Learn how to track your menstrual cycle (+/- an App)
Pelvic Pain and the Menstrual Cycle
When most women think about charting their menstrual cycle the first thing that comes to mind is fertility or contraception, but charting can also be an important way to connect a woman to her body. When a woman begins to develop a relationship to her unique menstrual cycle she is provided with important information that reflects her physical and emotional health. For women experiencing chronic pelvic pain or women’s health issues such as endometriosis or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, connecting to the cycle can provide insight into how to treat and manage symptoms.
The Menstrual Cycle
Every woman’s cycle is unique – normally lasting anywhere from 21-45 days – and may shift throughout different stages of her life. The important thing is what is usual for you. During the initial stages of the cycle beginning with menstruation, an egg grows and develops. During this phase of the cycle which is called the follicular stage, the hormone estrogen dominates. For many women this is a time of new ideas and outward expression, especially leading up to ovulation. Ovulation occurs at mid-cycle, on average around day 14-16 and is accompanied by a rise in progesterone which elevates basal body temperature (BBT). If the egg is not fertilized at ovulation, a woman moves into the second half of the cycle which is called the luteal phase. In the days leading up to menstruation the uterus gradually becomes heavier as the endometrial lining thickens, becoming heaviest. For many women this can be a time of inward reflection, of slowing down. This is also the time when most women experience premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, headaches, backaches and emotional sensitivity. Listening to what the body is expressing during this time is especially important.
What is charting?
The most basic form of charting involves marking the start and the end date of each menstrual cycle on a calendar. This information determines the length of the cycle and its consistency over time. If a cycle fluctuates greatly in length or changes suddenly from an established pattern this can point to changes in stress, restrictions in blood flow, positioning of the uterus or pelvic imbalances. More in depth charting that involves observing changes in cervical fluid, cervical positioning and basal body temperature allows a woman to predict when she will ovulate with greater accuracy.
Another important aspect of charting is taking note of any physical or emotional changes. Common physical symptoms include breast tenderness, lower back or abdominal pain, cramping, appetite changes, bloating and headaches. Other changes that a woman may experience throughout her cycle include: changes in sex drive, emotional sensitivity, receptivity to others and energy levels.
How should I begin charting?
As mentioned above, the most basic way of charting is simply marking on a calendar on which day you began each period. This can be fine for basic charting but can be less effective when keeping track of more complex changes like diet, symptoms and cervical positioning. There are many apps available now to help women (and their partners) chart their cycle. These apps make it easy to keep track of one’s cycle and compile information that allows for greater connections between lifestyle and symptoms over time.
Which Apps do I recommend?
There are many free apps available for charting, here are a list of my top 3 suggestions:
Glow: Great for keeping track and predicting ovulation. Keeps track of BBT, cervical positioning and mucus changes throughout the cycle as well as mood, sex and symptoms. Allows you to share information with a partner and is easy to use if cycle length varies or period is irregular. The language around emotional symptoms still feels limiting and the app will only share specific information between partners.
Clue: Layout feels very neutral, no pink flowers here! Tracking of symptoms is very basic but can be a good starting point for someone who wants a less involved option or for someone new to charting.
MY Days X: Keeps track of BBT, cervical positioning, and symptoms. Very organized, allows you to create your own calendar themes and there is a section for taking notes. Multi user section available.
Keeping track of your menstrual cycle serves as a powerful tool for connecting with the body. Especially during transitions, your cycle can help you gauge how your body is managing stress. For more in depth information about menstrual cycles and charting check out the reading list below.
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, MD
The Woman Code by Alisa Vitti
Written by Anna Skura, Registered Massage Therapist