What your cycle says about your fertility

Once upon a time women weren’t able to discuss their health needs – orgasms was a forbidden topic of conversation, advertising for contraception was illegal and sanitary pads were impossible to hunt down in your local store. However, luckily times have changed. Women have become more vocal about their needs, with taboo-breaking social media campaigns such as #livetweetyourperiod and also become savvier due to a rise in more female-targeted products, which give women valuable health info about themselves.

We think sexual and reproductive health shouldn’t be an afterthought to general health care, it should be taken more seriously! In light of Fertility Awareness Week this week, we wanted to shed some light on how Natural Cycles, which is programmed to spot underlying fertility issues, can help you keep a closer eye on your health so nothing gets in the way of your reproductive goals.

As you may already know, changes in temperature throughout your cycle is directly linked to what is going on in your body.  A rise in temperature indicates ovulation has occurred and a cooling of the body happens as your new cycle begins and you get your period. However, these events don’t always happen, which could be linked to your reproductive health. For instance, anovulatory cycles (no ovulation), frequent periods (short luteal phase) or excessive pain leading up to your period can all be indicators of a health issue that might need a closer look from your doctor. Here’s what to look out for!

 

Anovulatory cycles

Anovulatory cycles is when a women skips ovulation. Without ovulation it is impossible to get pregnant, which is why it is linked to infertility. Anovulatory cycles are common amongst women especially if you have only recently started your period, come off the pill,  on the lead up to menopause or if you are breastfeeding.
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Periods still appear as normal during anovulatory cycles as your endometrial lining still sheds (estrogen breakthrough bleeding), so if a woman is not tracking her cycle, it is likely that she may not even know she has had one.

The most common cause of anovulatory cycles is Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects 8 to 12 percent of all women. PCOS is strongly linked to lifestyle as are the occasional anovulatory cycles, which can be caused by obesity, stress, illness, thyroid dysfunction and even travelling.

Tell tale signs of PCOS are heavy periods, acne, facial hair and excess belly fat. And if you’re tracking your cycle your cycles will appear irregular, longer than average at around 35 days and you will have a lack of temperature shifts (rise of 0.2 – 0.45C), which indicates that no ovulation occurred. The algorithm will notify you if it captures an anovulatory cycle and furthermore, if your cycles are more than 40% anovulatory it will recommend that you visit a doctor to get assessed.  

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It is important to diagnose PCOS as there are simple changes that you can make to your lifestyle that can control it. Eco Watch has a great article to help women overcome PCOS through changes to their diet.

 

Frequent periods

Frequent periods may be caused by an abnormality in your endometrial development – the lining of your uterus – which is known as a Luteal phase defect.

The luteal phase is the stage of your menstrual cycle that occurs after ovulation and before your period starts. During this phase, progesterone causes the endometrium to thicken in order to support the implantation of a fertilised egg, however, with luteal phase defect, the lining of the uterus does not grow properly, which can make it difficult to get or stay pregnant. This can be because either your ovaries do not release enough progesterone or the lining of the uterus does not properly respond to the progesterone.

Luteal phase defect is often characterised by a short luteal phase, which can difficult to diagnose as there is no single test that can but monitoring the number of days between ovulation and your period is a good start. Natural Cycles is a useful tool, as it will notify you if it suspects such irregularities if for instance your luteal phase is often found to be shorter than 9 days long.

 

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Painful periods

Symptoms such as severe menstrual cramps and pain during intercourse can be indicative of a condition called, Endometriosis. It is a condition that affects around 10% of women and is where uterine cells that normally shed during menstruation implant in other places in the body. The cells that continue to act like uterine cells, create scar tissue at the time of menstruation which is what causes pain and often infertility.

If you experience painful menstrual cramps, it is worth monitoring your cycle to look out for other symptoms, such as premenstrual spotting, periods lasting longer than 8 days, low luteal phase temperatures near the cover line and feeling tired throughout your cycle.

If you suspect you might be suffering from endometriosis and not just bad period pains, speak to your doctor and ask whether it could be possible. Before visiting your doctor, It is worth knowing that endometriosis takes on average 7.5 years from onset of symptoms to get a diagnosis [Ref. 1] as many doctors believe it doesn’t occur in young women. Unfortunately, there is no way of preventing endometriosis but there are ways of managing symptoms and in some cases, eradicating the disease with surgery.

So there you have it Cyclers, the reproductive organs are important to track along with your general health like your heartbeat or sleep patterns! Sex-tracking technologies, like Natural Cycles, have the power to help people take more charge of their health and communicate better with their doctors so there’s no more guessing games!  

 

References:

 

 

  • Diagnosis Survey. Endometriosis UK. February 2011.

 

 

When Will I Ovulate?

Knowing your menstrual cycle is extremely important for couples trying to conceive (TTC). The important question you need to ask yourself is, “ When will I ovulate? ”. Once you know this date, you can work out when you are most fertile and should start trying to conceive or indeed wear protection, depending on your goal. However, finding your ovulation can be difficult, especially if you have irregular cycles. In this blog post we wanted to explain how Natural Cycles can be a useful tool to track fertility and stay on top of cycle variations.

Let’s start with the basics.

Ovulation day is when an egg is released from the ovary and is available to be fertilised by a sperm. As sperm can survive inside of you for up to 5 days this creates a 6 day fertile window, which is the period a woman can get pregnant. However, the likelihood of becoming pregnant is dramatically increased if you have intercourse in the three days leading up to and including ovulation. If a woman has sex on any of these three days, she has a 27-33% chance of becoming pregnant [REF: Wilcox, A.J. et al. NEJM (1995) 333:1517].

When will I ovulate?

Calendar view: If you are using Natural Cycles to plan a pregnancy, your highest fertility and the best time to get pregnant will be shown with darker red circles.

 

A good first step to get to know your cycles and find your fertile period is to know how long it is on average.  Day one is the first day of the menstrual period and the last day is the day before the next period begins. A general rule is the longer your cycle is, the later your ovulation day will be. For instance, my cycle is long with 33 days between periods with an average ovulation day of CD 21, which means my most fertile days are CD 19, 20 and 21. If you have shorter cycle, say 21 days between periods, ovulation is likely to happen on CD 7 and your highest chance of getting pregnant will be on CD 5, 6, and 7.

However, these days are never set, especially for us irregular ladies. Have you ever noticed your period coming earlier or later than usual? Or ever wondered why your pregnancy test is negative even though you have no period? Well, it’s because a woman’s follicular phase, the first half of your cycle before ovulation, is often variable – my follicular phase can vary up to 6 days! What this all means is that your ovulation day can differ from cycle to cycle, which is why it is good to keep track with an ovulation app, like Natural Cycles. With a clear rise in temperature and a positive ovulation test (optional), ovulation can be confirmed and your fertile window is mapped for your upcoming cycle, which are indicated by red days. TIP: It is important to measure as much as possible in the week leading up to ovulation to ensure that we capture any variations!

 

Another popular question women ask about their cycles is, “When will I have my period?” or “When should I take a pregnancy test?”

Let’s review the second half of the cycle: The Luteal Phase.

This is the infertile stage of your cycle and is pretty consistent (usually around 12 to 14 days). This means it is a useful menstrual cycle characteristic that can be used to determine when you are likely to get your period, which is approx. 2 weeks after ovulation. However, you should know that the length of the luteal phase can also be quite individual and can vary between 6 and 18 days, so you should never assume that your ovulation day was two weeks prior to this. Instead it is much safer to calculate ovulation with reliable fertility indicators, such as temperature and ovulation prediction kits (OPKs), like we do.

 

 

Period tracker

Once Natural Cycles has detected your ovulation day it can accurately determine when your next period is due so you can keep calm and carry on!

Period trackers, which are based on the rhythm method, assume you are regular. Their primary goal is to let you know approximately when you can expect your next period, which will be around the same time each month as they do not detect ovulation or variations from your data. However, Natural Cycles, gets to know and adapts to your cycle no matter what shape or size it is, calculating your unique ovulation day each cycle giving you an accurate idea of when your period will come (variations included) each month.

At the end of your Luteal Phase, when you get your period, your temperatures will drop down again and the app will let you know a new cycle begins!


When will I ovulate and get my period?

 

 

Pregnancy tracker – plan users

Women usually take a pregnancy test from the first day of their missed period but not many know that the earliest point a woman can take a test is after the egg has been implanted in the endometrium at around day 9. It is fairly easy to recognise when you are pregnant if you are regular and know when your period is due but as mentioned before, if you are not, your period date could vary according to the length of your follicular or luteal phase each cycle.

Natural Cycles is a great tool for women that are planning a pregnancy, as it can determine from your data whether or not you have become pregnant! At the end of your Luteal Phase, if you don’t get your period and your temperature remains high (above the cover line) – the app will recommend that you take a pregnancy test to confirm it’s true.

 

Pregnant

 

If this is the case and you are pregnant, your temperature data entry dots will turn blue on your cycles chart.

When will I ovulate?

Chart view: If your temperature stays elevated at the end of your luteal phase it means you might be pregnant and should take a pregnancy test to confirm. Blue dots indicate that you are pregnant.

 

As part of fertility awareness week, our next blog post we will talk about how fertility tracking can help you understand your reproductive health. Ask yourself, does your period come too often or maybe it doesn’t come at all? Find out answers next week or if you want to know sooner please get in touch with support@naturalcycles.com or visit ask.naturalcycles.com

Yours naturally,

The Natural Cycles team

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What does a positive LH test mean?

“I took an LH-test which showed positive, however, Natural Cycles indicated that my ovulation day was in fact later than this?”

We’ve got the answer to the question you’ve all been asking:

The hormone LH actually rises before ovulation and does not indicate the day of ovulation. So while you might have a positive LH test, it does not indicate that you have ovulated, nor that you are ovulating at this very moment.

A positive LH test is rather an indication that ovulation is about to occur.

That’s why an ovulation test can be positive a few days before ovulation up until the day of ovulation. The algorithm takes LH tests as indicators into account, yet the temperature shift indicates and verifies that ovulation has indeed occurred. Sometimes LH tests can give what is called a false-positive. This means that even if the test indicates that your body is experiencing a rise in LH, it doesn’t actually mean that ovulation is going to happen within the next day or so as you’d expect. And to note, this can be especially true and common if you have Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS). In these cases, NaturalCycles will not agree with the ovulation test because a rise in LH before ovulation has to also accompany a rise in temperature after ovulation. This is why combining both ovulation tests and temperature is such a powerful combination because together they confirm that ovulation has definitely occurred.

Your Natural Cycles team.

The fertile window

 

The woman’s body is really a remarkable thing. Cycle after cycle, the uterus does its job and releases another egg, expecting it to be fertilized. Today, since we have such great knowledge through medical research on what’s going on in the uterus, we can use it to our advantage to either prevent or plan a pregnancy. The time frame when a woman is fertile only occurs once per cycle and is called the fertile window.

The fertile window includes the 5 days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation.

Fertile Window - NaturalCyclesThe 5 days period prior to ovulation is determined from the longest time sperm can survive in the uteral environment. Note, however, that most sperm have a lifetime significantly less than 5 days – more like 2 or 3 days, but to completely exclude a possibility of pregnancy one must take the longest living sperm into account. For sperm to survive any significant time at all, the uterus must contain the fertile type of cervical mucus, which helps the sperm to live longer as well as to be able to travel up the uterus and fallopian tubes. Without the presence of fertile cervical mucus sperm typically only survive about 4 hours.

The fertile cervical mucus is triggered by a rise in estrogen prior to ovulation. The amount of fertile cervical mucus does not only vary from woman to woman, but also on the age of the woman. The older you get, the fewer days you produce cervical mucus and hence the narrower your fertile window becomes.

Once released through ovulation, the egg can maximally survive up to 36h, but typically only 12-24h. Studies have shown that the quality of the egg deteriorates very quickly; causing the probability of conception to decrease rapidly every hour once the egg has been released. For optimal chances of conception, sperm should thus already be present in the fallopian tube once the egg is released. Therefore, the most fertile day of the woman’s cycle is rather the day prior to ovulation than the day of ovulation itself.

To prevent pregnancy through detecting ovulation and predicting the fertile window, one must assume the longest living sperm and egg. This sums up to 6 days in the cycle. What’s more tricky is to accurately calculate the uncertainty of the ovulation day for a woman. That is, when do we think she will ovulate and what’s the earliest possibility of ovulation to occur. Luckily this is what NaturalCycles‘ algorithm does for you. When you start measuring your temperature, NaturalCycles will be very cautious as it does not know around what time you usually ovulate. With more and more data, NaturalCycles is able to better estimate your ovulation day, the variation of your ovulation day and the uncertainty on the estimated variation of your ovulation day. All this is required for a full-proof birth control method using natural family planning. So don’t chart by hand to prevent getting pregnant ladies – it is doomed to end up in an accident. Use the mathematical tools provided for you and you’ll save both time and hassle.