How to Track Your Menstrual Cycle
Updated: Jun 1
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Tracking your menstrual cycle is so helpful for cycling women (not on hormonal birth control or past menopause) for many reasons! See my article here on 3 reasons to track your cycle. Even if you’re not sexually active and looking to prevent or achieve pregnancy, tracking your cycle can be very helpful! I honestly think that ALL cycling women should be tracking their cycles! It cues you into your hormonal health and what your hormones are doing in your body.
The more you know, the more you can work with your cycle and not against it! For example, knowing you're in the luteal phase of your cycle, you would know that your body is burning an extra 200-300 calories a day, so you need to eat a bit more! Visit my post here for how to work with your menstrual cycle.
Something to note:
If you are on hormonal birth control, your body is not cycling as it is not ovulating. Any period you experience is what’s called a pill bleed or a breakthrough bleed. It’s not a real period. I’m personally not a fan of hormonal birth control for many reasons. Visit my article here for 5 reasons you should ditch hormonal birth control.
Tools you'll need:
Tracking your menstrual cycle is not difficult, it just takes a bit of education on the front end. The only tool you’ll need to track your cycle is a basal thermometer. A basal thermometer is important because it’s far more sensitive to temperature than a regular thermometer. A basal thermometer reads your temperature in smaller increments, which is important when tracking those tiny temperature shifts over the course of the month.
There are basal thermometers that link to apps on your phone. They are convenient, but a pen and paper work just fine, and I find that a pen and paper also allows more room for helpful notes. Adding in plenty of notes is very helpful when you’re first starting out and learning your body.
The FOUR phases of the menstrual cycle:
The Menstrual Phase:
Your period is considered the first phase of your menstrual cycle. For healthy, cycling women, this should last between 4-7 days.
The Follicular Phase:
Like the name suggests, the follicular phase is when your body is producing a follicle/egg. Estrogen is rising during this phase and your body is rebuilding the uterine lining, preparing for the egg. This phase typically lasts about 2 weeks, but sometimes longer, especially if the body is stressed. The body will delay ovulation if there are stress hormones.
The Ovulation Phase:
The ovulation phase is when your body produces an egg. This is your most fertile phase and typically lasts just a day.
The Luteal Phase:
The luteal phase follows your ovulation phase. If the egg is not fertilized, it dissolves (typically about after 3 days). Progesterone increases and estrogen decreases in the body, and the basal temperature rises. This phase should last for about 14 days. If it is shorter than 14 days, this may indicate that your estrogen levels are too high.
And then it starts all over again!
The basics of how to track her menstrual cycle:
Now knowing the 4 phases of your cycle, here’s what to do to track it.
1. Take your temperature first thing every single morning, and log it.
Make sure it’s the first thing you do after waking. I usually turn off the alarm, stick the thermometer in my mouth, and just lay in bed until it goes off. I immediately sit up and log it, so I don’t forget.
Your temperature will be lower during the first half of your cycle (your period to ovulation). After you have ovulated, your temperature will increase as progesterone rises. You are looking for that rise in temperature, which indicates ovulation. Your temperature will fluctuate all month, rarely being the same from one day to the next, BUT you’re looking for a big jump in temperature after ovulation.
If there is no significant rise in temperature, you probably have not ovulated, so keep tracking. Stress can delay ovulation, or your body may need some support to produce the proper hormones. Many women have hormonal imbalances, which can make tracking your cycle difficult. See my post here for 6 Things you can do to Balance your Hormones.
2. Watch for cervical fluid
Cervical fluid lets you know that your body is either preparing for ovulation or is ovulating. Log your cervical fluid in addition to your temperature. Be sure to categorize its consistency too (sticky, creamy, or egg white consistency). Simply check when you go to the bathroom. Check your underwear or take toilet paper before urination and wipe. After doing this for a while, it becomes second nature.
Without cervical fluid, sperm can not actually survive in the vagina for more than a few hours. Your body produces cervical fluid to make the vagina a hospitable environment for sperm. The more cervical fluid, the more fertile you are. A day with egg-white consistency fluid means that you’re likely ovulating. As soon as ovulation is done, your body will stop producing the fluid.
3. Check your cervical position.
When your body has ovulated and is fertile, your cervix will be high, soft, and open (ready to receive sperm). When you’re not fertile, the cervix will be closed, low, and hard. You can check this when you're either sitting or squatting with your finger.
I rarely check this, relying on tracking my temperature and cervical fluid instead. But it is a helpful tool if you’re unsure when you're ovulating.
Here is a sample chart to help you see what a month might look like. Each month is different, and the charts fluctuate depending on food, activity levels, stress, etc. Your body is ultra-sensitive and ever-changing! The important thing is to look at the big picture every month, and the longer you track it, the more confident you will be!
In this graph, you can see the large temperature spike, following ovulation. The pink bars represent the period, and the blue represents cervical fluid, darker blue indicates more fluid.
Ovulation is the most important event to watch for in your cycle. The only way to know you’re ovulating the day of is by tracking cervical fluid and/or cervical position. The temperature spike will not happen until AFTER ovulation.
There are many nuances to this as women are different! Again, it’s important to look at the big picture of your chart. I would also encourage you to dive in deeper to learn about your body, especially if you plan to use The Fertility Awareness Method to prevent pregnancy. This book is a great resource! Please do your research, and do not use this one blog post as the only resource, especially if you plan to use the fertility awareness method!
Many women begin tracking their cycle every month and find that it’s all over the place! Maybe your period is terrible and painful. Maybe you’re spotting throughout the month. Maybe you’re not ovulating or not getting a period! This is not uncommon, especially considering most people’s diets, diet culture, and the vast amount of endocrine disruptors we’re all exposed to every day! However, it’s not normal and not healthy either! AND it’s totally fixable! Our hormones just need support and help balance. See my post here for 6 ways you can start to balance your hormones today!
And that's it! How to track your menstrual cycle! I know it may seem intimidating at first, but it's really not very complicated. Again, please do not let this blog post be your only source of information! There are a lot of nuances to this, so if you're planning to do this to prevent pregnancy, do your research. What has been your experience tracking your menstrual cycle? Let me know in the comments!