If you’ve been trying to conceive (TTC) you are probably already familiar with your period, charting and the changes during your cycle.
Female Reproductive System
Let’s take a step back and refresh ourselves with the female reproductive system.
The uterus is a hollow muscular organ that builds up and releases blood during each cycle and is where a developing fetus lives.
These are 4-5 inches long and are narrow tubes in which fertilization occur. There is a tube on each side of the uterus.
Two almond size sex glands that contain up to a million immature eggs at birth. Each ovary is surrounded by cells called follicles.
Granule sized eggs that are stored in the ovaries and one is usually released with each cycle.
Small sacks filled with fluid found in the ovaries. Each follicle contains one immature egg. These immature eggs develop and grow until they are optimum size and then released. Usually one follicle will ovulate one egg.
Once a follicle releases an egg during ovulation it will then collapses on itself and becomes a corpus luteum, a yellow hormone-secreting body in the female reproductive system.
This is the lining of the uterus that builds up for a potential pregnancy and is shed during menstruation.
The lower opening of the uterus. Cervical fluid helps sperm thrive.
Is a long muscular passage between the vulva and the cervix.
We now have our anatomy done, let’s talk about the menstrual cycle.
The Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle is made up of two separate cycles. The ovarian cycle which involves the ovaries and the uterine cycle which involves the uterus.
- The ovarian cycle is made up of three phases: the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.
- The uterine cycle is also made up of three phases: menstruation, the proliferative phase and the secretory phase.
There are five hormones that play a role during menstruation. An easy acronym to remember them is FELOP.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
FSH is released by the anterior pituitary gland and stimulates the growth of follicles in the ovaries. Each follicle contains an egg.
Each follicle products estrogen which is necessary for ovulation. Estrogen grows the uterine lining and also helps change the consistency of cervical mucus. Estrogen also causes the uterine lining to thicken.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
LH is released by the anterior pituitary gland. The rise in estrogen triggers ovulation by releasing a final surge of LH and FSH. High levels of LH prevent growth of the non-dominant follicles and causes an egg to be released.
This will begin when one ovary releases from an egg from the most dominant follicle. The follicles that do not release a mature egg will disintegrate. The mature egg is then swept up into the fallopian tubes.
Once the egg has been released from the ovary, the follicle that held the egg collapses on itself, becoming a corpus luteum. The corpus luteum remains on the interior of the ovarian wall and releases progesterone. The progesterone thickens the endometrium until the corpus luteum disintegrates roughly 12-16 days later.
This is day one of your period to when you ovulate. The length of this phase can vary and external factors including stress can play a role in the hormones that are released during this phase.
The release of FSH and LH from the anterior pituitary signal ovarian follicles to develop. The follicles release estrogen and the estrogen production in one of the developing follicles will surpass the others, causing it to be dominate and selected for ovulation. When the estrogen reaches a certain level there is a surge of LH which signals ovulation and the mature egg bursts from the dominant follicle.
This is the second part of cycle from ovulation to menstruation. It can last 12-16 days. Fertilization happens at this stage when the egg and sperm meet in the fallopian tubes. Vibrating cilia will pull the fertilized egg towards the uterus until it reaches the uterine lining and beings to burrow.
When this happens, the body releases human chronic gonadotropin (hCG) to signal the corpus luteum to stay alive longer and progesterone continues to sustain the endometrium. After 8-12 weeks, the placenta takes over.
If pregnancy has not taken place, the egg will disintegrate within 12-24 hours. When hCG is not detected, progesterone and estrogen levels begin to drop and the uterine lining is shed, resulting in menstruation
Monitoring your Cycle
Now that we have a better understanding of the menstrual cycle, let’s talk about how to chart and monitor your cycle.
For charting you will need
- a chart
- a pen
- a BBT (basal body temperature) thermometer.
Your first day of your period is noted as cycle day 1.
Each morning you will want to take your temperature and track it in your app or chart.
At the end of the day track
- Any changes in your body including menstruation, cervical mucus and cervical position.
- If your experiencing cramping or irritability
- Any stress that may be going on such as work, relationships, health etc.
- If you’ve had sexual intercourse
Changes in your cervix and cervical mucus will notify you that you are getting closer to ovulation. After ovulation, you will notice a jump in your temperature of around 0.2 degree. This is a sign that ovulation has occurred. Once ovulation has occurred, your temperature will go back to its baseline.
After you have charted a few cycles, you’ll begin to notice trends and averages for how long each phase of your cycle is. You’ll also see that when your temperature is higher, those are the days that you are fertile.
Charting is a great way to learn more about your cycle and to help determine which days you are most fertile. Charting is also a great first step for fertility monitoring and is less costly that using hormone ovulation kits / ovulation predictor kits (OPKs).
Fertility Yoga and Support
At Padma Yogi, we are here to support your fertility journey. Join us for our weekly fertility yoga classes or inquire about how a fertility doula can help support you and/or your partner during this time.