Why You Should Learn to Chart Your Cycle, Even If You Want ALL the Babies
If a couple wants many children, should they bother charting their cycles? As a fertility educator of the Sympto-Thermal method for the past seven years, I have heard on several occasions of couples, usually engaged, who are hoping for lots of babies as soon as they get married. Among the wedding prep and other details, they just don’t see any reason to add in a natural family planning (NFP) class because . . . bring on the babies! To such couples, learning a method to postpone or avoid kids can seem irrelevant, counterproductive, and almost like an obstacle to their goals.
I appreciate such couples’ enthusiasm and very much share their joy in the arrival of babies, but, as I see it, a couple should take the time to learn about fertility, especially if they want many children.
To explain, it may help for me to start with a distinction in terms. Here at Natural Womanhood, as well as at our partner organization Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS), one may notice more frequent use of the acronym FABMs (for fertility awareness based methods) than NFP (for natural family planning). This is because learning to chart is an excellent idea for every woman at whatever age or stage she finds herself on her reproductive health journey—ready to family plan or not. Charting reveals a woman’s fifth vital sign—her fertility, which offers key indicators of her overall health—and, as such, charting is so much more than just a method to plan a family.
I can think of at least 5 good reasons to learn to chart if you are eager for kids.
1. Couples who know their cycles usual get pregnant faster than those who don’t.
Couples who chart their fertility are better able to identify their physiological fertile window. That is, the actual time when it is possible for them to conceive. What I’m referring to here is distinct from the fertile period that a couple identifies by the presence of cervical mucus through Peak day which can be up to two weeks. I’m talking about the roughly six days a month when a couple can actually get pregnant, which will be helpful to know if they’re hoping to get pregnant right off the bat.
In the presence of cervical fluid, sperm can live up to five days and once an egg is released it will disintegrate within 24 hours (and if a second ovulation occurs, it will happen within 24 hours of the first). Hence, the approximately six days of fertility when conception can occur. Couples who are charting and seeking pregnancy can identify the most fertile time in their cycles and make sure to have relations at that time.
Research shows that knowing this fertile window makes a difference in the amount of time it takes to get pregnant. In one study, 85% of couples with normal fertility were pregnant after a year of random acts of intercourse, while, according to another study, 81% of couples with normal fertility were pregnant after only six months of acts of intercourse during the fertile window. By charting, it cut the time almost in half!
2. Charting can identify health issues that could keep one from conceiving or carrying a child to term.
In the study quoted above, I mentioned couples with normal fertility, but how do you know if you fit the bill? It is possible to have regular cycle and length of menses, but still have fertility issues.
By charting, a woman will be able to identify the length of her luteal phase, the first day of her basal body temperature rise through the last day before her next period. The length should be consistent for her each month and ideally be between 11-14 days. 10 days or less and it would be hard for an embryo to implant before the next cycle began, thus causing a woman to conceive without knowing it. Short luteal phases can indicate progesterone deficiencies which can lead to recurrent miscarriages.
This is just one issue that a FABM chart can help reveal, and one that heavily impacts a couple eager for children.
When my husband and I first married, we were open to children, and I was especially eager to be a mom. We had taken an NFP class while engaged and I had continued to chart my signs. But less than two months into married life and we knew something was off. I was not showing signs of ovulating among other things. With five years of charts in hand (since I began charting years before I met my husband), we visited a FABM-aware physician who was immediately able to identify an issue, which she confirmed with blood work and ultrasound. All I had to do was take a medication that restored my cycles to balance, and on the following Mother’s Day, a positive pregnancy test confirmed what our chart (and nausea!) had already hinted at.
3. Charting helps you know more accurately when you’re pregnant and when you’re due.
Have you ever heard of a husband telling his wife she’s pregnant? Well, for those couples where the husband records the daily cycle data, it is a real possibility that he will know her cycle so well that when her luteal phase goes long, he’ll know she’s pregnant (or at least suggest she take a pregnancy test if they’re too impatient to wait).
In addition to knowing you’re pregnant without the need of taking a test, charting allows you to have a record of your cycle to determine the likely date of conception and, more importantly, an accurate due date. Because most women do not chart their cycles, doctors utilize the information they’re most likely to remember—the first day of their last menstrual period—to calculate a date, often confirming this date with an early dating ultrasound. This works well if a woman ovulates around day 14, but if ovulation was early or late, the due date will be the same and could lead to a doctor encouraging a woman later to have an induction because she thinks the baby is “late,” when in fact the baby is on schedule if the woman ovulated later.
4. The postpartum period, when many couples want to learn how to chart, is one of the most challenging times to start.
Some women decide after giving birth that now they’d like to learn fertility awareness methods, whether to space children or simply to better understand this amazing system that just produced a child. This is yet another reason women should learn how to chart before jumping in to welcoming all the babies.
Following pregnancy, a woman’s body has to readjust its hormone levels which may be further impacted by breastfeeding, this can cause a variety of different signs to occur which makes charting difficult. Simply put, during the postpartum period, a woman doesn’t have the usual cyclical hormonal changes and the accompanying biomarkers.
Even an experienced charter can find this time a challenge and while it is very possible with the help of a good instructor to begin learning to chart at this time, there will be more uncertainty and frequently longer periods of abstinence as you learn.
Yet it is usually postpartum that a couple realizes they may have need to space their children. Adjusting to new parenthood is a beautiful time, but hard, and it’s worth avoiding the added stress of learning to observe a variety of signs which may appear very confusing at first.
5. You don’t know now if you’ll need to space children later, and learning to chart in the midst of stressful life circumstances makes it harder.
If you are right now eager for children, you may not be able to see past that, but for many family-loving women, there come times and situations they didn’t expect. Learning to chart requires acquiring a new set of observational habits. This is not overly difficult in and of itself, but if you are in the midst of any kind of stressful life event (or series of events), trying to add something new to your routine won’t be as easy.
I still remember the beautiful late September day when I was 25 weeks into an eagerly-awaited, healthy pregnancy. I was going to a follow-up ultrasound before heading to my OB appointment. I never arrived at the appointment; instead, I was rushed by ambulance to a regional hospital that could accommodate 25-week old preemies. At my ultrasound, the tech had noticed something off and I was soon informed by a specialist that I was 3 cm dilated, fully effaced and in active labor with a footling breach baby. She thought I would likely deliver by emergency c-section within 24 hours.
Thankfully, I didn’t. But I did spend almost six weeks on hospital bed rest before delivering my son at 30 weeks. Then we spent days with him during his 5 week NICU stay and finally got to bring him home just before Christmas.
As you can imagine, this was a time of high stress, crazy hormones, and other factors. I remember talking to my NFP instructors in the lobby of the hospital trying to figure out what to expect with my signs since I wasn’t yet exclusively breastfeeding as I had hoped. I was so thankful that I wasn’t also trying to learn how to chart for the very first time on top of everything else. My husband and I were also thankful that we would be able to postpone pregnancy for a year to give my body time to recover since we didn’t know what had caused the preterm labor.
Are you eager for babies? Fantastic! As a mom of four, I can relate. But as a FABM educator, I would urge you to seriously consider learning to chart while you’re engaged so that you can welcome these beloved babies all the sooner knowing you are healthy, knowing the conditions are optimal for your baby to be healthy as well, and knowing when they should arrive. For me, I have felt better prepared to be the best mom I can be before, during, and after they’ve arrived—even if, as mine did, they come a little earlier than expected.
1. Trussell, J. (2011). Contraceptive failure in the United States. Contraception, 83(5), 397–404. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.contraception.2011.01.02
2. C. Gnoth, D. Godehardt, E. Godehardt, P. Frank‐Herrmann, G. Freundl; Time to pregnancy: results of the German prospective study and impact on the management of infertility, Human Reproduction, Volume 18, Issue 9, 1 September 2003, Pages 1959–1966, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deg366