Here Rachel Sherriff from Oxted Acupuncture shares her top tips on fertility charting. A great way to understand more about your cycle and support baby-making.
The benefits of fertility tracking for conception
Fertility tracking can be highly beneficial for aiding conception. Tracking your fertility on a chart can help you to understand your body in many ways by gaining an awareness of your fertile period and increased self-awareness of your cycle. By tracking your fertility and working with your expert complementary health professional, you can interpret the findings to improve your chances of conception.
What is fertility tracking?
Fertility tracking is a simple way to record changes in your body throughout the month. This includes recording your basal body temperature each day and changes in breast tenderness and cervical mucus. If you are working with a complementary health professional who has experience in fertility, you can share this information with them. They will be able to interpret the results to advise you of the pattern of your cycle and whether you need to have any blood or hormone profiles taken.
Why is it important?
By tracking your cycle, you should be able to establish when your fertile period is and when your period should arrive. Tracking can also highlight the length of each part of your cycle, both follicular and luteal. Your main fertile window is the five days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation. Sperm can survive for up to 5 days inside the uterus, and an ovum is only ‘fertile’ for around 12-24 hours. Therefore, tracking aspects of your cycle can help maximise your chances of conceiving.
How to track your cycle
There are several ways you can track your cycle. You can download a chart online and record your observations manually on the chart. Alternatively, there are many apps available. These include Ovia Fertility, Fertility Friend and Natural Cycles. You will need a basic digital thermometer (the sort that goes in your mouth, not your ears!) It’s essential to take your temperature immediately on waking, before even lifting your head off the pillow and certainly before rising. Make a note of the day of your cycle and the temperature and any signs and symptoms.
Your basal body temperature
During your cycle, your basal body temperature will change, and this correlates to the switch in hormones. The follicular, oestrogenic phase, which is day 1 to ovulation, will usually show a cooler temperature. When you are in the luteal, progesterone phase, from ovulation until your period, your temperature should be higher. It’s important to be aware that your basal body temperature should not be solely used as a predictor for ovulation. It will only tell you when ovulation has occurred by the rise in temperature.
Cervical mucus testing
You can test your cervical mucus as part of fertility tracking. Wipe the opening of your vagina and feel the consistency of the fluid between your thumb and forefinger. Your cervical mucus will change throughout your cycle. It tends to be dry right after your period and then thin and watery before changing to an egg-white consistency at your most fertile time. Cervical mucus testing can predict ovulation rather than confirming it will occur.
Other factors to record
On your fertility tracking chart, you can record how long your period lasted, the flow and colour, and whether you had any pain or passing clots. All of these points may be diagnostic, especially to a Chinese medicine practitioner. Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK) can be useful; however, unlike the basal base temperature, which confirms ovulation, OPKs will only predict ovulation. An OPK will register a positive rise in Luteinising hormone in your urine, which indicates that ovulation may occur within the next 24-36 hours.
Health professional input
Your health practitioner can also use the tracking information to advise whether you may require further investigations to confirm whether you are ovulating. In some instances, for example, PCOS, you can have a monthly bleed but will not ovulate so additional tests may be required. A complementary health practitioner may also recommend that you have your blood taken on day 3 and 21 of your cycle to check hormones such as FSH, LH, Oestradiol and Progesterone.
Acupuncture to balance your cycle
Studies have shown that acupuncture can have a substantial effect on the Hypothalamic Pituitary Ovarian (HPO) axis, which is the communication system that controls the menstrual cycle and therefore, female fertility. The HPO governs the control of hormones that essentially play the central part in the development of the follicles, selecting a dominant follicle for maturation and priming of the endometrium. Therefore, it plays a huge part in the egg quality and environment for the egg to develop. Follicular development can take several months. Alongside diet and lifestyle, acupuncture should be considered for at least three months before conception to maximise your natural fertility.
Fertility charting is an easy way to track your cycle and record observations about changes within your body. A complementary health professional can interpret the results and should be able to recommend the next steps. Using acupuncture alongside tracking can potentially enhance your chances of conceiving and affect egg quality.
Acupuncturist and Fertility Specialist Rachel Sherriff of Oxted Acupuncture is currently offering Online Fertility Consultations. These include a one hour video consultation to discuss your fertility and medical history, lifestyle and dietary guidance, instructions on how to track your cycle and if necessary recommendations for further hormone, blood tests or investigations. It also includes your first ‘in person’ acupuncture treatment once the clinic is able to re-open. To book or for more information click here.