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Charting your monthly cycle is a valuable tool for every stage of your reproductive life. In addition to pinpointing Aunt Flo’s arrival, it can help a couple achieve or avoid pregnancy, clue you into underlying issues, mitigate the risk of miscarriage, and indicate your overall health.

Whatever the method, the basic concept is the same: a woman consistently observes and records signs related to her menstrual and ovulation cycle, as a means of understanding the hormonal changes that happen in her body. These may include menses (your period), cervical fluids, temperature changes, and premenstrual symptoms, like “menstrual cramps, breast tenderness, fluid retention, and appetite or mood changes,” says Dr. John Fejes, M.D., Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

We asked healthcare providers for a 101 on the modern charting methods based on scientific research. We present them here, in alphabetical order.

01. Basal Body Temperature

Dr. Julie Von, a holistic doctor specializing in fertility, explains, “Basal body temperature (BBT) is your core temperature after being at rest for a long period of time, such as a night of sleep.” Keeping a daily BBT log can allow a woman to “spot the temperature drop and surge that happens prior to and soon after ovulation," to calculate her fertile window (the time in her cycle when she can get pregnant). This method can also be used "to evaluate the lengths of the . . . phases of the menstrual cycle.”

Texas-based ob-gyn Dr. Sheila Chhutani, M.D., MBA, notes it’s imperative that taking your temperature be the “very first thing you do when you wake up.” The temperature shift is not something you’ll feel; it takes only a 0.4- to 0.8-degree rise to let you know you ovulated.

02. Billings Ovulation Method

Dr. Von says the main technique of the Billings Ovulation Method (BOM) identifying the type of one's cervical mucous and a change in the sensation it produces (e.g., wetness and slipperiness). She says it is “highly effective if taught and practiced correctly.” Some may have noticed this discharge and change in sensation before dismissing it as nothing. But BOM “advocates for a woman’s awareness and connection to her own fertility signs and symptoms.”

03. Creighton Model

The Creighton Model is like the Billings Ovulation Method but with some standardized modifications. It uses observations of menstrual bleeding, quality and color of cervical mucous, and absence of mucous to indicate days of fertility and infertility, and signal abnormalities in a woman's health. According to the FertilityCare Centers of America, this method is effective for “[previously] difficult cases, such as long and irregular cycles, breastfeeding, coming off of contraceptive pills, and ovulatory states in the premenopause.”

04. Lactational Amenorrhea Method

The Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University defines lactational amenorrhea as “a short-term family planning method based on the natural effect of breastfeeding on fertility.” Especially when done exclusively, “[the] act of breastfeeding . . . suppresses the release of hormones that are necessary for ovulation,” generally for the first six months postpartum. Dr. Von cautions, “it completely depends on the individual and ovulation still can occur while you are breastfeeding.”

05. Marquette Model

The Marquette Model, AKA the sympto-hormonal method, utilizes an electronic hormonal fertility monitor (which reads hormone levels in urine samples) to determine ovulation. A woman may use that information in conjunction with cervical mucous signs, basal body temperature, or other biomarkers. While “[it] can be slightly technical . . . difficult to interpret and sometimes overwhelming,” Dr. Von says it's a wonderful tool for a woman who is interested in learning a comprehensive and holistic method to accessing her fertile window.

06. Standard Days Method

The Standard Days Method is “a calendar-based method that identifies a fixed fertile window in the woman’s cycle (days 8 to 19) when a couple should avoid sexual intercourse if they wish to prevent pregnancy.” This method is designed for women with cycles lasting 26 to 32 days. Dr. Von says the Standard Days Method is, “[probably] the least effective of all the alternative methods because days and menstrual cycles are incredibly variable based on stress, individual constitution and illness.”

07. Sympto-Thermal Method

As taught by the Couple to Couple League, the Sympto-Thermal Method, “is based on three key signs of fertility: cervical mucus, basal body temperature and changes in the cervix.” Observations of these signs allow a woman to identify the “three phases of the female cycle:” menstruation and infertility, fertility, and post-ovulatory infertility.

08. TwoDay Method

The TwoDay Method “relies solely on the presence or absence of secretions today and yesterday to determine the fertility status of the user each day.” If secretions are present both today and yesterday, she considers herself fertile. The quality of the secretions is not significant. This method is primarily used simply to achieve or avoid pregnancy.

No matter which charting method is right for you, Dr. Chhutani says, “the most important thing is educating women about their bodies.” With any method, “you need to know your cycle and know what’s normal” for you. After observing a couple of cycles, patterns will become apparent, and with the guidance of an informed healthcare provider, you can use that to take good care of yourself, from the inside out.

Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan