A simple Google search, “how to track your period” yields 1.78 billion results. And it’s not hard to see why.
According to a study by Yale, roughly six out of ten women aren’t sure when they can get pregnant… wowsa!
That means millions of us are simply cruising through each month ignoring the subtle signs our body gives us about where we are in our cycle and what’s going on within. Well, I’m here to flip those stats.
If you’re not already aware, the female menstrual cycle is a beautifully orchestrated symphony of changes that occur between our brains, hormones, and reproductive organs—preparing our bodies for potential pregnancy every month (yep… every. single. month). Whether you desire pregnancy or not, your body keeps grooving, taking you along on the ride of hormonal fluctuations, mood swings, cravings, bloating, and beyond.
In some ways it’s amazing, in others it’s hard and painful. One thing it doesn’t have to be though is confusing.
So, the big question is: Are you in tune with your own cycle?
If you’re shaking your head from side to side then I’m here to tell you it’s time that you learned how to track your period because staying in tune with your cycle can clue you in on certain medical conditions such as thyroid disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or endometriosis, all of which can cause irregular or missed periods.
Even if you don’t want to use fertility tracking as a method of birth control, understanding your body more deeply is imperative. I’ve found that the more I pay attention to where I am in my cycle, the more intuitively I understand my emotions, thoughts, ability to interact with others, dietary choices, and energy level.
This turning inwards to track your cycle is empowering on its own but it can also serve as a reliable, hormone-free form of birth control. In this article I’ll walk you through:
- How to track your period and fertility from month to month using an app
- The fertile signs your body gives you and how to track them
- Where getting pregnant vs protecting yourself from pregnancy fits into the mix
Quick Fertility Lesson:
There are a handful of ways to determine when you’re fertile. For simplicity’s sake, I recommend using a three-part combination of the calendar method (by way of tracking your cycle on an app), while concurrently tracking cervical position and cervical fluid changes through the month. Checking your temperature every day is also an option (that I won’t teach in this article), but many people like and use it. You can learn more about using the temperature method here if interested.
For successful fertility tracking, be sure that:
- You have regular periods (i.e. your cycle length is between 22 and 35 days)
- It’s been three months or more since you’ve breastfed or pumped
- You haven’t used hormonal birth control for three months
- You haven’t had a miscarriage or abortion in the last three months
- If you’re postpartum and not breastfeeding, you’ve had at least three regular cycles since birth
How to Track Your Period (and Fertility)
In order to understand when you ovulate and when you’re fertile, the general rule of thumb for women with regular cycles is that ovulation occurs two weeks before the first day of your last period. If that’s confusing (it totally is at first), it’s because it’s a method of backtracking. This is why having a (mostly) regular cycle is very important to fertility tracking.
Think of it like this, if there are four weeks per cycle—day one is the day you start your period—then two weeks from “day one” you ovulate—then roughly two weeks from ovulation you start your period ( or find out you’re pregnant). See? You got this!
In other words, halfway through your roughly 28-day cycle each month is the estimated time you ovulate. If your periods are very regular (always within a day or two of the same length), determining how to track your period and when you ovulate will be more simple. If they change from month to month it may be a bit harder to track your period and fertility, but is still 100% doable, especially with using the other signs your body gives you.
How Long Is a Regular Menstrual Cycle?
It’s important to note that a regular menstrual cycle doesn’t mean it’s 28 days long absolutely. Interestingly, only 10% of women have cycles that are 28 days long, it’s also normal for your cycle to vary by a few days each month.
Regular means your period comes the same number of days apart-ish, from month to month.
For example, these are all representative of regular cycles:
- every 25-28 days
- every 30-32 days
- every 23 days like clockwork
- any combination of 22-35 days, occur around the same interval every month
Ovulation Day & Fertile Windows
Additionally, remember the day you ovulate is an estimation and therefore we group a number of days before and a day or two after you ovulate as your “fertile window.” I love the image below from very well family explaining the fertile window. Take a close look.
Why exactly is our ovulation day an estimation? Well, timing ovulation is not an exact science and there is wiggle room for fertilization. A viable female egg actually lasts for 24 hours in your body while sperm can last five days. Say whaaaat?
Yes… that means you could have unprotected sex on a Friday, and while sperm are hanging out in your uterus, still viable, you ovulate on Tuesday, and wind up preggo!
Shocking, I know. I promise, however, with a regular cycle and good tracking you can pinpoint your ovulatory window to avoid or try for pregnancy! How?? Keep-a-reading.
image from very well family
There’s a Period App for That
Want to know how to track your period with ease? Enter period tracking apps. They’re are an excellent way to track your cycle and do a ton of this work for you (thank you sweet, sweet, technology). They can also track symptoms like acne, cramps, unprotected vs protected sex, emotional changes, and sooo much more. There are a plethora of apps out there, I personally like:
- Clue for heterosexual cis individuals
- Groove is great for anyone and additionally more friendly to the LGBTQIA+- community
- Glow is geared towards conception (getting pregnant)
- Eve by Glow is geared towards birth control
In this photo of a screenshot from the clue app, you can get an idea of how you visualize your cycle using an app.
In short; period tracking apps help you determine when you ovulate and when your fertile days are by collecting aggregate data month after month and getting smarter about your unique cycle. Remember, all forms of fertility tracking follow the loose estimation rule.
Human bodies are not machines and our periods and ovulation can be influenced by stress, travel, diet, and exercise.
It’s totally normal for your period to be a little different every month. The point is that you have a better idea of the predicted ovulation window that your body may be releasing an egg. This helps people decide when to have sex to try for pregnancy or avoid sex to prevent pregnancy.
Tips for App Users
Another helpful feature of tracking apps that I appreciate is reminders. You can set the app to remind you before you move into an ovulation window, when your period is expected and when you might be feeling PMS-y, or begin cramping. I also love that many apps allow partners to track alongside the primary user. The partner version of the app will let your person know when you’re ovulating and when you might start your period. This shares the load of fertility tracking (thank you, it doesn’t have to be only the ovulating person’s job!), and helps your partner tune in to your cycle.
Your partner knowing when and why things might get a little hairy and hormonal every month is not a bad thing for a relationship, trust me!
How to Connect With Your Body
Note to the easily queasy / body sensitive: if putting your fingers in your vagina, checking out your cervical discharge, and feeling your cervix is too much for you or feels uncomfortable, skip this article and read more about the calendar and basal body temperature methods instead. Check out this website for the details.
If you’re down to get up close and personal and tune in to your cervix, two other ways to track fertility are by noting the position of your cervix in the vagina and by noting the consistency of your cervical fluid. These two clues in combination with tracking on an app will help you look at the whole picture of fertility within your body. Check out the how-to diagram below.
Cervical Position Tracking
If you’ve never been able to find your cervix in your vagina or try after reading this article and can’t, don’t worry! Just using cervical fluid tracking is fine too, so skip to the below. If you want to try and check it out, then start by lying down with your knees bent and pulled up towards your armpits or standing with one leg up on the sink or toilet, place one or two fingers in the vagina, reach reach reach, and search for a small nub of tissue. It feels similar to the tip of your nose and is shaped like a tiny donut.
Through your cycle, your cervix moves in the vagina. When you’re fertile your cervix is high in the vagina (harder to reach) soft and open. Rather than feeling like a nose, it may feel more like your lips. When you’re not fertile your cervix is lower (easier to reach) and more firm. Try reaching for your cervix every day to get familiar, it’s actually pretty cool. You know it’s time to either get to baby-making or use protection if your cervix is high, hard to reach, and soft! It may help to take a quick note on how hard or easy it is to reach on a little calendar you leave in your bathroom every day for guidance.
Cervical Fluid Tracking
Another reliable way to track fertility is to check for the consistency of your cervical fluid. Hormonal changes throughout each month change our discharge or cervical fluid. Throughout the month when we’re not fertile it may be drier, thicker, stickier, and cloudy. When we are fertile our cervical fluid is stretchy, stringy, clear, and similar to an egg-white consistency. This flow-ier cervical fluid helps carry sperm through the uterus and fallopian tubes. Checking your cervical fluid every day about a week after your period and well into your ovulation window, plus a few days beyond should help you get comfortable with and determine when you’re ovulating. This illustration below from mama natural is helpful. I like their article on cervical fluid as well!
How to Use This Information to Your Advantage for:
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, while using “methods of fertility awareness to prevent pregnancy, fewer than one to five women out of 100 will become pregnant during the first year of perfect use. With typical use—meaning that you use the method the way the average person does, which is sometimes incorrectly or inconsistently—pregnancy rates increase. In the first year of typical use, 12–24 women out of 100 will become pregnant.” If these kinds of chances feel okay for you, your partner, your family, and your lifestyle, fertility awareness methods can be a wonderful way to prevent pregnancy, get in tune with your body and avoid hormones (as many women prefer to.)
To prevent pregnancy, always use protection during your fertile window and proceed cautiously when you’re not in the window. I recommend using a condom religiously during your fertile window as well as the withdrawal (pull out) method during sex when you’re not fertile to increase the effectiveness of this method. Another way to layer birth control is to consider using spermicide along with sex throughout the month (I like this more natural spermicide) or consider adding in something like a caya diaphragm during your fertile window.
Trying for a Baby
If you’re hoping for pregnancy I recommend using an app to track your cycle prior to trying to get comfortable with what’s normal for you. Additionally, try checking your cervical position and fluid every day of the month for a month or two. This helps you really understand what your body is up to! A little sign or reminder in your bathroom can be helpful—I recommend tuning in with your body first thing in the morning after your morning urination to keep it consistent.
After you’re very aware of what’s normal for you and feel like you’ve gotten a hang of cervical position, fluid, and tracking on an app you can just check in with your cervix and fluid midcycle around your fertile window. If you have an irregular cycle it’s a good idea to check all month so you “catch” that fertile time! Once you’re in your fertile window be sure to have sex every day or two and consider tacking on more intercourse a day or two before and after your predicted fertile window to be safe. Remember, it’s an imperfect science!
Lastly, don’t forget, if you’re under the age of 35, it’s totally normal for it to take up to a year to get pregnant. If you’re 35 or older and it’s been six months or if you’re 34 or younger and you’ve been trying for a whole year, you and your partner qualify to see a fertility specialist to assess what’s going on.
Best of luck along this journey my friends, whether it’s to better understand your body, try for a babe or never ever have one ever! Don’t be afraid to come back to this article for reference or check out my favorite book about fertility which I think every fertile person should read: Taking Control of Your Fertility.