A Lesson on Cycle Tracking
Posted by Javay da BAE. on
Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the internet has been a barrage of information on actions to take, ways to protect yourself, and so much more. One of the most prevalent messages on the internet is that people should get off of period tracking apps as they can be used against people if they end up in court or face charges for getting an abortion. Though the intention behind encouraging this is well and good, it could leave people at a higher risk of getting pregnant and needing an abortion. So to help minimize that and educate you about what the apps do, I am gonna give you a full deep dive on cycle tracking so you can ditch the apps but still be aware of where you may be in your menstrual cycle to minimize (or maximize – if you’re trying) the chances of getting pregnant.
What do the apps do?
The period tracking apps take the data you input to predict and follow your menstrual cycle. For most individuals with a regular and typical period, you can easily gauge where you are in your menstrual cycle based on when your last period was. It gets a little more complex for folks with irregular periods or other medical situations, such as PCOS, endometriosis, etc. So for a lot of people, they offer peace of mind of not having to actively be aware of their cycle as the apps would notify you when your period was expected, or you were potentially ovulating. Without the apps, you would have to have more active attention to detail surrounding your menstrual cycle; that’s where cycle tracking comes in.
What is cycle tracking?
Cycle tracking is a practice that allows one to understand their menstrual cycle, from when periods are expected to begin to when you will ovulate, trends in your flow, PMS symptoms, and so much more if you are using an app. The more basic pen and paper route help you to understand better when your period will be and when you may be ovulating. Learning to cycle track the OG way may seem intimidating, but it is not that bad.
How to cycle track
Before you begin, you will need a notebook or calendar first. A calendar is your best bet if you want to go the easiest route. If you have the time and energy, I recommend getting a journal, specifically a bullet journal. A bullet journal would allow for detailed cycle tracking, similar to all the details you could record in a tracking app.
To get started, you will mark the first day of your period every month, the first day of your cycle. You will then mark every day that you have your period. Remember, depending on your body and menstrual cycle, this could be anywhere from 3-7 days or up to like 21 days (yes, there are some people who have such irregular cycles they bleed for three weeks). Once your period starts, if you have a regular cycle, you can count ahead to gauge when your next expected period is. Typically, a full cycle is 28-30 days for individuals with regular cycles. So you would count 28 days from the first day of your period to gauge when your next period will come.
Once you have the portion of cycle tracking down comes the more complex aspect (but don’t worry, not complex to the point where you have to remember algebra formulas). You are going to estimate when you ovulate. For typical menstrual cycles, ovulation happens about 10-14 days before your next period. So if you were to get your period on the 2nd of the month and it lasted 5 days, then you would potentially be ovulating between the 17th and 21st. There are two ways to know better or confirm if you are ovulating. The first and easiest way would be to take an at-home ovulation test. You can get these at the dollar store or buy them in bulk from Amazon (though they are a devil of a corporation with the pink tax on all things menstrual hygiene, it helps to save a buck where you can). The at-home test detects Luteinizing Hormone (LH) within your urine, which is released when you ovulate. The second option for having an idea of if you ovulated is by checking your cervical mucus (CM).
Throughout your menstrual cycle, your cervical mucus is going to change based on the hormonal changes happening. Cervical mucus typically has 4 states or ways it looks. If your CM is dry and sticky, that is an indication that you are not currently ovulating or close to ovulating. Creamy CM is a sign that ovulation may be happening soon. Wet and watery is a clear signifier that ovulation is close. Wet, stretchy CM is the sign of ovulation and looks similar to raw egg whites. It can be quite difficult to understand your CM, so do not get discouraged if you feel like you’re not getting the hang of it (I still can’t really distinguish between the differences in my cervical mucus).
If you were to do your tracking with a bullet journal, it would allow for a more in-depth understanding and look at your cycle. You can create your own code system to track your CM daily, denote how your body is feeling and the heaviness of flow, and any other details you like to manage or be aware of throughout your cycle. With a more in-depth overview, you can better understand the changes you can expect in your body and better prepare. I think knowing what to expect with your flow is extremely important as we are still amidst a tampon and pad shortage. Trust me, it’s terrible waking up to a heavy flow and being out tampons and pads and them not having the ones you use in-store.
An added layer of cycle tracking
If you are like me and have anxiety and just like to be super sure of things, you can add another level to your cycle tracking with BBT. I do have to stress this is a much more labor-intensive form of cycle tracking. BBT stands for basal body temperature, which is your body’s temperature at rest. Tracking BBT is effective for cycle tracking because your body’s temperature rises when you ovulate. A BBT thermometer is different than the average thermometer in your first aid kit because it shows your temperature as 4 digits, which is extremely important. BBT generally has very subtle changes, so seeing a temperature of 98.76 change is more valuable than just 98.7.
Now, this is more labor-intensive because you have to take your temperature as the legit first thing you do. That means before you drink water, before you kiss your partner, before you masturbate, you are taking your temperature. There are two ways to do this with a BBT thermometer–orally or vaginally. Orally is obviously the easier of the two options, but temping vaginally offers more accuracy. Once you get your temperature, you will record it every day (on your calendar or in your bullet journal). I would then recommend inputting your daily temperature into an excel spreadsheet so that you can create a line graph to have a better visual of your temp. A visual of your BBT will allow you to see spikes and drops in your temperature and give you more context for your menstrual cycle. This is especially beneficial if you are trying to avoid pregnancy as it is a way to detect pregnancy. Your body’s BBT rises when you ovulate, and if you were to be pregnant, it would remain high, so this form of tracking is a great way to have a day-by-day, week-by-week look at your cycle to better detect pregnancy rather than waiting for a missed period.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to cycle track, you can delete those period apps (if you so choose); if not, you just have a better knowledge of how to do it. Another recommendation is to download multiple apps and record different data in all of them. The tricky part with this is that you would need to be conscientious about which app has your true data so you could still use it for its intended purpose. You could also use all the apps under a different name or multiple names to further separate them from yourself.
Regardless of the decision you make, cycle tracking is a highly beneficial practice to better understand and connect with your body. Everyone has a different relationship with their menstrual cycles, but I think that better understanding them can allow people to unlearn some of the negative views and connotations we have ingrained in us, thanks to this patriarchal society we live in (please read the heavy sarcasm in that statement, LOL).
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- Tags: Abortion, Birth Control, Healthcare, Menstrual Cycles, Periods, Reproductive Justice, Sex Ed, Sex Education