Late nights, and travel, and blazing heat, Oh my! Navigating cycle charting challenges during the summertime

The final month of summer is upon us! And with it comes heat, travel, and disturbed schedules: how might all of this impact our Natural Family Planning (NFP) or Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) cycle charting? Here are a few tips I’ve come up with as a fertility awareness instructor for decreasing charting disturbances during the hot summer months, and navigating vacations or other travel plans with your chosen fertility biomarkers. 

Changes to cervical fluid patterns during the summertime

One of the most common issues I see on summer charts is a significant decrease in cervical fluid signs. Otherwise predictable and clear patches of fertile fluid seem to disappear or dwindle, leading to some confusion about interpretation. What could be going on? 

Dehydration

It’s possible that we are just a little more distracted from making observations when we’re out at the beach or surrounded by kids who are home for break. However, my first question when this happens is always: “Are you drinking enough water?” Cervical fluid is well over 90% water so the combination of summer heat and greater distractions can easily mean that we are not getting as much water as our body may need in order to produce those distinctive fluid patches we are accustomed to seeing [1].

Travel, and exposure to different germs and allergens

Summer also brings a lot of vacations, which often means: travel. If you’re flying, especially for extended amounts of time, this can also contribute to dehydration so again: watch your fluid intake [2]! But seasonal travel, summer camps, and other high-population-density contact situations can also result in some special summer illnesses which may be distinct from the germs you’re exposed to during the rest of the year [3]. It can also mean exposures to different allergens if you travel to a new climate.

Both illness and allergies may mean that we turn to antihistamines or even antibiotics, which can dry up or obscure fluid signs [4]. Remember that cervical fluid is a type of mucus, so if you’re sick with something that either affects mucus, or are treating it with something which seeks to dry up or loosen mucus in general, you could see some changes with those cervical fluid signs!

Addressing the issue(s)

None of these situations guarantee that you’re going to see disturbances, so it’s not worth worrying that your charts will become indecipherable during these summer months! But just know that if you’re noticing that your fluid sign is a little more confusing over the summer, there are fairly simple things you can do to help: 

  • Stay adequately hydrated
  • Remember to observe throughout the day, as often as your method requires
  • Make note of any illnesses which could impact fluid
  • Make note of any medications which might impact fluid 
  • Reach out to your instructor with all this info if you are confused!

Changes to basal body temperature (BBT)

Environmental temperatures and stress

How your temperature sign may be impacted on your chart depends a lot on your personal sensitivity to certain environmental changes, and the type of temperature tracking you are doing. Some common environmental disruptors to temperature patterns are: alcohol, sunburn, changing sleeping environments– especially if they have vastly different room temperatures–  and even stress (don’t tell me summer can’t be stressful) [5]. It’s always a good idea to make note of these things on your chart, in case you find that your temperature patterns are disturbed and need to reconsider which data to include with calculations. 

Illness, travel, and disrupted morning routines

The previous section already discussed the potential increase in illness which comes from travel, from which our temperatures are clearly not immune. Once again, however, we see how the simple act of traveling in and of itself can cause frustrations with our charting: 

If you are using a traditional oral or vaginal approach with BBT, it’s likely that changes to your schedule throughout the summer may need to be taken into account. Having the kids home means that many parents may get a little break from the early morning school routine– or it may mean a whole new set of routines as you ship them off to various camps and activities. Make sure you know how your method accounts for changes in your wake-up times and what those limitations may be. For example, the method that I teach (Boston Cross Check), provides instruction on how to adjust temperatures that deviate from a client’s typical base time: but we only allow that for a couple of days each week. Clients may need to pick a different base time or adopt a different morning temping routine for the summer months if they find that schedules are a challenge. 

A note on wearable temp devices

If you are using a wearable device like Tempdrop, you may not need to worry as much about shifting morning schedules. The most common issue I see with clients using a wearable is when, precisely, they should wear it! This comes up often in conversations about travel, when it would be possible to sleep on a plane or during a long car ride. Occasionally, covering large distances may mean that it’s hard to figure out which “day” a temperature reading should belong to. So be sure to check with your instructor if you plan to take a big trip, and you’re not sure what to do with your device. 

Changes in hormone monitoring

Staying hydrated

As part of their cycle charting, women may choose to incorporate various types of hormone testing. Luteinizing hormone (LH) can be tracked by itself through test kits (sometimes referred to as ovulation predictor kits or OPKs) or in conjunction with estrogen with a fertility monitor like the one offered by Clearblue. Additionally, some women now track progesterone through Proov PdG tests. Women have a lot of options when it comes to these signs; however, they all have one thing in common: pee. 

At-home hormone monitoring requires the use of tests designed to detect the presence of urinary metabolites. And guess what urine is mostly composed of? That’s right: water. [6] So everything we’ve said before about watching your hydration levels will especially apply for hormone testing!

Timing your tests

Additional considerations for the summer months would also be related to travel and the question of timing with tests. LH and PdG are easier to navigate with extended travel because you can choose when to use them; however, anything which is tied to a device (like the Clearblue monitor) which has a specific testing window could prove to be a trickier challenge. The default 6-hour testing window (5-11AM) is pretty generous for most travel, so it’s likely you don’t need to do much. To provide a concrete example, if you are on Eastern Time with your testing window set for 5-11 AM, you can still get up at 7AM Pacific Time (which is 10 AM ET) and have an hour left to test. 

But if somewhere more exotic is on the horizon, or you’re traveling west-to-east, it’s definitely worth checking in with your instructor to plan a particular approach for travel across many time zones. Two options I regularly recommend are:

  1. Set up a testing window for the next cycle so that it will work for both time zones; OR
  2. Set it to accommodate the later time zone, and just plan to save your urine sample to test later in the day when you’re in the earlier time zone. Ex: Boston –> Mumbai (10.5 hours ahead), you can set the monitor up at the beginning of the cycle to be on “Mumbai time.” You might want your testing window to be 8p – 2a “Boston time,” so that when you get to Mumbai you can test from 6:30a- 12:30p local time. That means that while you’re still in Boston, you’ll have to collect your first morning urine, and save it until the testing window opens at 8 PM. Tricky, but totally doable!

With a little planning and preparation, summertime charting challenges can be navigated

For many of us, summer is a time when we increase our activity and see a fair amount of change to our typical schedules. Any time we go through these environmental or behavioral changes, it has the potential to impact our experience of cycle charting– but most times, we can successfully navigate with simple intentionality and awareness. 

And as a side note: please be aware that your instructor also deserves a vacation! As with any holiday time, during summer your instructor may occasionally be delayed in returning communication requests, or you may be redirected to a different instructor for temporary support while they are away. Your careful planning in advance of travel or other foreseen disturbances will mean less anxiety for you AND your instructor, which is a win for everyone!

References

1. Adnane M, Meade KG, O’Farrelly C. Cervico-vaginal mucus (CVM) – an accessible source of immunologically informative biomolecules. Vet Res Commun. 2018 Dec;42(4):255-263. doi: 10.1007/s11259-018-9734-0. Epub 2018 Aug 16. PMID: 30117040; PMCID: PMC6244541.

2. Zubac D, Buoite Stella A, Morrison SA. Up in the Air: Evidence of Dehydration Risk and Long-Haul Flight on Athletic Performance. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 25;12(9):2574. doi: 10.3390/nu12092574. PMID: 32854320; PMCID: PMC7551461.

3. Grassly NC, Fraser C. Seasonal infectious disease epidemiology. Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Oct 7;273(1600):2541-50. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2006.3604. PMID: 16959647; PMCID: PMC1634916.

4. What about NFP? Unknown risks. CCL Family Found. 1991 May-Jun;17(6):3. PMID: 12285019.

5. Steward K, Raja A. Physiology, Ovulation And Basal Body Temperature. [Updated 2021 Jul 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546686/

6. Putnam, D.F. Composition and concentrative properties of human urine. NASA Contractor Reports (1971)

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