Monitoring Your Fertility
A Look At Some Of The Standard Options for Tracking Your Cycle & Pinpointing Ovulation
The standard options covered in this article:
- Going by the calendar
- Basal Body Temperature (BBT) (also known as "charting")
- Checking physical fertility signs
- Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs)
- Ferning Microscope
- Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor (CBEFM)
Calendar:Determining how long it is from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period, subtracting 14 days and assuming you are fertile for the two days prior to that date - two days after that date. For example, 30 day cycle - 14 days would put the fertile period (and intercourse timing) from day 14-18.
- Cost: Free
- Ease: Pretty Simple
- Materials needed: Calendar
- Stress, sleep, exercise, illness and more can all delay ovulation (sometimes to the point of completely missing your presumed fertile window). This leads to stress about possible pregnancy when your period doesn't show up "when it should". As a result, you can waste months trying at the wrong point and money on pregnancy tests.
Basal Body Temperature:Using a specialized thermometer (average $10 available at most retail stores) you record your waking temperature (either orally or vaginally) at the same time every morning, recording them on a chart and watching the patterns to determine potential fertile periods.
- Relatively cheap (one time purchase for the thermometer, optional repeated purchase of tracking software)
- More accurate at pinpointing ovulation (and therefore knowing when you should expect your period)
- Prospect of "predicting" a positive pregnancy test (through a sustained/increasing waking temperature)
- Can be influenced through illness (fevers/congestion/etc), lack of sleep, alcohol, room temperature (drastic changes) and make it difficult to determine ovulation (if it occurs around ovulation time)
- You have to have at minimum of 3 hours of sleep and have a standard waking time (if the earliest you wake up is 5:30 for work, you have to temp at 5:30 on your days off too)
- Repeated purchases of monitoring software can become expensive
- BBT will show you when ovulation has occurred, possibly too late for successful timing (when charting is your only method)
Charting the Physical Signs:Monitoring the physical signs of fertility: Cervical Position (CP), Cervical firmness/opening (CF) and/or Cervical Mucus (CM). Cervical position will move from low and firm (infertile) to high and soft (fertile). Cervical Mucus will move from sticky or tacky (infertile) through Watery or Eggwhite (fertile). While CM can be checked externally (from the opening of the vagina) CP and CF can only be checked internally (placing one or two clean fingers into the vagina and feeling for the changes with the cervix.
- Can signal approaching fertility, allowing you to take maximum advantage of the days leading up to ovulation
- Can also be used in avoiding pregnancy
- Some women are "grossed out" by checking internally for these signs
- Some women have problems identifying what they are looking for. (Unable to distinguish the location of the cervix, firmness, opening)
- Some are confused by the differences between the consistencies of the CM. Additionally, some are confused between seminal leftovers and cervical mucus
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs):OPKs work by detecting the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) surge in your urine. The LH is the body's chemical that signals to the ovary that it's time to release the egg. While it's important to follow each specific brand's unique instructions, the general procedure is to test urine at least once daily. The majority of OPKs require that you do not test with first morning urine (FMU) as LH isn't produced until later in the day.
Unlike with a Home Pregnancy Test (HPT), the theory that a line is a positive is not true for OPKs. The key to reading an opk is to look for a test line that is as dark (or darker) than the control line. Google is helpful for finding many pictures of positive and negative tests, should you question the results of your specific test. Some women choose to test more than once a day as they approach apparently ovulation as it is possible to miss the LH surge and never receive a positive OPK, despite ovulating.
OPKs come in a variety of styles and price levels, from a dollar or less a piece for a standard non-digital or more for a digital variety and can be purchased online or in most retail stores.
- Can help "predict" and/or confirm ovulation
- Can get pricey for some people, depending on the length of their cycle
- It's possible to miss the surge and if you are only using OPKs may not have an accurate idea of when and or if you are ovulating
- Some people find limiting liquids and holding urine every day for an OPK to be time consuming/difficult
Ferning Microscope:The ferning microscope uses your saliva to detect hormonal changes approaching ovulation. As part of a normal cycle, estrogen increases and as it increases it creates a distinct pattern that is visible with the aid of a microscope. The ferning microscopes available for the ttc crowd are usually small and portable.
You should follow the directions with the specific microscope you purchase, but as a general rule of thumb, they recommend that you test in the morning, before doing any of the following activities: eating, drinking or brushing your teeth (as these can all interfere with the results). You collect a small amount of saliva and put it on the slide and view it through the microscope. There are three different statuses of your saliva. Non-fertile, transitional, and fertile (full ferning).
- One-time cost, reusable (for up to two years, possibly longer)
- You can use it anywhere and it is less messy (as opposed to a urine-base test)
- You can see potential ovulation approaching, allowing you to take advantage of potentially fertile days
- More cost initially than some other methods
- May have to replace if you are having trouble ttc
- Doesn't (on it's own) confirm ovulation
- Some women may have many periods of ferning without ovulation
- Can be affected by various medications (Clomid, for instance)
- May be difficult for people with vision problems to use
Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor (CBEFM):CBEFM's are basically mini-computers that read a more complex OPK to distinguish approaching fertility. They differ from regular OPKs in the fact that they don't just detect surging LH, they also detect the rising estrogen. In that sense, a cbefm is kind of a love child between OPKs and the ferning microscope. :-) It learns your unique cycles and will adjust accordingly. As a result, it may take a cycle or two to see the full advantage of the cbefm.
The computer unit will ask for a test stick if it feels that you could be approaching ovulation. Unlike OPKs, you use FMU for the cbefm. You insert the stick into the reader and it'll give you one of three fertility ratings. Low (infertile), High (possibly fertile) or peak (the most fertile). The first cycle you use the monitor, it will jump almost immediately to a high reading as soon as it starts asking for test sticks. As you develop a deeper relationship with your monitor, the # of high readings will potentially decrease. Some women have reported only one day of high reading before a peak. Once you have a peak reading, you will ovulate anywhere with in the next 48 hours. After your first peak reading, you will have a second peak. Following that, one more high reading and then lows for the rest of your cycle.
The monitor will warn you of the end of your cycle as it flashes "m" when you check it in the morning. This is helpful for women who aren't tracking their cycle every day. When/If your cycle starts, you simply reset it to cycle day (cd) 1 and start the process all over again.
While the monitor makes the official fertility reading, it is possible to see changes with the naked eye. With the wick end to your left, the first line is the LH reading and the second line is the estrogen reading. As your LH increases, the first line will get darker. As your estrogen increases, the second line will actually get lighter. It is important to let the monitor make the official reading, but this information is more for the curiosity of my readers.
You can purchase the monitor and the refill sticks online and in some retail stores.
- Potentially saving you $$ from wasted OPKs as the monitor learns your specific cycle
- You don't have to decide if you are fertile or not, the monitor makes that decision for you
- Identifies the days leading up to ovulation to allow you to take advantage of the fertile time
- Pretty easy to use
- Price. The initial cost for the monitor and the refill sticks can get to be pretty expensive
OvWatch:The watch is worn at night by the woman (from the start of her cycle through ovulation) and detects the changes in the various hormones/minerals excreted through the skin. No temping, no charting, no peeing in or on anything. It gives you four fertile days prior to ovulation allowing you to take advantage of the fertile periods leading to ovulation.
- Gives you advanced warning of ovulation and fertile periods
- One of the least messy/invasive of all of the other methods available
- You can share it with friends/sisters (unlike most other methods)
- You only have to buy refills on the sensors