For people with periods, tracking their menstrual cycle is a critical part of maintaining overall health. Whether you want to predict your next period, avoid pregnancy, or put a bun in the oven, tracking your cycle is necessary. Even your period blood color can tell you about your health, so when Aunt Flo talks, you should probably listen.
Read on for everything you need to know about tracking and understanding your cycle. But first, let’s review what menstruation is.
What is your menstrual cycle?
Menstrual cycles are the body’s natural reproductive pattern in women or people who can become pregnant. Most people’s cycles fall in roughly twenty-eight days, but they can vary widely from person to person and over your lifetime.
Ovulation usually occurs around day fourteen or near the middle of the cycle. The uterus thickens its lining in preparation for the ovaries to release an egg. If the egg is fertilized, it implants into the uterus, and the person will be pregnant. Otherwise, the uterus will shed its lining, and your period will repeat until you either become pregnant or pass through menopause.
The how-to guide on charting your menstrual cycle
Charting your cycle will help you understand your body’s overall health and track your fertility. Here’s the complete guide to charting your cycle.
Track your period
The first and most crucial step is to track when you menstruate. Each time you start menstruating, take note of the date and time you started. The first day of your period is “Day 1” of your cycle. You can also track the final day of your period. Over time, you may notice fluctuations in length or predictable patterns.
Track your period blood color
Did you know that the color of your period blood can tell you a lot about your cycle and overall health? Period blood color can signal several indicators like low estrogen, infections, and even what stage of menstruation you’re experiencing.
Here are a few different colors you might notice:
- Pink: Usually, pink discharge comes from blood mixing with cervical mucus. You may notice it when your flow is lighter. Pink discharge when you’re not menstruating may be a sign that you are low in estrogen.
- Bright red: Bright red blood is fresh. You’ll most likely notice bright red blood on day two or three of your period once your flow has increased and is quickly shedding.
- Dark red or brown: As your uterine lining sheds, it gets darker the longer it sits in the uterus as it oxidizes. If your lining sheds more quickly than your uterus pushes it out, the blood may stay in the uterus for some time. Dark red or brown blood is entirely normal.
- Black or gray: If you notice black discharge during your period, you might have a blockage in your vaginal holding the blood back too long. Gray discharge likely indicates a bacterial infection. While it may not be serious, you should consult with your doctor.
Having different colors of period blood is generally wholly normal and a great way to understand what’s happening in your body at any given moment.
Check your temperature
As people’s bodies cycle through reproductive readiness, their basal body temperature changes slightly on a very predictable schedule. Many people use their body temperature in fertility planning.
Your basal body temperature (or BBT) is the temperature of your body when you first wake up before you’ve begun moving around for the day. Your BBT will increase very slightly after you ovulate, and it will stay elevated until your period starts.
To track BBT, use a basal body thermometer, which is much more sensitive than regular thermometers. Take your temperature at the same time every morning, before you get out of bed.
Over time you’ll start to notice a pattern. Based on these changes, you should be able to predict your fertile window reasonably accurately.
Know what your cervical mucus is telling you
Just like your temperature, your cervical mucus will change during ovulation. Bodies naturally produce this mucus to help facilitate pregnancy.
As your body prepares for ovulation, your cervical mucus will get thicker and may get cloudy or white. Right before ovulation, it should get slippery, almost like egg whites.
You can check your cervical mucus with your hands, cloth, or tissue. Always make sure your hands are clean first. Gently touch the opening of your vagina to check for mucus and jot down how it looks and feels.
Eventually, you’ll start to recognize the changes and patterns in your cervical mucus, signaling ovulation.
Check your hormone levels
Checking your hormone levels is particularly useful if you are trying to get pregnant or struggling with infertility. And guess what? You can track hormone levels in your urine.
For people with periods, the luteinizing hormone (LH) increases midway through their cycle and triggers the release of an egg from the ovaries. Higher LH levels signal that you’re ready to get pregnant.
You can quickly get a digital hormone tracker at your local pharmacy – they work similarly to urine-based pregnancy tests.
When people understand their menstrual cycle, they can better tackle health issues, plan for pregnancy, and more. Use the five indicators above to get familiar with your period and feel confident about your reproductive health.