Updated: Apr 25, 2020
AUTHOR: Lee Reicheneder
Gaining an understanding of our own fertility and how our bodies work is something that has always been quite lacking in our society. We are progressive enough to educate about the vast range of contraceptive products on the market and the various disposable menstrual products that can be used; however, we still seem to frequently fail at teaching people about the fertility signs that may appear in those who are biologically female and how to identify them or about the re-usable menstrual products they have as options for themselves as well. This knowledge is incredibly important for us as informed human beings regardless of how each of us identify or whether we choose to utilise contraceptives on the market to help avoid pregnancy or not. Being aware of fertility signs can often provide insight into when the body may be fertile (allowing informed choice to be made regarding intercourse timing) and also may give early warning signs for underlying health issues which in turn allows for calling a Doctor about those early warning signs or concerns. For this reason this article attempts to cover signs of fertility for those trying for or avoiding pregnancy, the bodies warning signs,and how being aware of the fertility signs can support your path. Another article will cover menstrual products and options.
Menstrual cycles are often seen as a sign of fertility with fertile periods commencing in the menarche and ceasing with menopause. Menstrual cycles often range from 20-40 days (the cycle is the days you count between the menstration (moon bleed) start date and your next moon bleed date). Each month the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) sheds through the moon bleed with the last months unfertilized egg and then regenerates itself to ready itself for a fertilised egg (once released from the ovaries usually around day 14) to implant. In a healthy reproductive system several eggs ripen each month usually releasing only one egg from one ovary (left or right) to be fertilised by the sperm. On occasions both ovaries will release an egg which produces non-identical twins if both eggs become fertilised by sperm. For the first 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle you are regarded as "1 week and then 2 weeks pregnant"; however, if sperm fails to fertilise the egg after it is released around day 14 the "pregnancy" will not get any further as their will be no sperm, egg magic that forms the zygote (a single cell), which forms into an embryo (a division of cells- starting formation of a baby) and over time becomes a baby. Instead the unfertilised egg will be shed with the endometrium again in your next months moon bleed. Over the duration of this month the body will often provide a range of signals to indicate what it's situation is in terms of fertility levels, health and even whether a conception has occurred the month or not.
The common signals provided by the body to indicate fertility, health issues or pregnancy are:
Early Morning Basal Body Temperature ( before fully awake and still lying down)
Position and Feel of the Cervix
BASAL BODY TEMPERATURE
Basal body temperature is the temperature of the body fully at rest and can be used along other contraception methods to reduce the chances of pregnancy or conversely it can assist in the planning for pregnancy. The reason for this is ovulation often results in a slight increase in basal body temperature and after recording the temperature over a few cycles patterns often tend to emerge giving you indicators of when you are likely to be fertile. However, temperatures from each morning without fail for roughly four cycles one after each other must be recorded to start establishing any form of pattern to help you indicate your fertile times in future cycles. For the readings to be accurate it is important to remember the following:
Get at least 3 hours of unbroken sleep each night
Take your temperature using the same method each morning
Take your temperature immediately on waking (ideally at the same time each morning)
Ensure your temperature is taken before you sit up in bed, get out of bed, eating or drinking
Use the same thermometer throughout the cycle (DO NOT change the thermometer mid cycle)
The most fertile days are often the 2-3 days before your temperature rises. During the pre-fertile stage the basal temperature should be stable and this continues into the fertile stage; however, during the fertile stage some women notice a dip of 0.2◦-0.3◦ at 12-24 hours before ovulation. A rise of 0.2◦-0.5◦ will often occur before, during, and after the release of the egg. Predicting fertility with this method can help plan when to have intercourse, not have intercourse, or have intercourse with additional protection such as a condom. However, on it's own to prevent pregnancy it can be unreliable, it is estimated that 25 out of 100 who use basal temperature as their only form of protection/prevention without the inclusion of other methods or protection fall pregnant each year. Things like broken sleep, oral or hormonal contraceptives, breastfeeding, a recent birth, antibiotics, illness, not taking temperature at the same time each day, alcohol, changing thermometer or the checking methods mid cycle, doing something before taking the temperature on waking, travel and time zone differences. Therefore, it is worthwhile utilising other methods from the body signals listed and/or other protection methods such as condoms alongside the basal body temperature method if you are using this to help avoid pregnancy.
Basal Temperature recording is also a good way to pick up on reproductive health concerns you may not have been aware of previously which allows you to seek out medical advice. The basal temperature can identify:
Short time frame of 10 days or less between ovulation and your next moon bleed (luteal phase). A short luteal phase results in the body not being able to develop enough uterine lining to support a pregnancy, as a consequence it can make it harder and take longer to conceive, it may also increase early misscarriage risk.
Long time of 18 days or more between ovulation and the next moon bleed (luteal phase) when not pregnant. Long luteal phase may indicate hormone imbalance conditions like Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Rise in body temperature after ovulation sustained for less than 3 days or low temperatures through the entire luteal phase (between ovulation to next bleed) may indicate other reproductive health concerns
Short time from of 10 days or less between the first day of your bleed and ovulation (follicular phase) can result in the follicles around the egg ripening too quickly which may result in it being harder to conceive. A standard follicular phase can last up to 27 days; however, a phase of less than 11 days is considered short.
An abnormally short cycle (less than 20 days) or long cycle (more than 40 days) may indicate issues
A 1 day dip a week after ovulation and/or 3 consecutive rises in temperature after ovulation may both indicate pregnancy sometimes well before many pregnancy tests. The dip if it occurs indicates implantation.
Long time of 18 days or more between ovulation and your next moon bleed may also indicate pregnancy
Cervical mucas can be checked by using any one or all of these 3 methods placing your fingers at the opening of the vagina, wiping with toilet paper, or simply by looking for it on your underwear. This is best to do in the early afternoons or evenings; however, you can check at any time of day as long as you try to ensure it is around the same time each day. Be aware that this method is unreliable if you have had intercourse within 24hrs of your last check, and it should be used in conjunction with another body signal method and/or alongside a contraceptive method. These are the ways you can identify your fertility based on your mucas:
Dry and/or little to no mucas. Mucas if present may be any or all of the following: thick, white, crumbly, flakey, sticky, tacky, cloudy, yellow and pasty - this often means Low to No Fertility
Increase in mucas and you may feel damp or wet. Mucas may look clear or cloudy white with a thinner, runnier consistency - this often means Fertile
Mucas clear, slightly cloudy or egg white, or clear but stretchy with or without pinkish tinge. Some may find that the mucas can stretch up to 10cm when between fingers - this often means HIGHLY FERTILE with ovulation about to occur, occuring, or it has just occured
POSITION OF THE CERVIX
This method is a bit more invasive and often requires quite a bit of practice before you get to recognise the changes to your cervix. Some choose not to utilise this method to keep an eye on their fertility. If you do choose to use this method it is important to be aware that mistakes are common while mastering this skill, doing the check before, during or after intercourse may produce unreliable results and some people (particularly those who have given birth) may always have an open cervix so will need to rely only on the other two cervix signs. Like the other methods (body signals) this is best used with another method and/or with a contraceptive like a condom.
After washing and drying your hands move yourself into a comfortable position that allows easy access to your vagina. This may be sitting on a toilet, standing with one leg on a peice of furniture or bath, kneeling, squatting or lying down. From here insert 1 or 2 fingers into your vagina upwards and back towards your tailbone until you reach a smooth bump (your cervix) which may feel like the tip of a nose. The opening may feel like a dimple and or as big as a finger tip. Take note of what you feel and record it on paper or a fertility chart
Cervix is low, feels firm, limited to no opening - this usually means there is LOW to NO chance of fertility
Cervix is medium, feels not as firm, slight opening - this usually means FERTILE
Cervix is high, feels soft, open - this usually means HIGHLY FERTILE
One of the most neglected tools to identify when we are fertile and when we are not is our emotions.
LOW TO NO FERTILITY - anxious, irritable, upset, disappointed, depressed, or relief if the bleed is over
FERTILE - libido increases and you want to do bedroom activities
HIGHLY FERTILE - sex drive is often through the roof and some experience slight nausea
To conclude, the bodies signs of fertility are important to be aware of not just for prevention (with other methods or contraceptives) or planning of pregnancy but as a tool to monitor our own well-being. This is particularly true for the basal body temperature method which allows early warning signs for medical concerns which could be discussed with your medical practitioner and may also all help those trying for a baby pinpoint issues of concern.
ARTICLE DISCLAIMER: Lee is a Canberra Doula who also spent over 5 years working in the childcare field as a childcare educator (including as a Room Leader); she holds relevant children's services qualifications alongside Doula qualifications. In addition, Lee holds a wide range of qualifications and training in fields that include but are not limited to trauma and natural therapies. Lee is a proud Aspie woman and mother of 5 children (2 with disabilities). If you have concerns about your child's development, family member's wellbeing or your own wellbeing speak to your Midwife or Doctor. Furthermore, a small commission is made on some of the links provided within these blog articles
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