Times are good for learning about your period and your hormonal health. Empowering truths about the menstrual cycle are replacing misconceptions in talks, articles, and everyday conversations. More and more people are discovering that they can choose to ditch the pill, the shot, and the IUD in favor of Fertility Awareness Based Methods of birth control (FABMs). But one major misunderstanding is still cropping up: the false idea that Fertility Awareness (or “tracking” your cycle) only works if you have regular cycles.
Every method of “natural birth control” relies on identifying days you can possibly get pregnant, and days you can't. With a Fertility Awareness method in which you check your cervical fluid and your Basal Body Temperature (your waking temperature every morning, a.k.a. BBT) every day, you can tell day by day whether or not you can get pregnant, that day.
There are some ways of identifying fertile/infertile days that don't work well if you have irregular cycles. If you use a method that relies on past cycle data – whether it's the old “rhythm method,” the newer Standard Days Method, or an app with a sophisticated algorithm – you are PREDICTING. And, let's be honest, we are not always predictable. Everyone has variation in cycle length from time to time. And some of us have a lot of variance, all the time.
So what can Fertility Awareness do for you if you have irregular cycles?
1. Let you know when to expect your period
Did you know that your period always follows ovulation by about 2 weeks? It comes between 9 and 16 days after ovulation. This length of time is called the “luteal phase.” For any individual person, the length of the luteal phase will stay consistent from cycle to cycle.
So let's say you personally have a 13-day luteal phase. In a 28-day cycle, you ovulated on Day 15. In a 64-day cycle, you ovulated on Day 51. Huge difference, right? And probably, if you have a wide variation in your cycle lengths, you spend a lot of time wondering when your period is going to show up. And you might get some messy surprises sometimes. If you keep track of your cervical mucus and BBT, you'll know when you ovulate – and then you'll know when to be ready for your period.
2. Help you avoid pregnancy naturally
Cervical mucus, the primary Fertility Awareness sign, tells you when ovulation is approaching. On a graph of your BBT, a shift to higher temperatures tells you ovulation has passed. In a long cycle, cervical mucus might come and go a few times, or it might show up only when you're about to ovulate.
Either way, the cervical mucus itself tells you when pregnancy is possible. It appears when your body is preparing for ovulation, a time when estrogen levels rise. Cervical mucus makes the vagina alkaline, and can support sperm life for up to 5 days.
So even though you can't predict fertile days based on past cycles, when you're tracking cervical mucus day by day, you can tell whether it's possible to get pregnant that day, or not. There are clear, specific rules you can follow to effectively avoid pregnancy – and they do NOT depend on regular cycles. Click here to read one of the most important research studies on the effectiveness of Fertility Awareness for birth control, even for women with varying cycle lengths.
3. Tell you about your reproductive health, and how to improve it
You might wonder WHY your cycles are so irregular. Maybe they always have been, or maybe they used to be like clockwork. There are many possible reasons for irregular cycles – hormonal, nutritional, immune system-related, and so on. Sharing your cervical mucus and BBT chart with a healthcare provider knowledgable about Fertility Awareness can shed light on what is going on with your body. This can help you find your way back into balance.
4. Help you get pregnant
“Ovulation happens around Day 14”? False! Ovulation CAN happen around Day 14, but it often doesn't. If you're trying to conceive and your cycles are irregular, it's hard to know when intercourse is most likely to result in pregnancy. Again, charting cervical mucus will really clear this up for you. (And, if you choose to also use LH tests, it will help you target when to use them, so you don't have to go through so many!)
5. Empower you to make informed decisions
When it comes to hormonal, menstrual, and sexual health, my hope for each person is fully informed, free choice. Personally, I prefer Fertility Awareness - but it's not for everyone. If you understand the risks and benefits of hormonal birth control, understand the other options available, and then decide hormonal birth control is best for you – that's terrific. That's you making a free, informed choice for yourself.
Body literacy lets you make informed decisions about other things, too. You'll recognize cyclical correlations to your food cravings; moods; interest (or lack of interest) in socializing or in sex – and you'll be able to take better care of yourself. If you're seeking holistic care for your menstrual health or fertility, your charts will help you know what you need. Your charts can help you understand what days are best for certain tests or procedures.
Personalized instruction makes a world of difference if you want to rely on Fertility Awareness charting for birth control or improving your health, especially when your cycles are irregular or otherwise don't match what you might read about on your own. Get started with my online course, or visit the Association of Fertility Awareness Professionals site to see if there's an educator near you.