Trying to conceive

Charting is a big part of the lives of many women who are trying to conceive, and yet for many more it is a confusing process. If you are trying to conceive or thinking about trying in the future (or if you are just mystified by what it all means) then it is important to understand ovulation and how it is linked to conception. It is also important for men to understand why their partner is doing these sometimes strange things, and why they are so important for you both when trying for a baby.

Trying to Conceive – Charting Why Chart?

Some women have a very regular cycle and are able to pinpoint roughly when they ovulate (release an egg). Some women are aware of ovulation as they experience abdominal pain or tender breasts, noticeably different discharge or changes in how they feel due to the hormones released. Other women have no idea when they are ovulating, lots of women feel no different when they ovulate and many of us have irregular cycles that make it hard to work out when ovulation occurs. By knowing exactly when you ovulate, you can increase your chances of ensuring that the released egg is met by sperm so that it can be fertilised. Luckily there are signs that you can measure to work out when you ovulate.

How to Chart

By taking note of cervical mucus and basal body temperature, you can work out when you are ovulating. Noting down changes in mucus and plotting temperature on a chart can help you work out your unique pattern and this enables you to predict when you will ovulate in the coming months.

Cervical Mucus (CM)

The cervical mucus follows a pattern which changes as you enter different stages of fertility throughout the month. Before you are able to work out when you will ovulate in the future, you will need to identify these different stages, as every woman’s cycle varies and what is normal for you may be unusual for someone else. The CM usually follows a fairly regular cycle;

Just after menstruation (your period) you may have very little CM or it may be sticky and quite dry for a couple of days. Fertility is low at this point.

The next stage is the pre-ovulation stage, when the CM is becoming slightly thinner, wetter and more slippery. This is so that sperm can more easily travel to the egg, which your body is preparing to release. The chances of conception are increasing at this stage but this is a transitional stage, and happens before the truly fertile stage. The CM will also be like this after ovulation.

The amount of CM increases and the consistency becomes thinner and much more slippery. It will feel stretchy, look more transparent, and is often referred to as egg-white mucus. This is the fertile stage and you chances of conception are at their highest as ovulation is either about to occur or is occurring.

Some women may be able to check their cervical mucus by simply wiping with some toilet tissue. Others may find it more difficult, and for these women it is easier to insert a finger into the vagina and tilt it towards the cervix in order to get some of the cervical mucus on the finger so it can be examined. By stretching the mucus between two fingers you can assess how stretchy it is, another key indicator that ovulation is imminent.

Writing down a description of your CM and putting it in a diary can help you work out when you are in your most fertile stage, and when the mucus suggests you are pre-ovulation or post-ovulation. This is a great way to assess your fertility during the month, but it is much more effective when combined with information from other sources, especially charting basal body temperature.

Charting Basal Body Temperature (BBT)

When it comes to measuring basal body temperature (BBT), it is all about precision. To measure effectively you need to have a thermometer which is precise enough to measure tiny changes in temperature. The other important thing to understand is that your basal body temperature can only be taken first thing in the morning after a minimum of three hours? sleep. Take the temperature measurement before you get out of bed, before you eat or drink and before you do anything else to get the most reliable temperature recording.

Recording BBT works because it enables you to pinpoint when any small rise in your basal temperature occurs ? a sign that ovulation is occurring. You won?t even notice it, but your body temperature rises by around 0.2 or 0.3 degrees C when you ovulate. Measuring your temperature over the course of a month enables you to work out when the temperature spikes by a fraction of a degree compared to the previous week of temperature recordings. If this temperature spike lasts for three days and coincides with fertile cervical mucus, you can be even more confident that you are at your most fertile stage and ovulation is occurring.

There are factors that may affect the reliability of your results ? an illness can raise your temperature, medications (such as paracetamol or ibuprofen) can lower it and alcohol can affect it too.

Charting has helped many women work out when they are ovulating, and there are tests that you can purchase that work in a similar way to a pregnancy test that also help you estimate your ovulation date. Most experts agree that the most effective way to ensure you conceive is to have sex every two days throughout the cycle, but knowing your cycle, and being aware of your most fertile times allows you to concentrate your efforts and also to establish if there are any problems with your cycle.