Cycle Tracking 101

menstrual cycle tracking tools

I hope after learning all of the amazing ways your body communicates with you through your cycle, that you’re ready to get started tracking ASAP! The good news is, it really doesn’t need to be that complicated, and the types and precision of the data you track can and probably will vary throughout your life. As you know, I’m a busy mom, so I always like to do the absolute minimum amount of work to give me the information I need. Below I’ve outlined 3 different ways I’ve tracked my cycles over the last 10+ years, with recommendations on who may want to use each method.

One quick note: If you’ve been trying to conceive for a while, or are trying to *strictly* avoid pregnancy naturally, I HIGHLY recommend picking up your own copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and reading it cover to cover. This article is intended as an overview of different fertility tracking options and is intended to give you a peek into what it involves. TCOYF is the absolute bible on all things fertility tracking and natural birth control, and belongs in every woman’s home library! It will teach you how to effectively practice Option 3 below.

A quick note on tools

You can do all of this tracking with a simple spreadsheet, either on paper or electronically (I’ll show you mine below). However for the more advanced tracking options I recommend an app for ease. I have used Kindara for years and really like it.

Other than a place to record your data, the only other thing you’ll need is a thermometer. All of the books will recommend you pick up a special “basal” thermometer, which usually goes down to the tenth or even hundredth of a degree (two decimal places). Just between you and me, I’ve been using a regular household one for 9 years and it’s been fine. Just make sure your thermometer goes to the tenth of a degree (one decimal place).

Option 1

Who It’s for:

This option is for women whose cycles are already pretty regular and are not trying to conceive or strictly avoid pregnancy. This is the option I used in between my pregnancies, when I was tracking more for curiosity than anything else. If getting pregnant again had not been an option for us, I would have used Option 3 below.

What to track:

For this option, you’ll want to track the following on whatever method you’ve chosen (simple spreadsheet, journal, etc.):

  • First day of your period.
  • The date(s) you notice any significant cervical mucus, especially the date you notice the most (your “Peak Day”). 
  • Any other signs of ovulation, if you get them. If you get slight ovary pain with ovulation, note the date.
  • At the end of your cycle, total up how many days long it was.

After a couple of months of this, you’ll have a pretty good picture of whether you are ovulating and what a normal cycle looks like for you. If your cycles are within the normal range (24-35 days) and consistent in length, you’re probably not experiencing hormonal issues. You can use this chart to roughly predict when your period might arrive. Here is my chart circa 2012 when I was using this method of tracking. (PG = pregnant, cycle 19 was my first miscarriage. Cycle 23 was my sweet Sawyer!)

Option 2

Who It’s for:

If you are struggling with any of the issues from my previous post, I highly recommend stepping up to option 2. These issues can include:

  • Lack of ovulation
  • Short luteal phase
  • Early ovulation

This is also a great in-between option if you want more details than Option 1 but don’t want to do all of the work of Option 3. For instance, say you are mostly trying to avoid pregnancy (again, if pregnancy is not an option, use Option 3!), this will allow you to know without a doubt when you ovulated. You’ll also get insight into how long your luteal phase is, and even give you a heads up when you’re going to get your period! You’ll be able to quickly catch any of the issues above and get a great indication of your overall health every month.

What to track:

For this option, you’ll track everything above, PLUS:

  • Take and record your temperature every morning before you get out of bed. 

That’s it! This is the method I’ve used for the past few years. It’s really not that much work for the broad strokes of your cycle. This method works because our body temperature increases with the increase in progesterone after ovulation. This increased temperature creates a nice, warm environment for a potential baby. (If you’ve been pregnant, you know you are a furnace through the whole process – ha!) The general rule is that your temperature must jump at least 0.2 of a degree and STAY 0.1 degree over your highest previous temperature (for that cycle) for 3 days to confirm ovulation. You’ll also notice it dip at the end of your luteal phase, indicating your period is on its way. Here’s an example of one of my charts from Kindara showing this type of tracking:

Tip: If you’re buying a new thermometer for this, and you tend to have others in your bed in the mornings, try to find one that is silent/vibrates. Ha!

Option 3

Who It’s for:

If you’re trying to conceive, strictly avoid pregnancy, or really want to get into the nitty gritty of what’s going on, Option 3 is for you! Again, if you are strictly trying to avoid pregnancy and are using the Fertility Awareness Method as your primary form of birth control, you MUST go to this level of tracking. If you are trying to conceive, this option gives you all the information you need to properly time intercourse to get pregnant! Many women mistakenly assume they ovulate on the same day every month, or the same day as everyone else (e.g. day 14) and totally miss their own fertile window! This level of tracking will allow you to anticipate your own ovulation date and increase your chances of getting pregnant. (This works the other way too – if you assume you ovulated on day 14 and resume unprotected intercourse after that, but for some reason you ovulate late that month, you might end up with an unexpected new family member!)

What to track:

For this method, you’ll track everything in Options 1 and 2, plus:

  • Cervical mucus amount and quality.
  • (optional) Position and texture of your cervix.

Checking your cervical mucus (CM) is CRITICAL for achieving or avoiding pregnancy as it gives you advance notice of ovulation. As you get closer to ovulation, your body produces increasing amounts and different types of CM. After your period, your CM can generally be described as “sticky.” As you approach ovulation, it changes to “creamy.” When you are at your maximum fertility, your CM changes to a texture best described as “eggwhite.” (If you’ve never checked, trust me, this is absolutely accurate.) This “eggwhite” CM (EWCM for short) provides the best medium to help sperm reach the egg. Without EWCM, you will have a hard time getting pregnant. Once ovulation occurs, EWCM will taper off and transition into sticky CM for the rest of your cycle. TCOYF provides pictures and more detailed descriptions of each of these types of CM. If nothing else, it’s really interesting to get to know all the ways in which your body really is intelligent when it comes to reproduction. Bodies are amazing!

I have the second bullet point as optional because, to be honest, I have yet to figure this one out! TCOYF goes into detail with descriptions and pictures of what this feels like. This is an additional and advanced indication of approaching and past ovulation, but you can get this information from cervical mucus alone. Then again, as TCOYF states, if you’re already in there checking cervical mucus, you might as well check your cervix. If nothing else, it’ll be a learning experience, and eventually you’ll be able to notice the changes that indicate ovulation for you.

If you’d like a shortcut for either Options 2 or 3, you can stop tracking all of the signs once ovulation is confirmed (by temperatures and CM as described above). Many of my charts have very little detail once I’ve seen a peak CM day and 3 body temperatures above the coverline.

Here’s an example of one of my charts from when I was trying to conceive my first baby. Super primitive, huh? But hey, this was 2009 and there weren’t a lot of great (free) apps for tracking. Note the coverline, and the fact that I kind of stopped tracking everything but obvious signs somewhere in the middle of my luteal phase. Not shown in this picture (further down on the chart) are rows for tracking my cervical position, ovulatory pain (from my right side this cycle), any exercise I did, and any other symptoms that tend to run with my cycle, like bloating and mood changes. A good tool (like my Google Sheet here or even Kindara) will let you add inputs for anything you want to track that is specific to you!

If you want more details, please comment below or send me an email. I can give you a more detailed run through and/or recommend some books for you!

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Meagan Noble Health Coach

Hi, I'm Meagan.

I'm a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping you thrive through birth, baby, and beyond. Learn more about me here.

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Meagan Noble Health Coach
Meagan Noble

CERTIFIED DOULA (DTI)

Meagan is a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping families follow their intuition to discover balance in family life. With her focus on ancestral practices, relaxation, and self care, she guides her clients to a calm, confident, and connected birth and postpartum experience.