After indulging at the holidays, many of us are ready to go all in on healthy new habits to start off the New Year on the right foot. Sugar cleanses, meal plans, discounted gym memberships—’tis the season for restarting healthy habits. While there may not be a massive ad campaign behind it, the New Year is a great time to start another healthy habit: charting your monthly cycle.
Charting lets you see the impact that neurochemicals have on your reproductive and endocrine organs, according to the Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS). Hormonal fluctuations produce physical signs that you can observe and record to understand your unique patterns. These hormonal changes affect a whole lot more than fertility (though that’s important, too!). Now is as good a time as ever to become familiar with these signs. Here’s why.
01. Minimize PMS
The great majority of women experience at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) every month, be it moodiness, bloating, headaches, or cramping. Though PMS can take an emotional, mental, and physical toll, its origin is hormonal. Imbalanced amounts of progesterone and estrogen are produced after ovulation, negatively affecting the brain and making you feel somewhere between uncomfortable and miserable. If you know when you’re ovulating, you can use natural hormones to restore that balance and alleviate symptoms.
02. Know Your Risk for Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (PPD) is probably on your radar, even if you’re not a mother. That’s because one in seven women experiences this mood disorder, according to the American Psychological Association. While not every case is this extreme, the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction cites “the risk of psychiatric hospitalization within the first three months postpartum [as] seven times more common than at other times in a woman’s life.”
A body of evidence indicates that PPD is also related to hormonal fluctuations, revealed in the lengths of various phases of the cycle. Jennifer Chirdo, RN, BSN, MS, and FertilityCare Practitioner, says accurately assessing and evaluating PMS through charting can reveal a likelihood of developing postpartum depression. This can merit preemptive natural and holistic treatment, and potentially avoid the condition altogether.
Several studies by the NaProTECHNOLOGY Research Center show that progesterone treatments can be highly effective in treating PPD. According to one, “progesterone treatment [resulted] in marked improvement in 81 percent of the cases treated, and some improvement for another 11 percent.” Reestablishing the hormonal balance via progesterone supplements can take effect in minutes and is safe during breastfeeding, unlike the antidepressants typically prescribed.
03. Manage Acne Breakouts
Acne is a symptom often attributed to PMS. It can also be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition caused by—you guessed it—a hormonal imbalance. As with many other conditions, certain patterns revealed in only a couple months’ worth of menstrual cycle charts can indicate the possibility of PCOS. A physical exam, blood work, and ultrasound may be used to confirm the condition. While there's no known cure, simple lifestyle changes can have a dramatic positive effect on PCOS and its symptoms.
04. Know If You’re Overdoing It
Moderation is key to a happy and fulfilling life, but it can be hard to maintain in the midst of busy schedules, stressful work, or occasional illness. In a previous Verily piece, Dr. A. Nicky Hjort, M.D., OB-GYN, told us that “stress, nutrition, extreme weight loss or gain, taking a new medication, or stopping a medication” could cause changes in your cycle that aren’t necessarily serious. When the pattern of irregularity isn’t extreme, you can take these signs as a plea from you body to slow down and take better care of yourself.
05. Be Better Informed About Pregnancy
If you’re hoping to add another member to your family, charting your cycle is a useful tool in trying to conceive. Good prenatal care requires dating the beginning of the pregnancy as accurately as possible. Charting with a fertility-awareness based method like the Creighton Model, can accurately date a pregnancy rather than relying on an estimated time of conception. Knowing how far along you and your little one really are, rather than relying on standard models or ultrasound estimations, may help you make more informed decisions later on in the pregnancy.
Everything in our bodies is connected in one way or another, and our reproductive systems are no different. If this is the year you’re going to focus on your health (and why shouldn’t it be?), let charting your cycle be your first step. Contact your healthcare provider or download an app to get started, stat.
Photo Credit: Sara Keisling