When I thought about getting pregnant, my first step was getting off the pill. After discontinuing birth control, my cycle took a few months to get “regular.” As it happened, I got pregnant without really trying to during those first few adjustment months. Getting pregnant a second time, however, took more dedication, a number of fertility tracking tools, and eventually, some medical intervention.
Even though getting pregnant didn’t happen as easily the second time, I liked being armed with more information about my own body. If you’re at the beginning of tracking your cycle for fertility, here are a few basics to help you get started.
Start Tracking on Day 1 of Your Period
Download a fertility app or simply write notes in a calendar planner to begin tracking your symptoms. If possible, start with the first day of your last period, marking the beginning of a cycle (it’s the same question your doctor or OBGYN asks you at every appointment, so it’s always good to have this information). In many women, ovulation occurs around day 14 in your cycle, so if you are trying to conceive, it’s important to know when you’re ovulating.
When you first begin using an app to track fertility, the app will likely recommend you have intercourse based on an average 28-day cycle until the app gets smarter about your individual cycle and associated symptoms that surround your fertility.
So, the sooner you start tracking, the better the app’s recommendations.
Chart Your Basal Body Temp (BBT)
So, what are fertility symptoms?
Your basal body temperature – your resting temperature – is one way to track ovulation. Your BBT dips slightly before your ovary releases an egg, so you need a special thermometer that can detect subtle temperature shifts. Then, 24 hours after the egg’s release, your temperature rises and stays up for several days.
To begin tracking your BBT, you’ll want to purchase a Basal Body Temperature thermometer, found at most drugstores or on Amazon for a reasonable price (under $20). Some BBT thermometers now even include Bluetooth capabilities to more easily connect your temperature to your app.
You’ll need to take your temperature before you get out of bed, so keep the thermometer and your tracking tool on your nightstand or nearby.
Check Your Cervical Mucus
This particular symptom made me squeamish (I should note I fainted the first time I had to use a tampon as a teen), but it can be a good ovulation indicator. Your cervical mucus changes in color, texture, and amount during your menstrual cycle (especially around ovulation). According to Planned Parenthood’s website, you can start tracking your mucus the day after your period stops completely in three ways:
1. Wipe the opening of your vagina (BEFORE you pee) with white toilet paper or tissue. Check the color and feel of the mucus.
2. Put clean fingers into your vagina, and then check the color and texture color of the mucus on your fingers.
3. Take note of the color and texture of the discharge on your underwear.
Usually, you have the most mucus right before ovulation. It’s clear, and it feels slippery — kind of like raw egg whites — and can be stretched between your fingers. You may also notice an increase in libido during this time.
Try Fertility Test Strips
Fertility test strips didn’t accurately predict ovulation for me, but they worked well for many of my friends trying to get pregnant. Fertility strips work by detecting luteinizing hormone in your urine, or LH, which surges just before your egg heads down your fallopian tube. My OBGYN recommended intercourse in the days before the LH surge because you want your partner’s sperm to be waiting in your fallopian tube at the optimal time to meet the mature egg.
A man’s sperm can live for up to a week in a woman’s reproductive system, and it takes time (6-12 hours) for them to travel to meet and potentially fertilize the egg. Test strips may not have worked for me, personally, because by the time I had the thumbs up from my test, we’d likely missed that fertile window before ovulation.
Again, it’s important to test first thing in the morning, as activity and what you eat can affect the measurement. Also, like pregnancy tests, fertility test strips or sticks can get pricey if you’re using them month after month.
Note that any method above shouldn’t be used as a way to avoid pregnancy, as your cycle can vary month to month. According to the University of Michigan, the number of unplanned pregnancies is 24 out of 100 women who typically use fertility awareness as birth control.
But tracking your cycle can be beneficial when trying to get pregnant.