Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Athletic Trainer
In a previous blog, (The Fifth Vital Sign) I wrote about the importance of a menstrual cycle, the fifth vital sign. Like other vital signs, a menstrual cycle can reveal underlying health issues of the endocrine system and reproductive systems. However, unlike taking your blood pressure, tracking your menstrual cycle takes time and practice. The fertility awareness method (FAM) is the term used to describe the practice of tracking fertile and infertile phases of a menstrual cycle. FAM is a way to achieve or avoid pregnancy without the use of hormonal birth control. Learning and using FAMs is a way to track your fifth vital sign.
Below are 4 types of FAMs to get you started.
Charting Cervical Mucus
Cervical mucus charting is a basic form of menstrual cycle charting. It helps you identify the beginning and end of the fertility window in the menstrual cycle by recognizing and identifying changes in cervical mucus. The change in cervical mucus should remain pretty consistent cycle to cycle. This means, any significant changes in the mucus pattern could indicate an underlying health concern. Learning cervical mucus charting takes time and practice to make sure you are identifying cervical mucus correctly and to make sure you understand what the mucus type means. Billings Ovulation Method, Creighton Model, and TwoDay Method all fall under this category.
Basil Body Temperature
This method requires taking a daily temperature recorded early in the morning at the same time every day. A person’s basil body temperature will increase by at least 0.4°F (0.2°C) above baseline when entering into the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This happens right after ovulation. This means, it doesn’t identify the fertile timeframe which can be a limitations if the desire is pregnancy. Due to this limitation, basil body temperature is usually used with another form of FAM. However, it can still give you good data in the natural pattern of your menstrual cycle.
Symptothermal method is a combination of the two previously mentioned methods. It is a combination of cervical mucus monitoring and basil body temperature. People who use this method usually also add in other symptoms including breast tenderness and ovulatory pain to aid in the identification of the different phases within the menstrual cycle.
Multiple Indicator Method – The Marquette Model
The Marquette Model has taken great popularity as an FAM because it is the most comprehensive menstrual cycle monitoring. Not only will a person track cervical mucus and bail body temperature (if they choose), but they will also use an electronic hormonal fertility monitor to detect changes in estrogen and luteinizing hormone in urine. Estrogen and luteinizing hormones increase during the fertile phase of a menstrual cycle. The electronic hormonal fertility monitor will detect low, high, and peak fertility throughout the menstrual cycle. These reading, along with cervical mucus and basil body temperature track the fifth vital sign the best!
As a person who uses a FAM (my choice is the Marquette Model), I know how scary it can be to take the first step in starting. Know there are many resources and classes out there a person can take (both in person and online) to better understand these methods and give you the confidence to take your health into your own hands. Tracking a menstrual cycle is more than just knowing fertility, but a way of gaining a wealth of information and an in-site into underlying health concerns. It’s the fifth vital sign.