Understanding Fertility Awareness Methods:
How to Track Your Cycle

What fertility awareness methods are and how effective they are
at tracking your cycle

Fertility awareness methods, or FAMs, make it easier for women to prevent or plan pregnancy by tracking their fertility. These methods are sometimes known as “natural family planning” or the “rhythm method.” They are, unfortunately, the least effective of all popular contraceptive approaches.

When you use FAMs, you will know when ovulation (when your ovaries release an egg each month) occurs. You are most likely to get pregnant closer to ovulation, which is the time when you are most fertile.

Using a fertility awareness method allows you to use a barrier birth control method like condoms or abstaining from sex on the days you are most fertile. One of the advantages of using FAMs is that different approaches can be practical and the methods can be stopped anytime, unlike permanent birth control.

Many women find it helpful because they can choose the method that works best for their needs. You can use more than one method if you prefer.

Different fertility tracking methods

The good thing about having multiple methods to track your fertility is that you can use a method that fits within your comfort level. The most popular methods used are:

  • Calendar Method. Keeping track of your cycle using a calendar.

  • Cervical Mucus Method. Keeping track of your vaginal discharge, or cervical mucus every day.

  • Temperature Method. Checking your temperature daily before getting up for the morning.
  • Standard Days Method. Tracking your cycle over several months to determine if it runs between 26 and 32 days, then refrain from unprotected sex on the 8th through 19th days.

  • Symptothermal Method. A combination of the Calendar, Cervical Mucus, and Temperature methods.

Pros and cons of each method

Some of the biggest advantages of the Calendar Method include it being free, not having side effects, and allowing you to predict the days when you are most likely to be fertile. The disadvantages include ineffectiveness with menstrual cycles shorter than 27 days and the fact that you cannot determine exact fertility dates.

The Cervical Mucus Method is good for determining when you're fertile by using your vaginal discharge as a way to determine where you are in your cycle. One disadvantage is that this method is not always easy to learn without the guidance of your OB/GYN or doctor.

One of the benefits of the Standard Days Method is having a timeframe when you know that you will most want to refrain from unprotected vaginal sex. However, disadvantages include the fact that this method is only effective with regular cycles and normal birth control usage since recent pregnancy or breastfeeding may affect its effectiveness.

An advantage of the Temperature Method is that, like other FAMs, there are no side effects. However, you will need to keep careful track of your cycles to ensure correct dates. Many women forget to take their temperature at the same time every day (usually right when they wake up), which can skew the data and make it difficult to pinpoint when ovulation begins.

The Symptothermal Method has a significant advantage in effectiveness because it combines the Calendar, Cervical Mucus, and Temperature methods. However, this technique shares the same disadvantages that each of these techniques has individually.

The biggest disadvantage of Fertility Awareness Methods is their high failure rate. While some couples can have many years of successful contraception, most couples will have an unintended pregnancy when relying solely on FAM. This may be because of difficulty tracking “safe days,” variations in the timing of ovulation, or misinterpreting test results. For these reasons, it’s best to use a second method, like condoms, in addition to the FAM.

How to track your fertility cycle

When you start tracking your cycle, there are a few new habits that you may need to get accustomed to incorporating into your daily life. Starting slowly and accurately keeping your information will help you become more acclimated to tracking your cycle.

Your cycle starts on the first full day that you bleed during your period and concludes on the last day before the next period that you have. Consider writing down the dates that the bleeding begins and ends in a day planner, as well as any observations about your health.

Be sure to count the days between your menstrual cycles because all FAM methods require you to know how many days your cycle lasts on average. That way, you will have a better way of knowing when to avoid unprotected sex, as well as optimal times for conception.

Popular free apps for fertility awareness methods

A fertility awareness method chart can be helpful for keeping track of your ovulation. Some women prefer to use a handwritten chart, but most women nowadays use a mobile app.

There are many options available when it comes to fertility awareness method apps. Some of the most popular free apps include:

  • Clue Period Tracker. The app helps increase fertility awareness method effectiveness by predicting fertility times and ovulation.

  • Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker. This app provides fertility and ovulation calendars, as well as helps you track your cycle and all symptoms

  • Ovia Fertility & Cycle Tracker. The app helps provide accurate predictions for fertile windows and periods, even for women with irregular cycles.
  • Read Your Body. This app makes it easy for women to use any FAM to track their cycles and has a journal feature to record related changes.

  • Spot on Period Tracker. This app, which is powered by Planned Parenthood, allows you to track your cycle easily and is compatible with any of the FAMs listed above.

There are many different types of fertility awareness methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of which method you use for tracking your fertility, we hope you enjoy having a greater awareness of what is going on with your cycle.

If you’d prefer to take a more proactive approach to birth control and fertility management, or you have questions about infertility, then we invite you to talk with an experienced and compassionate OB/GYN doctor at All About Women. From our offices in Gainesville and Lake City, we serve women of all ages throughout North Florida.