Tracking your menstrual cycle can help you predict when your next period is going to be - and can also help you if you are trying to get pregnant. But there's way more to it than that! Here we’ll break down the key benefits of cycle tracking and give advice on how to track accurately.
- Cycle tracking looks at the entire menstrual cycle - not just your period
- Tracking your cycle can be helpful for identifying reproductive health conditions
- It can be used to improve your chances of conceiving - or if you are trying to avoid pregnancy
- Apps can be helpful - but understanding your own fertile signs is a better technique for tracking your cycle!
- The key fertile signs to be aware of are your cervical mucus, your basal body temperature and your cervical position.
What do we mean by tracking your cycle?
Tracking your cycle involves keeping a note of every time your period comes and also the physical and emotional changes you experience between your periods. When tracking your cycle, Day 1 is always the first day of your period - and the rest of your cycle follows from that.
A regular menstrual cycle will look something like this:
- Menstruation - Days 1 - 4
- Follicular Phase - Days 5-13
- Ovulation - Around Day 14
- Luteal Phase - Days 15-28/29/30 (until your period arrives and the cycle starts again)
It’s really important to remember that everyone’s menstrual cycle is different and it can also change month on month. You will not necessarily ovulate on Day 14 and your cycle may vary in length. Ideally, a healthy menstrual cycle will be regular and you will have a period at least every 35 days - but for some people, that’s not always the case.
Tracking your cycle and noticing the patterns will not only help you predict when your next period will come but it can also help you lead a happier, healthier life.
Benefits of Tracking Your Cycle
Living cyclically has grown in popularity in recent years and we can see why - there are a whole host of benefits!
Helping you conceive (or not)
Trying to conceive is probably the main reason people start to track their cycle - and with good reason! Tracking your cycle and ovulation and pinpointing your fertile window (and having sex within it) is one of the best ways to optimise your chances of conceiving.
Some people also use the Fertility Awareness Method as a form of natural contraception - they avoid sex during their fertile window rather than actively pursuing it! This can actually be very effective, but it is a practice that takes a lot of dedication and time (and of course doesn’t protect you from STIs) so is not right for everybody.
Identify health issues
This is one of the biggest benefits of tracking your cycle. The regularity of our periods is usually a good indicator of what is going on with our reproductive health, but sometimes it doesn’t tell the whole story. It is sometimes possible to have a regular ‘bleed’ without having a regular cycle, so tracking ovulation is really important.
Irregular cycles or a lack of ovulation can be a sign of conditions like PCOS or even primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), whilst a shorter luteal phase could indicate PMDD - so tracking your entire cycle can be really enlightening.
Have better relationships
Whether you’re single or in a couple, understanding where you’re at in your menstrual cycle can be really helpful when it comes to communication and planning your social life.
You may find that around ovulation is when you feel most outgoing - so a great time for a first date or to try and make new friends! During your period you might find you need more alone time and that’s ok. Understanding ourselves can help us communicate our needs with those around us and improve our relationships and happiness levels..
Be more productive
But it’s not only relationships that can benefit from cycle tracking - your career could too.
Everyone’s cycle is unique but many people find that the follicular phase (the time leading up to ovulation) can be a great time for creativity, negotiations and public speaking. The luteual phase is a much better time for planning, reflecting and researching. Syncing your work or study schedule to your menstrual cycle can be a game changer for your productivity and confidence.
How To Track Your Menstrual Cycle
So, we’ve got you excited about cycle tracking - but how do you do it? And if you’re thinking ‘well I already use a period app” that’s not quite the same.
An app will only collect and analyse the data you insert into it, so if you are only tracking the days you bleed then you only really tracking your period and not your full cycle. This can still be really helpful but it won’t be able to accurately tell you when you are ovulating or which phase of your cycle you’re in.
Luckily you don’t need tech or an algorithm to learn this information - you just have to know how to check your fertile signs.
Knowing your fertile signs
There are three key factors to tracking your menstrual cycle - and all of them come from within your body!
Your cervical mucus (aka discharge) changes consistency throughout the month - and can tell you where you’re at in your cycle.
Everyone’s body is different but generally, your mucus will be dry and sticky in the days after your period. In the days leading up to and around ovulation, it will become wet and slippery - similar to the texture of raw egg white. This is when you are in your fertile window - as the mucus becomes thinner to help sperm cells swim faster. After ovulation, it will become dry and sticky again before your period arrives.
To track the consistency of your cervical mucus, simply wipe with a tissue before you urinate when you’re in the toilet. You can log the consistency and start to notice patterns!
Basal Body Temperature
Basal body temperature is your core body temperature when you are resting. The reason your BBT is helpful when tracking your cycle is that your body temperature rises slightly during ovulation.
The important thing to remember is that whilst cervical mucus indicates that ovulation is about to happen, your Basal Body Temperature confirms that ovulation has happened. This is really helpful if you are concerned you’re not ovulating and will also give you a more accurate idea of your unique cycle.
You can check your BBT by tracking your temperature each morning, but to notice patterns it’s important to check at the same time each day - which isn’t always easy. We’re huge fans of TempDrop - a wearable smart thermometer that goes around your arm and checks your temperature for you whilst you sleep!
Your cervical position is another great way to understand where you’re at in your cycle - and especially to know whether you’re ovulating or not. However, it does involve getting up close and personal with your vagina and cervix!
During your period and early follicular phase, your cervix will be quite low and hard - and you should be able to feel it quite easily if you insert your fingers in the vagina. However before and during ovulation, it will be much higher and softer - you might not even be able to feel it as it could be too high.
Logging these three signs and cross-referencing them will help you build up an accurate picture of your cycle. How you do this is totally up to you! You might like to go old school and put pen to paper, or input this data into an app you’re currently using.
If you want an app that is really geared towards this detailed level of tracking the Read Your Body App is great.