As I said in my How To Chart (Quick & Dirty Version) article, the practice of using Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) involves monitoring your body’s signs of fertility.
The three signs of fertility that can be monitored are cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and cervical position. I now want to explain in a bit more detail how this works and why you need to look at these particular body signs.
**Please make sure to work with a FAM educator before using this as a method of contraception. While it is easy to learn, there are a lot of small things that can make a difference to how accurate your observations and recordings are. Do not start using FAM for contraception until you are confident understanding the rules and interpreting your charts.**
1. Cervical Mucus – required
First of all, for those of you who don’t know, the cervix is the neck of the uterus, the opening that links the vagina to the uterus, and what stretches and expands so the baby can come out during childbirth (click here for diagram).
As eggs mature in your ovaries each menstrual cycle, the hormones released by them will cause the cervix to produce a mucus/fluid. This is only produced as the eggs develop, which means it is only produced as you get close to ovulation.
The reason this mucus is so important is that it is a sign that ovulation will happen soon, and the man’s sperm can live up to five days inside the mucus.
By learning to observe, keep track of (chart), and interpret your mucus signs, you can know where you are in your menstrual cycle, and when you are fertile or infertile in each cycle.
Any time you see mucus you will be fertile, and you continue to be fertile for three days after the mucus dries up. For these reasons, it’s very important to learn what the different colours, stretchiness, and consistency of the cervical mucus mean, and to get some kind of support in making FAM charts to be sure you are getting it right.
2. Basal Body Temperature – optional but suggested
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) is the lowest resting temperature of your body, which is best measured first thing in the morning upon waking.
After you ovulate the hormone progesterone will cause your BBT to rise up, so if you take your temperature every day you will see a pattern of lower temperatures before you ovulate and higher temperatures after you ovulate.
This is best taken at the same time every day (within about an hour) and after at least five hours of sleep. The reason for this is that your body has a 24 hour pattern of temperatures and you need to catch your body at the same point in the cycle every day in order to compare one day to the next to the next.
Because your temperature goes up after you ovulate, the reason for measuring it is to confirm that ovulation has passed (however it cannot tell you when ovulation is approaching). Once you have three temperatures higher than the previous six you can confirm that ovulation has passed.
Temperature can be affected by quality of sleep, stress, illness, travel, drinking alcohol, and other things, so it’s best to keep track of anything that you think might have affected your temperature and be cautious when interpreting the pattern.
3. Cervical Position – optional
Did you know that the position of your cervix changes based on where you are in your cycle? And you can feel this with your fingers? Pretty amazing! Some women like to keep track of this and look for patterns as a cross-check with the other fertility signs. However, this is not required for FAM to be effective and cannot tell you when you are fertile by itself.
Basically, when you are close to ovulating your cervix will be higher, softer, straighter, and more open. When you are not close to ovulation it will be the opposite: lower, harder, more angled, and closed. This is, of course, a continuum, so it can take some time to figure out the different feelings.
Learning to chart these signs can take a bit of practice, but once learned it is really easy and will become second nature.
The rules of FAM and the interpretation of your signs and charts are very important, so if you want to use FAM (especially if you are using it for contraception!) it’s best to use abstinence, alternative sex (NO genital contact), or barrier methods until you feel confident and sure of the rules to ensure you are successful, otherwise you may end up pregnant when you don’t want to be.
Want to learn more? Ask me how or check out one of my programs.