Empowering women to know their cycle

I remember on my wedding day, a friend (who was in med school) asked me what form of birth control we planned to use. I told her natural family planning and "protection". She pretty much told me I was crazy and was just "asking to get pregnant". Apparently in (conventional) med school that's what they teach, so I don't blame her.

In my work as a nutritionist, I commonly work with women who are on hormonal contraceptives for the purpose of "having a regular period". To me, that's masking the root problem. We need to ask the question, "why are your hormones imbalanced to an extent that you have irregular periods?" Not only is birth control a mask, but it depletes several nutrients that are essential for both optimal health as well as future fertility. Maintaining balanced hormones and optimizing fertility are the main reasons I've chosen to never use hormonal forms of birth control.

After thorough research, I found that the fertility awareness method (FAM) is most reliable as a method of natural birth control, if followed correctly. In short, FAM is where you track your basal body temperature (bbt) and use ovulatory signs (cervical fluid, position and sensation) as information about your cycle and decide when to be sexually active/use protection/be abstinent. I HIGHLY recommend reading "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" for more a more comprehensive understanding of the beauty of the physiology of female bodies. Personally, I feel it should be required reading for any girl who reaches menarche just for the sake of understanding how her own body works.

Having been married for 4 years now, this method has been very effective as a method of birth control, though, I wish I knew about it sooner. The benefits of it are not just for birth control or timing conception. It's beauty is that you can identify how your hormones are functioning throughout your cycle. As a data geek, I love tracking information and correlating what the numbers and my body tell me to how I feel. I often find that when I'm ovulating, I'm extremely energized: I wake up earlier, have more energy, and kick-ass in my workouts.

For the sake of demonstration, I've attached two examples of my cycle data using the Ovagraph app:

In this cycle, you'll find that my period was 6 days long. My "fertile" period was between days 9-17 demonstrated by the gray-shaded boxes. The green shading signifies the day I ovulated. It is normal for temperatures to fluctuate from day to day, but when you step back and look at the overall trend, you will notice that temperatures are higher in the second half of the cycle (the luteal phase), which is a sign that progesterone is high. The temperature tends to drop immediately before the next period begins, initiating the beginning of the next cycle.

In this cycle, you'll find that my period was 6 days long. My "fertile" period was between days 9-17 demonstrated by the gray-shaded boxes. The green shading signifies the day I ovulated. It is normal for temperatures to fluctuate from day to day, but when you step back and look at the overall trend, you will notice that temperatures are higher in the second half of the cycle (the luteal phase), which is a sign that progesterone is high. The temperature tends to drop immediately before the next period begins, initiating the beginning of the next cycle.

In this cycle, you'll find that my period was 6 days long. My "fertile" period was between days 9-16 demonstrated by the gray-shaded boxes. The green shading signifies the day I ovulated. You'll notice that the day of ovulation is the final day of wet cervical fluid. The following day is always dry.

In this cycle, you'll find that my period was 6 days long. My "fertile" period was between days 9-16 demonstrated by the gray-shaded boxes. The green shading signifies the day I ovulated. You'll notice that the day of ovulation is the final day of wet cervical fluid. The following day is always dry.

 A question I ask every woman in our nutrition visits is, "Are you menstruating regularly? How long is your cycle?". The answer I usually get in return is "4-5 days". The misunderstanding is that these women think by "cycle" I mean "period". I spend a brief amount of time explaining how women's bodies work and what the difference is between a period and a cycle. For the sake of clarity, a "period" begins on day 1 of the menstrual cycle and lasts usually about 5 days long. A "cycle" can last anywhere from 24-36 days and that is dependent on when the woman ovulates (which depends on her hormones!). The next cycle should begin 12-16 days after ovulation.

Many of the women who I work with have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This is a condition where women exhibit excess testosterone and insulin resistance, manifesting in hirsutism (excess hair growth), excess body fat, irregular or absent menstrual cycles, ovarian cysts and/or infertility. It brings me so much joy when a woman who I'm working with has a return of her menstrual cycle. This is a sign that the body is working as it should! A return of a period is often a sign that fertility is improving. The miracle of creating a human should be a gift to every woman and her partner. Nature knows that when the body is healthy enough to pass on its DNA, it will do its best to do so.

I encourage every girl and woman to learn more about how her body works. Biofeedback is an amazing way we can listen to what signals our body is giving us! Knowing your body in relation to your cycle can tell you information of nutrient deficiencies, what is "normal" and not normal, and the power to be in charge of your fertility outcomes.

If you have any concerns whether it's PCOS, irregular cycles, imbalanced hormones, heavy periods and so on, please work with myself and a qualified naturopathic doctor to get you on track to optimal health. There's A LOT we can do to help!