Charting is one of the basic concepts of Fertility Awarenes Method (if you know nothing about FAM, check out this article or for a more detailed synopsis, go here) or Sympto-Thermal Methods of birth control or pregnancy achievement. This is because FAM is based on pure science, and in science, you have to make observations. Charting is how you are able to write down your observations and be a scientist for your own body. Your FAM charts will help you determine things about your health and your fertility in both the short term and the long term. I’d like to introduce you to the different ways you are able to chart, as well as the symptoms you will be charting. The best way to learn how to interpret charts is to read resources like Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility, but I’ll also outline a few basics of what you can expect when charting.
But first, let’s start with a quick success story about charting. This woman, a statistician, trusted her body and observations during her pregnancy more than her doctor’s guesstimates, and she ended up predicting her baby’s due date better than the physician!
Ways to Chart
It doesn’t matter what you use to chart, just that you do. There are actually a ton of different resources for the actual charting part of charting!
- Apps: There are free versions and paid versions of charting apps, and some are obviously going to be better than others. You can go read reviews on functionality and ease of use, or some may have free trials before using a paid version. Most have some sort of algorithm that will assist you in pinpointing when your safe days are, but the best way to chart is by making those decisions manually and reaching out to people who know FAM if you’re confused.
- Kindara (has a knowledge base and great community if you want help!)
- Fertility Friend
- Paper Charting
- Bullet Journal Charting (I just started doing this and love it so far!)
- Google “FAM Charts” and check the images
- Make your own!
Obviously there are a ton of options to make charting more convenient for you, and you should take them! There’s no excuse not to chart, especially because it’s extremely inexpensive.
There are so many reasons you should learn to confirm ovulation, but one is just so that you know your body is functioning as it should. A cycle without ovulation is called “anovulatory” and, while okay on occasion, can point toward much bigger problems in your health if you constantly have anovulatory cycles.
Depending on the method you choose to follow, you’ll chart different symptoms. I use the sympto-thermal rules found in Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility (TCOYF). According to these rules, you are considered infertile again at 6:00 pm on the first day that you meet the following conditions.
Many charting methods use temperature. Temperature is super easy to chart: you just take your temperature early in the morning before you start moving around, within about the same hour every morning. Many BBT thermometers save at least one temp which means you don’t even have to record it when you’re still half asleep (click here for a review on the iSnow, which records 60 temps). Then, once you get the chance, you just record your temperature. If you paper chart, you draw your little dot. If you use an app to chart, you just input your data.
As far as accuracy goes, temps in Fahrenheit (F) and Celsius (C) are considered accurate at different increments.
- Fahrenheit: Temperatures should be charted to one tenth (1/10 or .1 F) of a degree. If your thermometer reads more than that, just ignore the last number – don’t worry about rounding!
- Celsius: Temperatures should be charted to five hundredths (5/100 or .05 C) of a degree.
Charting at these increments helps you see the day that you finally have a temp jump! Or, if you’re a lucky woman, you’ll get a warning of Aunt Flo by a temp drop just before she comes.
Cervical fluid is that stuff you notice on your underwear throughout your period. No, you’re not abnormal and yes, it actually means something, and it’s good! Cervical fluid is what allows sperm to live for a short time, so having some typically means that your body is starting to prep for ovulation.
Many of the official methods distinguish four separate types (five if you consider “dry” its own type). The most important part is to distinguish whether you have any cervical fluid, and if it is peak or not. All cervical fluid should be considered somewhat fertile, although “peak” type fluid is the most fertile and allows sperm to survive the longest. So I’ve included a list of the different types and whether they’re peak of not, starting with the most infertile:
- Dry: Absence of cervical fluid.
- Sticky: Non-Peak. Sticky cervical fluid may stretch a bit, but it will snap back and is tacky.
- Creamy: Non-Peak. Creamy cervical fluid feels smooth, and it isn’t particularly stretchy.
- Egg white: Peak. This literally acts and feels like egg white. It’s very stretchy, and typically clear (it can be dark if you’re spotting near ovulation).
- Watery: Peak. You may not be able to “collect” any watery cervical fluid because it’s, well, watery. But you will often notice a wet feeling, and it will create a circular wet spot in your underwear.
All you have to do in order to chart is identify what the most fertile type of fluid you recognized during the day was and put it in your chart.
Cervical position is an optional sign to chart. Basically, your cervix changes position naturally throughout your cycle. When you’re most fertile, it will be high, open, and soft; when you’re not fertile, your cervix will be low, closed, and firm.
Charts are so awesome because you can chart a lot of other random things in your chart that have to do with your health, and may even be connected to your reproductive health! Some ideas include
- Intercourse (and protection used)
- Other PMS symptoms
The possibilities are endless! You can chart your whole life away if you’re not careful.
I personally use TCOYF rules to avoid pregnancy, which uses both temperature and cervical fluid to confirm ovulation. After ovulation has been confirmed, you can safely have unprotected intercourse. Here are the basic rules for confirming ovulation with TCOYF rules:
- Temp shift + 3 days
- Rules for temp shift say that all temperatures must be above the coverline, which is drawn 1/10th above the highest of the last 6 temperatures.
- In addition, the third temperature after the shift must be at least 3/10ths above the coverline. If it’s not, you should wait at least one more day.
- Peak Day + 3 days
- “Peak Day” is identified as the last day when you had fertile cervical fluid, meaning egg white or watery.
Note that this is not enough of a summary for you to be able to start charting. You will need to get the rules yourself, and I strongly suggest reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility or learning another method so that you have a full understanding of the science behind it.
A popular method when using Celsius temperatures is called Sensiplan. As far as the rules go, they line up pretty well with the rules found in TCOYF, although most people agree that TCOYF is more conservative. When I wrote this post, Sensiplan still hadn’t released the official manual in English, so I don’t feel comfortable writing out all the rules. You can definitely find them, though!
Justisse has a bigger focus on cervical fluid than TCOYF and Sensiplan. It does also incorporate temperatures and cervical position, but you learn to use different types of stamps to mark how fertile each day is for you. The classifications and descriptions of cervical fluid are much more detailed and many women find them easier to follow than other methods with just a few basic words to describe cervical fluid.
TCOYF, Sensiplan, and Justisse are just three methods of many sympto-thermal fertility awareness methods. Let me know in the comments if you practice a different method and love it!
Resources & Supplies
In order to chart your symptoms, you only need a couple of things:
- Rules: You can likely find these online, but the most accurate place to find them will always be from the source. I strongly suggest Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, even if you choose to follow rules outlined in another method. It’s a great resource for a lot of health-related questions.
- Basal Body Thermometer: There are a ton of types of thermometers, from expensive ones with algorithms in them (my absolute favorite because I can sleep in) to basic thermometers that just measure your temperature and might not even store it for you. The easiest investment would be a $10 BBT, easily found at the pharmacy section of a store or online at Amazon.
- Somewhere to chart: Whether it’s a phone app, online, or on paper, you will need somewhere to write down all of you observations. A few apps are free (although they tend to have fewer customizable options), or you can pay to print out a sheet of paper so it can be practically free or very expensive, depending on your needs and budget. Even if you use an app/online, I would suggest printing the chart out when it’s complete to keep it for your own records. That makes it easy to take to your doctor.
What are you waiting for? Get charting! It’s worth it, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. But also feel free to ask any questions!