31 October 2009

Charting Your BBT: Part I

What You Need, the How-Tos, and Other Basics

Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) is your body's daily, lowest, at-rest temperature each day. Your BBT is lowest while in deep sleep, rising as soon as you wake up. A woman's BBT fluctuates in a pretty set pattern during a normal cycle, and finding this pattern of temperature fluctuation, as well as observing other signs from your body, can help you pinpoint ovulation (the day you release an egg) and maximize your chances of conception each cycle. THIS IS THE POINT OF CHARTING! You want to be able to find a pattern and use this to predict future ovulation dates.

What You Need:

- A BBT thermometer
- A BBT chart

You cannot get any cheaper or any more simple than that! When used correctly, your thermometer and piece of paper may be able to get you pregnant quickly.

You can buy special BBT thermometers that come with a blank chart for duplication. These thermometers read your at-rest, first morning temperture to a hundredth of a degree. Generally, these thermometers are more expensive. If the ownership of something really expensive helps you feel better, than go for it. Otherwise, any digital thermometer that reads at least a tenth of a degree is suitable. (I bought my thermometer at Rite-Aid for $2.99.) Just make sure it reads at least a tenth of a degree and is digital; no old-fashioned mercury thermometers here, folks.

A good BBT chart has a range of temperatures to the tenth (even hundredth) of a degree with boxes to help you record your body's signs as well. Other than your temperature, you want to observe and record the following:

-Cervical mucus (this includes your period flow, as well as whether you or not you are dry, sticky, creamy, or slippery).

-Days of unprotected intercourse.

-Any ovulatory pain, sometimes experienced as cramps or twinges of pain when the egg is released.

-Ovulation Predictor Kit (OPK) results, as well as results for saliva-scopes and fertility monitors, if you use those.

-Any drugs are medications taken, including fertility drugs and prenatal vitamins.

-Any miscellaneous things that could have an impact on your chart, such as a bad night of sleep, illness, travel, etc.

This is one of the best BBT charts available. If this one doesn't suit you or seems to have too much information, simply searching "blank BBT chart" or "printable BBT chart" in Google should bring up what you need. Better to have too much information than too little!

Step One: Day One of Your Cycle

You will not have an accurate chart worth a lick if you pick some arbitrary day to start charting. Wait until the first day of your period, which is Cycle Day 1.

Step Two: Taking Your Temperature

Your BBT needs to be taken first thing in the morning, literally. Keep your thermometer and your chart right next to your bed. The second you wake up, before you even sit up or get out of bed, take your temperature and record it on your chart. A few things to keep in mind:

-Always take your temperature at the same time every morning,

-Always take your temperature before getting out of bed, even sitting up, if that is feasible. As soon as your body's deep sleep is disturbed, your temperature starts to climb. You want your lowest temperature of the day.

-Don't fret if you skip a day or accidentally sleep in. You're looking for an overall pattern and will not be able to establish that if you only look at your chart on a day-to-day basis.

Step Three: Observing and Charting Other Fertility Signs

Along with your termperature, you need to be recording your fertility signs: cervical mucus (amount, consistency, etc.), cervical location (high or low), cervical firmess (firm or soft), and cervical opening (opened or closed), as well as days of intercourse, fertility test results, etc. Charts are pretty self-explanatory, and you may not want to chart every single every day... especially if you are doing a few practice charts before getting serious.

Cervical mucus changes throughout your cycle. In order to accurately check your cervical mucus (as well as location and firmness) you need to be in the sitting or squatting position, and insert one to two fingers and reach until you feel a bump about the size of the tip of your nose (but it may feel soft, like your bottom lip, depending on where you are in your cycle). This is where to most accurate collection of fluid will. Here is how that fluid, or mucus, is described, starting with your period, ending in what it looks and feels like at the time of ovulation:

-Period bleeding (spotting, light, moderate, or heavy flow)

-Period color (pink, red, brown)

-Dry (no wetness in vagina)

-Sticky (white or cloudy in color; doesn't stretch between fingertips; may appear crumbly)

-Creamy (a bit cloudy, milky, like lotion; can stretch a little bit between your finger tips; getting more abundant)

-Egg-white (clear; can be stretched more than an inch between fingertips; abundant; literally resembles egg-whites)

If it seems a bit uncomfortable, or if you can reach high enough to feel your cervix, don't worry. Just reaching as high as you can inside to feel for your mucus is enough. It may be awkward at first, but with practice comes perfection--and ease.

Immediately after your period, your cervix will be low, firm, and closed. When it is low, it will be easier to feel. The firmness should be that of the tip of your nose. And if it closed, you will barely be able to feel the opening at the tip. As your fertility rises until ovulation, your cervix will retreat up into your vagina (getting higher), will soften until it feels like the fleshy part of your bottom lip, and will open up. The more your cervix opens up, the more discharge it allows to come through, which is why you will be open and more abundant in egg-white (or at least creamy) discharge towards ovulation.

Charting Your BBT: Part II

Making Sense of Your Chart

Read this, learn this, live this: you CANNOT make much sense of your chart until the end of your cycle. This is the first thing you need to know about making sense of your chart. This is why it is suggested that you chart for a few cycles (three was my personal standard, but make it more than one) so you can establish a pattern and predict when ovulation will occur.

First, let's take a look at your temperatures. Generally speaking, your BBT is low from the first day of your cycle until the day (or two days, even) after you ovulate. You may have a day or two whose temperatures don't fit; several things could be to blame, like a bad night of sleep, illness, or a night of drinking. As long as a majority of your temperatures in the first half of your cycle are low, things should be fine. After ovulation, your temperature spikes about half a degree and stays high until the day before your next period, when it plummets. Sometimes, the temperature will creep up over several days, sometimes it'll jump overnight. That's why you don't want to read too much into your chart every day as you go along. And just like with the first half of your cycle, you may have an odd day or two where the temperatures don't seem to mesh. Remember, we are looking at the majority of the temperatures being high. (And just like it may take your temperature a few days to reach its peak around ovulation, it may take a few days into your period to go all the way back down again.)

In case you wanted the scientific reasoning behind your post-ovulation temperature spike, it is because of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is released after you release an egg. Don't release an egg, you won't see the temperature spike. That's why charting is so darn effective!

Next, we will look at your cervical mucus. At the beginning your cycle, you will be recording your flow and even color. (The bright red bleeding usually occurs at the beginning of your period, while it turns brown towards the end. It also tends to start light, turn heavy, then turn light again.) Every woman is different! You may have a light period the whole time, or a heavy period the whole time. Your period may only last 3 days, while another woman's period lasts 7 days.

Usually after your period, you will have a few days of dryness. (If you have shorter cycles, some discharge may be noticed right away.) If you were to wipe prior to using the bathroom, you would notice nothing on the toilet tissue or very slight discharge that is white or cloudy, and almost crumbly. (Note: If your discharge is white and heavy, and is accompanied by an abnormal smell, you may have a yeast infection.)

Over the next week or so (again, depending on the length of you cycle), your discharge will increase, turn more transluscent, and get more slippery and elastic. The more abundant and egg-white your discharge appears, the more fertile you are. This is one of the big signs you are looking for. Now... sometimes your signs will differ from the "normal" cycle chart. Sometimes you may not reach that egg-white mucus, not quite getting there. Sometimes it will continue past your ovulation date. Try to time sex when the cervical mucus is most egg-whitish, before your temperature hits its peak.

Putting these two things together...

Your goal is to pinpoint the day of ovulation. By observing your cervical mucus ain conjunction with your temperatures, you should find the your cervical mucus peaks right before your temperature does. But this is not always the case, and you can still be having healthy cycles that could result in pregnancy without this happening. Sometimes you will continue to see that optimum cervical mucus after your temperature shifts--once your temperature has risen, you are no longer fertile. Sometimes women don't have egg-white discharge. But if you are having temperature spikes and otherwise normal cycles, you know that you are still fertile. Again, I reiterate: you have to look at your overall chart at the end of yor cycle to properly discern patterns. Once you have charted a few cycles, you will be able to really see your body's patterns and can plan accordingly.

What you want to try to establish is how many fertile days you have each cycle--days of good cervical mucus prior to your temperature shift. You want to be having unprotected intercourse on those days, as well as the day OF your thermal shift for good measure. If your temperature takes a few days to climb, there is no harm in continuing to have unprotected sex for those few days as well. Sometimes, a woman releases a second (or third, or fourth...) egg within 24 hours after the first egg is released.

Why Have Sex on These Days? The Life of an Egg and Sperm...

Ovulation = when a woman's body releases an egg. (In case you forgot that point.)

First of all, once an egg is released, it really doesn't live that long, floating around in your uterus. It usually lives 24 hours, maybe up to 48 hours. That's NOT a very big window for conception to occur, which is why you want to make sure you take advantage of it each cycle. Ideally, you want your partner's sperm to be in the uterus, waiting for that newly hatched egg as it travels down the fallopian tube. That's why you want to have intercourse before your temperature spikes; when it spikes, that means the egg is already there and may even be dying. And of course, the more sperm you have waiting for the egg, the more likely you are to conceive. A man's sperm can live up to five days in that "good" discharge that resembles egg-whites. The more sex you have with that egg-white discharge before your temperature spike, the better your chances are of getting pregnant.

Charting Your BBT: Part III

Spotting a Problem on Your Chart

If your temperatures are consistently inconsistent you may not be ovulating. And if you aren't ovulating, you can't conceive.

Mother Nature can by tricky and you may be bleeding on schedule every month/cycle without actually ovulating. Look at it this way: if you weren't charting your temperatures and signs, you may have thought you were having normal, healthy cycles. You could go month after month of trying to conceive, not realizing it's been impossible this whole time. But if you are charting accurately (see "Charting Your BBT: Part I) for several cycles and see no discernable pattern, it's time to talk to a doctor.

Here are a few other things that may need to be looked into:

-If your temperatures are consistently much higher or lower than normal; this may indicate a thyroid issue.

-If the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase) is shorter than 10 days; it could mean this phase of your cycle is not long enough to sustain pregnancy.

-If you have bleeding or spotting anywhere during your cycle except when your period is due.

-If, while feeling for cervical firmness and location, you notice any bumps on your cervix.

When I was ready to start trying for my second child, I immediately started charting. My self-imposed goal was to chart for at least three solid cycles, to relearn my body's signs of pending ovulation, and then start actively trying again. But what I saw came as a surprise: my temperatures were up and down, all over the place, for the entire cycle. I was still bleeding every month, and I even thought I saw that egg-white discharge. But my temperatures were too out of whack. I took my completed charts to the doctor, who looked over them and scheduled me for testing right then and there. It took a few weeks, but I learned I was not ovulating, was put on fertility medication, and conceived the next month. The moral of the story here? Charting helped me find out I had a problem right away, and my doctor had some proof to look at. I could have wasted a lot of time, energy, and emotions continuing to try every month to no avail, but instead I was diagnosed with anovulatory cycles and conceived right away.

What's nice about charting is if you find an issue and bring your evidence to your OB-GYN, you won't have to wait the long, but standard, 6-12 months. They'll see the problem, test you, and take appropriate action, and you could get pregnant much more quickly than if you had sex every day for a year without charting.

26 October 2009

Taking Cues From Your Body: Signs of Ovulation

Changes in Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT)

Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) is your body's base temperature first thing in the morning, after at least 4 solid hours of sleep. Your body must be at rest for at least this long, or your BBT for the day is not accurate.

For the first half of your cycle, your BBT is generally low. While every woman is different, it is accepted that a woman's BBT prior to ovulation is about 97.5 degrees. It usually (there's that word again--take it with a grain of salt) will not fluctuate more than .2 of a degree during this time. Within a day or two after ovulation occurs, about midway through your cycle, your temperature will jump anywhere from .2 to .5 of a degree overnight. This may not sound like much, but when you are charting (see "Charting Your BBT") you will see what a difference it makes. Your BBT will stay high until your estrogen levels drop, right before your next period.

Cervical Mucus

Once you start paying attention to your body's signs and signals, you will discern a pattern. At the beginning of your cycle, you will of course see blood and shed lining. Over the next 2-7 days (just an average), the amount of blood will decrease until you feel very dry. Generally speaking, there is little to no cervical mucus for the first few days after your period ends. If you have short cycles and longer periods, you may start to notice cervical mucus right away. Gradually over the next week or so, the amount of discharge increases while changing consistency. At first, it will be white or cloudy, and if you were to attempt to stretch it between your fingers, you would find it would not stretch at all. The closer you get to ovulation, the discharge will turn clear and become very elastic (stretching several inches between your fingertips), resembling egg-whites. The most "egg-white" discharge will be found immediately before and at ovulation, and it most conducive to conception.

The best way to monitor and observe your cervical mucus--get ready for this--is to reach up inside your vagina and get a good sample on your fingers. Some woman would rather wipe and look closely at their toilet tissue, but you can miss a lot this way. The very best way is to get a sample of the mucus directly from your cervix (see below).

Changes in Your Cervix

What IS your cervix? It is the opening into your uterus, where sperm passes through to fertilize your eggs. Many women have no problems finding their cervix, while some aren't even sure what to do look for. The best way to do it--and there's no gentle way to proceed here--is to reach your middle finger (since it is the longest) into your vaginal opening while squatting or sitting on the toilet. Keep reaching until you feel a bump that feels almost like the tip of your nose. It will be easier or harder to find your cervix depending on where you are in your cycle.

At the beginning of your cycle, your cervix is low, hard, and closed. As ovulation approaches, your body's hormones soften your cervix, pull it higher, and open it up to allow for sperm to enter (and to allow the sperm-friendly, egg-white discharge to lead the path to the egg). Checking your cervix can be tricky to master; it is also uncomfortable for some women. If this is the issue, don't fret. You can still use the other signs and symptoms to help predict ovulation.

Mittleschmerz, or "Middle Pain"

Sometimes, in the middle of your cycle around the time of ovulation, you will feel a slight twinge of pain or some dull cramps in your lower abdomen. Most likely, you will feel it on just one side, since one ovary is usually responsible for the releasing of an egg each cycle. This pain occurs as the eggs breaks out of the ovary, but it is not something every woman experiences.

Ovulation FAQs

What is ovulation?

Ovulation occurs about halfway through a woman's cycle. The luteinizing hormone rises drastically, triggering the release of the egg. A matured egg is released from the ovary, down the fallopian tube, and into a woman's uterus. Sometimes, more than one egg is released. During ovulation, your egg awaits fertilization. If fertilization does not occur, it is absorbed by the body, triggering a hormonal reaction resulting in a period.

When does ovulation occur?

The general rule of thumb is half-way through your cycle. If you have the so-called average cycle of 28 days, then ovulation would occur on day 14 of your cycle. There are ways to pinpoint ovulation, to maximize your chances of conception. (See also "Charting Your Basal Body Temperature," "A Word About OPKs and Saliva-Scopes," and "Fertility Monitors: A Woman's Best Friend?")

Why do I need to know when I am ovulating?

The closer you are to ovulation, the more fertile you are. So if you want to conceive, you need to know when ovulation is so that you can have unprotected sex on those days. Generally, you want to have sex for five days prior to ovulation, the day of, and the day after.

How do I know when ovulation is happening?

There is a long list of signs and signals your body gives off to tell you you are ovulating. In fact, there are so many, that I have written a whole different article on the subject. Please see "Taking Cues From Your Body: The Signs of Ovulation." In a nutshell, you have to look at your body's at-rest temperature, cervial mucus and the position and firmness of your cervix. There are also tests designed to help you predict when ovluation is going to occur.

Could I be ovulating during my period?

While it is possible, it is highly unlikely. If you are a woman with highly irregular cycles, it may happen that you have your period during ovulation, but it is not the norm. Sometimes, a woman may experience implantation bleeding if fertilization occurs, a few days after ovulation. While it is not a period, it may be mistaken for one.

Can I get pregnant during my period?

Yes, you can. If you have a short cycle and a long period, it may be that you are your most fertile in the last days of your period.

Can I ovulate more than once during a cycle?

No, ovulation only occurs once each cycle. However, multiple eggs can be released. Sometimes, these eggs are released at the same moment, but can also be released at separate times during a 24-hour period. (This is why it is possible to have twins with two different fathers if you have sex with two different men around ovulation.)

Can I ovulate without having a period?

This is completely possible. Periods do not trigger ovulation. In fact, it is the opposite; when your body ovulates and the egg is not fertilized, then a period takes place. Women who are not having periods for one reason or another (such as breastfeeding or who are very underweight) can ovulate at any time without any warning.

Can I have a period without ovulating?

Some women may not ovulate every cycle, meaning she is having an anovulatory cycle. When this happens, no eggs are released and some bleeding still occurs, which may be mistaken for a period. This is Mother Nature's trap that I felt into: I was having "normal" periods since the birth of my daughter. When I was ready to try again, it wasn't until I started charting my temperatures that I realized I was having anovulatory cycles. The bleeding was a hormonal reaction to the fall of estrogen levels. It could also be caused by a build-up in the uterine wall that just cannot survive any longer.

HS Biology Revisited: Understanding Menses

If you are like most women, you only have a vague idea of what your body does each month (or cycle) and you probably didn't care until the day you decided to become pregnant. Here is a quick glimpse of what menses (or your menstrual cycle) is and why.

Your period is not just vaginal bleeding; your uterus spent a lot of time preparing a thick lining for a baby. When pregnancy does not occur, your body sheds the lining and prepares to rebuild it for the next cycle. So what your period really is is a hormonal reaction triggered when you don't get pregnant. (That is why pregnant women don't have periods; the uterus will not shed the lining if it is being used to protect a fertilized egg.)

Note: The average cycle is 28 days, but can differ widely for each woman. Usually (and I use that term loosely) a woman's cycle will not differ from one cycle to the next. It won't be 25 days one cycle, then 40 days the next. For ease of understanding, we are going to stick to the 28-day example.

For the first half of your cycle (days 1-14), levels of the hormone estrogen are building up, signaling your body to rebuild the lining in your uterus in case conception occurs. At the same time, your ovaries are getting an egg (or two) ready to be released. About halfway through your cycle (day 14), this egg is released from the ovary, down the fallopian tube, and into the uterus. This is called ovulation.

This is when your egg is ready for fertilization. It just sits in your uterus, awaiting sperm to come and fertilize it. This is the optimum time for conception (more on that later; for now, let's just focus on what your body is doing at this time).

If the egg is not fertilized within a day or two, it will break apart and be reabsorbed by the woman's body. This disintegration will trigger a drop in hormone levels, signaling your body to shed that old lining. This is when your next period occurs. Then the whole process starts all over again.

Welcome to Conception 101

For some, the journey to pregnancy and parenthood is a effortless one. Some women get pregnant every time they take off their clothes, some get pregnant the day after they go off the pill, and some get pregnant during the first cycle they try. Then there are women like me, who take for granted what they believe are God-given, mother-bearing rights. Achieving conception is a complicated process that takes into account so many different factors. I know; I've researched and read everything under the sun to better understand what takes place in order to make conception possible.

I took all that I have read and researched and put it down here for you to get all the answers you need. This website was designed to give you a one-stop look at every aspect of conception in a clear, detailed, and precise manner that doesn't take a PhD or medical dictionary to understand.

I am not a doctor; I am simply one woman who learned the hard way that getting pregnant doesn't just happen at the snap of your fingers. But I have done years of research and collected a plethora of information to better guide you in your endeavors. Take a look around the website; I have broken down the information into smaller, easier-to-read articles on single subjects, included reading lists for fertility and pregnancy, and thrown in tons of other "stuff" to help you on your journey. I invite feedback and personal stories, questions and comments. I hope that finding this website is the beginning of a miracle for you and your partner!