When I first learned about the Fertility Awareness Method, I was blown away by the signals our bodies gives us each month to let us know when we are fertile and not fertile. By learning more about these signals and how to recognize them, we can gain a deeper understanding of our bodies. With this newfound awareness, we can begin to make smarter choices about when to engage in sexual intercourse to become pregnant or avoid pregnancy.
The “Normal” Menstrual Cycle
When most women think of their menstrual cycle, they think of the 3-7 days they bleed every month. But there is so many more components of a menstrual cycle that happen in our bodies each month. In the beginning of our cycle, known as the follicular phase, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates about 15 eggs to begin maturing in our ovaries. As these eggs mature within follicles, the follicles secrete estrogen and the estrogen stimulates a large surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) to be released, as well as giving cervical fluid more fertile qualities. The most mature egg actually penetrates the wall of the ovary and is released in the abdominal cavity to be swept up quickly by the fallopian tubes. The follicle of which the egg was released from then becomes the corpus luteum which starts to produce progesterone in the luteal phase of the cycle. Thinks of progesterone as “pro-gestation” because it acts to increase fertile cervical fluid, thickens the uterine lining to allow the fertilized egg to implant, allows your cervix to become soft and your cervical os to increase in diameter to allow sperm to enter the uterus, and increases your temperature. The luteal phase typically lasts for 12 to 16 days. If the egg is not fertilized and did not implant into the uterus, the woman will have her menstrual period, which is the shedding of the uterus lining. If the egg is fertilized and does implant into the uterus, it will release human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) which will signal the corpus luteum to continue to secrete progesterone to create the appropriate conditions for the baby to grow and develop.
Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)
FAM relies on having a good understanding of your own menstrual cycle and tracking the following three signs of fertility:
- After your menstrual period, your cervical fluid will be dry. As estrogen increase in the follicular phase, the cervical fluid will go from dry to sticky to creamy to a stretchy, clear, and lubricative consistency which is often called “egg white cervical fluid” based on its similarity in characteristics to raw egg whites. This stretchy, clear, and lubricative cervical fluid is an indication that the woman is fertile since it is produced around ovulation.
- You can notice these changes on your underwear, on toilet paper, or just by the sensation in your vagina. The sensation of fertile cervical fluid will be wet and slippery.
- You can begin to track your morning basal body temperature by placing a thermometer underneath your tongue immediately upon waking; before getting out of bed or drinking water.
- Before ovulation, a women’s basal body temperature will likely be around 97 to 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Within 24-48 hours after ovulation, a women’s basal body temperature will rise above 97.7. The temperature will stay elevated for the duration of the luteal phase due to the increase in progesterone. Therefore, a rise in basal body temperature will indicate that a woman has already ovulated.
- The cervix actually changes position and qualities as the menstrual cycle progresses. When a woman is not in her ovulatory phase, the cervix is firm, lower in the vaginal canal, and has a more closed cervical os. As a woman enters into her ovulatory phase, her cervix becomes softer, higher in the vaginal canal, and has a more open cervical os.
- You can check the qualities of your cervix at the same time everyday. This helps you to understandnand feel how it changes throughout your cycle.
Now that you know the signs of when you are fertile and have ovulated, you can begin to learn the timing of your menstrual cycle. It is helpful to keep a chart every month recording all of these signs you are tracking. After keeping track for 3-6 months, you will have a deeper understanding of when you are fertile and not fertile to help you navigate when you should have intercourse depending on if you want to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy. It is also important to note that sperm can survive in fertile cervical fluid for 5 days, whereas an egg can only survive for up to 24 hours after ovulation.
Have fun applying the Fertility Awareness Method into your lives and learning more about your beautifully functioning body!