Written by Dr. Jordan Robertson, ND
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Women are naturally good planners and although planning for a baby feels like it should be an intuitive process, many women have never paid attention to their ovulation and the hormone changes through their cycle. This can make the fertility journey feel more like a shot in the dark than a slam dunk.
Getting to know your cycle and hormonal rhythms has a significant impact on fertility and the chance of falling pregnant each month1. By introducing simple tips and tracking methods this article will help you feel more confident about when to try to conceive and how to look carefully at your hormones to be sure that your body is ready to have a baby.
Your Fertile Window
Your menstrual cycle is divided up into a few phases and you can’t fall pregnant in all of them. The fertile window is a stretch of a few days mid-cycle where the egg is released, hormone levels change to support pregnancy and you have a chance of falling pregnant. There are a few simple things that women can track to take control of their fertility through the month that dramatically improve the chances of falling pregnant.
1. Tracking your total cycle length (and your symptoms too)
With the invention of cycle tracking apps, more women than ever are tracking their menstrual cycle2. Charting the dates of your period can help you identify your cycle length and will be a useful tool when you start to layer on other fertility tracking. Women with irregular cycles (less than 23 days and more than 34 days) may not be ovulating each month. Without an egg released, you cannot fall pregnant and letting your practitioner know that your cycle isn’t consistent can help them support you towards your fertility goals. Not every woman ovulates on the magical “day 14”3. By tracking your own unique cycle length, you can learn where your fertile window is and time intercourse accordingly. When women track symptoms such as menstrual cramps, it can help communicate your experience with your practitioner. Underlying health conditions such as endometriosis can affect a woman’s chances of falling pregnant each month.
Click here to download a PDF of our cycle tracker.
2. Tracking your cervical mucous
At ovulation, estrogen levels rise, and this hormonal change affects the type and quality of cervical mucous produced to support fertility. Many women know that their cervical discharge isn’t the same every week of the month but may not have lined up these changes with ovulation. Fertile cervical mucous is slippery and creates a sensation of wetness or moisture. This egg-white-like mucous is nutritious for sperm and supports sperm travelling towards the egg. Cervical mucous changes the few days prior to ovulation, with the most fertile day being the last day it is released in the month4. When women track cervical mucous it improves their chances of falling pregnant and can give women a clearer picture of their own ovulation and hormone production. Cycles without an egg released don’t produce cervical mucous which means that tracking this simple monthly change can help you understand if you’re ovulating and on which day it’s occurring.
3. Tracking your body temperature
Progesterone is released after ovulation to support the uterine lining and encourage implantation of the fertilized egg. Progesterone causes a body temperature rise of about .5 degrees Celsius, a simple body change that can signify that ovulation has occurred. Tracking your basal body temperature is simple and only requires a thermometer with two decimal points. Women need to take their temperature every day before they rise out of bed and can keep track along with their cycle length and their cervical mucous. It’s important to remember that your temperature rises after ovulation, and the chances of falling pregnant on the days that follow the rise in body temperature are almost zero. That said, when women track their temperature and intercourse consistently for a few months, they can start to predict their ovulation and fertile window more accurately, which improves their chance of conceiving5.
Preparing for pregnancy through cycle tracking, tracking intercourse, improving nutrition and the inclusion of nutrients such as folic acid6, vitamin D7 and iron8 can help women feel more confident in their bodies and hormones and can improve the chances of falling pregnant each month. The elusive fertile window can become much clearer if we can teach women to notice the subtle changes in their bodies each month and to understand their cycle as it pertains to their fertility. Tracking how you feel through the month can also help your practitioner steer you towards support based on your unique needs to help you fall pregnant and create the family you’ve planned for.
- Manders, M. et al. Timed intercourse for couples trying to conceive. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. CD011345 (2015) doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011345.pub2.
- Stanford, J. B., Willis, S. K., Hatch, E. E., Rothman, K. J. & Wise, L. A. Fecundability in relation to use of mobile computing apps to track the menstrual cycle. Hum. Reprod. Oxf. Engl. 35, 2245–2252 (2020).
- Bull, J. R. et al. Real-world menstrual cycle characteristics of more than 600,000 menstrual cycles. Npj Digit. Med. 2, 1–8 (2019).
- Thijssen, A., Meier, A., Panis, K. & Ombelet, W. ‘Fertility Awareness-Based Methods’ and subfertility: a systematic review. Facts Views Vis. ObGyn 6, 113–123 (2014).
- Symul, L., Wac, K., Hillard, P. & Salathé, M. Assessment of menstrual health status and evolution through mobile apps for fertility awareness. NPJ Digit. Med. 2, (2019).
- Wilson, R. D., GENETICS COMMITTEE, & MOTHERISK. Pre-conceptional vitamin/folic acid supplementation 2007: the use of folic acid in combination with a multivitamin supplement for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. Can. JOGC J. Obstet. Gynecol. Can. JOGC 29, 1003–1013 (2007).
- Heyden, E. L. & Wimalawansa, S. J. Vitamin D: Effects on human reproduction, pregnancy, and fetal well-being. J. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol. 180, 41–50 (2018).
- Shah, P. S. & Ohlsson, A. Effects of prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation on pregnancy outcomes: a meta-analysis. CMAJ Can. Med. Assoc. J. 180, E99–E108 (2009).