amidst inconsistent or interrupted sleep. This is a question that I get really, really frequently and it’s an important one because we all want to get this system down pat! The rule of thumb is that you need to take your waking temperature after at least three consecutive hours of sleep in order to get an accurate reading for purposes of charting. In a perfect world, we would all have a nice 8-hour block of uninterrupted sleep but that’s not the reality for many of us (for various reasons). So how does that affect waking temperature and charting? To be honest, in many cases, nighttime awakening doesn’t inhibit your ability to see patterns through the course of your cycle. Take a look at the following chart as an example.
You’ll notice that on cycle day 14 there is a hollow circle. In our system (FertilityFlower.com), this means that the temperature was taken out of a range of 30 minutes from your usual wake-up time. While the temperature for that day is a little higher than you find before or after it, you can see that it still falls within a pre-ovulatory range of temperatures. Meaning, while the individual temperature for a particular day may show some flux up or down when you go through a night or even several nights of frequent wake-ups, you will probably still be able to see a bi-phasic temperature chart over the course of the cycle – assuming that you’ve started to ovulate again.
4. I’ve purchased many thermometers and my temps are always low, in the 95’s. Is this a problem with the thermometers I’ve been buying or is something else going on? The temperatures also seem to vary, even when I try to take a few in a row – they’re all different.
Each one of us is individual with quirks and peculiarities. We don’t always follow the generalized examples offered in textbooks. That’s why I’m always leery of providing ranges for pre-ovulatory and post-ovulatory waking temperatures precisely because #1: there are always women who fall outside that average range, and #2: ultimately, the actual range of temperatures doesn’t matter for charting purposes. If it’s the case that you tend to run ‘cooler’ than the average, so what? It doesn’t impact your ability to chart accurately because it doesn’t impact your ability to see a pattern which is what we are all striving to see. It’s the pattern that’s important, not the actual temperature.
*On a side note: If you want to take a second reading for your waking temperature, I recommend waiting 5 minutes between them for the second one to be accurate.
*If you would like to learn how to raise your basal temp, check out this post: Naturally Raise Your Basal Body Temp
Sometimes I start spotting a few days before my actual period, do you know if this means anything? (and) Before my period full-on starts, I usually have brown, light spotting for two or three days. Is “Day 1” of my chart the first day I have red blood, or the first day I have any spotting at all?
Day 1 of your cycle is always the first day of red blood (actual menstrual flow) as opposed to brown (or even pinkish) spotting. Meaning, a pad would be required on Day 1 of your cycle because the bleeding would heavy enough to require it whereas spotting is often just noted when you use the restroom.
Does spotting a few days before your period mean anything? Unfortunately, it’s hard to make grand proclamations. Spotting of a day or two leading up to a true menstrual period (meaning ovulation occurred 12-16 days prior) would typically be considered nothing concerning. If your pre-menstrual spotting lasts more than that, it could be an indication that the corpus luteum is breaking down too soon. Assuming that disorders like endometriosis and fibroids are ruled out, this doesn’t pose a problem for women who are charting to avoid a pregnancy. However, for women who are trying to conceive, the issue with a premature breakdown of the corpus luteum is that even if the egg is fertilized, the uterine lining would be shed too early to allow for proper implantation.
The likely culprit behind prematurely dissolving corpus luteum cysts (leading to several days of premenstrual spotting) are levels of progesterone that are too low. Some signals to look for are regular patterns where:
- Temperatures zigzag up and down around ovulation (meaning, peaks, and valleys that oscillate between your pre-ovulatory lows and your post-ovulatory temperatures)
- Luteal phases are regularly less than 11 days
- The transition from the follicular phase (the pre-ovulatory phase of your cycle) to the luteal phase (the post-ovulatory phase) takes more than 3 days
- The transition from the luteal phase to the follicular phase takes more than 3 days
- Temperatures dip onto or below the coverline during the luteal phase (notice the usage of the plural…temperatures)
If this sounds like you, cutting out estrogen disruptors (like soy products), eating healthy fats and getting plenty of rest can do wonders. If the problem persists, seeking out qualified help (via a naturopath or a doctor) might be required to correct the situation.
How soon after giving birth can you begin charting reliably?
While you observe dry vaginal sensation and dry (meaning ‘no’) cervical fluid during the postpartum period, you don’t need to chart. Ah….I actually said it! I’ll say it again – you don’t need to chart as long as you have no cervical fluid and have ‘dry’ vaginal sensation. New mothers who are nursing on demand day-and-night, babywearing, etc., and otherwise following the 7-standards of ecological breastfeeding (a stricter form of the Lactational Amenorrhea Method) find that this infertile state can last for quite a while. Shiela Kippley (Founder of the Couple to Couple League with her husband, John) states that ˝the average return of menstruation for ecological breastfeeding mothers is between 14 and 15 months˝ but it can range anywhere from 8 to 30 months (Sheila Kippley, CCL Family Foundations, May-June 1999).
However, once you notice wetness either in terms of cervical fluid or as a sensation of wetness of any kind, you need to begin charting again. And, certainly, if you experience a postpartum period (meaning, bleeding that occurs past the first 56 postpartum days), you need to start charting again. However, you should be aware that bleeding in the postpartum stage does not necessarily mean a return to fertility. You can experience several months of anovulatory bleeding (no ovulation) in which case you are not fertile. Whether your cycles are ovulatory or anovulatory will be easily discerned by charting.
With that said, charting during the postpartum period is a special case. The mantra for this period should be: when in doubt, DON’T. Meaning, the postpartum period is fraught with hormonal changes that can result in some ambiguity in terms of your fertility signals. Charting your waking temperature will not help you determine when you are fertile during this period (or any period) but it will help you figure out if you’re ovulating. If your other fertility signals (such as cervical fluid, cervical position, vaginal sensation, etc…) don’t match up nicely, for the sake of safety abide by the one that keeps you waiting. For example, if your cervix is soft, high or open (indicating potential fertility) on a day that you experience dry vaginal sensation and no cervical fluid, your cervical position overrides the signals from your cervical fluid/sensation. Meaning, you are potentially fertile. Therefore, postpone intercourse until you can confirm ovulation (via a temperature shift) or the return of your cervix to a position of infertility.
Since vaginal sensation and cervical fluid will ultimately herald the return of your fertility. Here are some guidelines to internalize:
- If you have one or two days of any kind of wetness (sensation or cervical fluid) and the next two days are dry, consider yourself potentially fertile on the wet days. You would be safe for intercourse on the second evening that you’ve been dry all day.
- If your wet cervical fluid lasts for three days, you’re potentially fertile on those days.
- Count four days of dryness after your last day of wetness and you’re safe to resume intercourse on the fourth evening.
The more of these peak days (your last day of wet vaginal sensation or wet cervical fluid) that you experience, the more likely that you are approaching a return to fertility.
FAQ by Kimberly Racic: a Fertility Educator and Founder of FertilityFlower.com.