Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Fertility Charting Is the Way of the Future!

August 29th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

The Quantified Self is the idea that by tracking things about your body you can live a happier and healthier life. Hardware devices like the Fitbit and Withings scale measure your daily activity and weight respectively so people can set and reach activity and weight goals. Apps like Lose It are tapping into this idea using a software-only approach: Lose it helps you lose weight, not by putting you on a diet, just by having you keep track of everything you eat. Every day you enter all the foods you eat into the app, and it tells you how many calories you consumed. You can also put in how much, and what type of exercise you did each day, and Lose It tells you how many calories you burned.  The result is you can see the amount of calories you burned, relative to the amount of calories you took in.

I have several friends who swear by this app. Lose it isn’t telling you anything you don’t know (eat less, and exercise more if you want to lose weight), but what it is doing is making it very easy for you to see how your actions are affecting your weight in a specific way on a daily and even moment by moment basis. In addition to achieving goals, quantifying the self leads to a sense of confidence and control where before there was confusion. And in doing so it makes us feel better.  This is the crux of the quantified self movement. Recording and analyzing everyday data can help us win at the game of life!

As my friend Lauren Bacon has pointed out, fertility charting fits right in to the Quantified Self movement. Women who chart their fertility record their waking body temperature, cervical fluid viscosity, and other data each day, and over the course of each menstrual cycle get a detailed picture of their reproductive health, and sometimes more!

Kindara Screen Shot © Kindara 2012

Cervical fluid viscosity is a proxy for estrogen level. Basal body temperature is a proxy for progesterone.  And as any high school student can tell you, hormones are powerful influencers of how we feel, think and act, and why our bodies do the things they do.  Just imagine if your menstrual cycle, and all the fluids, feelings and fluctuations that went along with it were no longer a mystery.  Imagine knowing just what was going on, and why.

By recording your daily fertility signs a whole world of possibility opens up for you! While it’s true that fertility charting can be, and often is used to achieve or prevent pregnancy, the benefits of it don’t stop there. Fertility charting can answer important questions about our ovulation, luteal phase, cycle health, thyroid function and more.  I have friends who have finally figured out the root of several food allergies, from charting their fertility.  I myself have learned that a diet high in animal fat keeps my cycles regular. One reason I’m so excited about what we’re doing at Kindara is that as more and more women start quantifying their fertility, we’ll start to generate new knowledge about fertility for the benefit of humankind, creating a virtuous feedback loop that will help each woman feel calm and confident with her fertility in her specific situation.

I envision a future where more and more women are taking an active role in their own health care with fertility charting.  How about you? If you’re currently charting your cycle, tell us in the comments what you’ve learned so far, and how it’s changed your life!

17 responses to “Fertility Charting Is the Way of the Future!”

  1. Tanya says:

    I have an iphone, and I use the P-Tracker app to track my cycles. I love this app, you can add all sorts of info like temperature, symptoms, mood. I highly recommend!

  2. chrissy says:

    sounds corny but i love charting!!! the amount of info i’ve learned about myself over the years is astounding. i am confident and aware of what my body does and i can change my behavior to improve my life and health. my charting has grown from simple temperature reads and mucous notes to now include nutritional guidelines, exercise, stretch, meditation, sunshine rates to keep up my vitamin d, and hygiene and preventive checkup reminders. the data i’ve collected over the years would make any researcher proud.

    my charting is done the old fashion way – on paper. i’d be happy to share my excel spreadsheet with anyone who asks

  3. Laura Wershler says:

    Katie, It’s great to see a new generation connect with fertility and menstrual cycle charting. I wrote this same article, espousing the value of charting, almost thirty years ago. I thought then, what you think now. I thought your envisioned future would be today’s reality. In some ways it is. Millions of women worldwide have been charting for decades.I did it for 27 years.The knowledge gleaned from charting has informed our lives for decades. What might we be able to learn if we were able to compile these millions of charts into collective knowledge?

    As young women experience the wisdom and empowerment that menstrual cycle charting brings to their lives, I hope they will do so with an appreciation for the pioneers who came before. I hope you’ll discover the names and stories of all the women who toiled away in their communities for decades, teaching women this life skill while mainstream medicine and sexual health educators dismissed fertility awareness as worthless, ineffective and irrelevant.

    As technology meets pen and paper charting, remember what came before: the researchers, developers and teachers of every method of menstrual cycle charting. This work has been done in both religious (Natural Family Planning, Billings Ovulation Method, Creighton Method)and secular (Fertility Awareness Method, Justisse Method, Sympto-Thermal Method)contexts. The dedication of committed teachers and practitioners has brought us to this point where technology (Apps for charting, Skype for consultations, Internet for webinars, blogs for sharing experience)may bring about the tipping point we all anticipate.

  4. Lisa Leger says:

    Thanks Laura for shouting out to the pioneers. After about 20 years teaching the Justisse Method, I realized that the younger Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner students were looking to me and my white hair for some wisdom and affirmation of their chosen paths. Its 5 years later, and that committment to our work is still just as strong. Sometimes I’m frustrated with the slow speed of change, but I console myself that at least we’re moving in the right direction.

  5. Hi Laura,

    I love what you said about what would be possible if all this fertility data was in one place, what new things we could learn from it. That’s one thing we are excited about with Kindara. Once we have a lot of (aggregated, anonymized) data I’m sure there will be new things discovered.

    And like you said, this new future of reproductive health would not be possible without all the hard work put forward by the women and men who came before. Thank YOU so much for your dedication to women’s health, and to fertility awareness. I really do think that with today’s technological advancements, that fertility charting will start to become much more popular in the years to come.

    Thanks again for everything you’ve contributed!

  6. Hi Lisa,

    Thank YOU too for all your hard work and dedication to this method, and to helping a new generation of women learn it.

    Fertility charting has changed my life. I’m happy to spread the word about it, and make it easier with software. But it wouldn’t be possible without people like you paving the way before me!

  7. Hi Chrissy,

    Wow! That’s so awesome. I love all the detail you are charting. Do you find that sunshine and vitamin D levels affect your cycle? I was doing some experimenting with this also, curious what you found.

  8. Hi Tanya,

    That’s awesome! I love to hear this. I’ve heard good things about P-Tracker.

    I’d be curious about what you think of Kindara. We tried to develop it to be very simple and easy to use. If you check it out let me know what you think. (It’s free in the App Store)

  9. chrissy says:

    it’s only a theory, but i think my luteal phase is longer in the summer months due to more sunshine. i also tend to have fewer migraines in the summer months. could be related.

  10. Wow, that is so cool. You’ve inspired me to keep track of my vit D intake again. Thanks!

  11. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    I’m so glad to see cycle charting/fertility charting penetrate the world of Quantified Self. I gave a talk about menstrual apps and the Quantified Self at a conference about a year ago, and one of the things that baffled me about the QS movement, or more precisely, the public discussion of it, was that in all the media attention QS was receiving in 2010 and 2011 (and believe me, I combed through reams of them), there was almost no mention of menstruation! Of all the personal data people have been collecting and charting and tracking, menstruation is arguably the most common, and certainly was the first. Some scholars believe that menstruation gave rise to the first calendars and to the development of mathematics, based on markings that correspond with lunar calendars found on bones and antlers from the Paleolithic era.

    Kati (and others), you may want to check the comments and likes this post is receiving on re:Cycling’s Facebook page as well.

  12. Hi Elizabeth,

    I’d love to connect with you to chat about fertility charting and QS. I remember we were going to connect last year, but our schedules didn’t line up. I’ll send you and email and get this rolling again.

    Thanks for the heads up about Facebook, I’ll go check that out now. :)

  13. Indeed social networking and media coverage of various sorts informs us that many more women are charting their menstrual cycles, though many moer than what and when we do not for certain for no one was asking women five, ten, fifteen, thirty years ago or more what they were doing. When I first started teaching women to chart more than thirty-five years ago, a lot of women charted they were just very quiet about it. There has been no long term study to determine any of the above. All we can say for certain is that women are louder about charting now, which is a good thing I suppose as if offers the new menarcher’s (if that is a word) some helpful modelling. What disturbes me is that most charting systems (electronic or otherwise) still rely on information that is still essentially the calendar rhythm method, which is not a win for women. I still want women to learn how to observer, chart, and interpret their menstrual cycles based on the most up to date knowledge and research not on antiquate models that interpret their body information for them. What what might seem trendy and progressive in the electronic charting scene, I experience as regressive and destructive of what I have been trying to build for the past three decades. That is why we are developing the Justisse charting application which will teach women how to understand their cycles and interpret their cycles themselves and will not give them mathmatical calculations and probabilities to call their reality. I do think we need to be critical of technology, and use our wise women wisdom to resist being seduced by the latest thing and really think things through first.

  14. Lisa Leger says:

    well said Geraldine – we’ve seen clients over the years become confused by their microscopes (“do I look for ferning with my glasses on or off?”) and BBTs that go “bing”, etc. In these cases I always bring them back to the fundamentals – that wipe with the tissue, the finger testing, that pen to paper. I say, “If you can see mucus on your fingers, who cares what it looks like magnified – you already know its a fertile day.”
    More importantly, I invite women to trust their own judgements about their observations before permiting any gadgets to take charge (altho I see how technology can enhance learning, of course). Body knowledge [literacy] is ultimately a simple discipline of awarenenss. (the zen of wiping).

  15. Hi Geraldine,

    I couldn’t agree more. Kindara offers no automatic interpretation, or application of any calendar/rhythm rules. We feel the same way you do, that giving women the information they need to learn about their own bodies, and how to interpret their own charts is much more valuable than plugging in some data and getting a red light or green light. We designed Kindara to be very simple and easy to use while still displaying all the relevant information.

    We are still very interested in working with you on the app, if you think that’s appropriate.

  16. Hi Lisa,

    Great to hear from you too! I love the discussion we’ve got going on here. :)

    I totally agree about the apps and gadgets comment. I want women to tune into their own bodies, instead of looking to something outside of themselves for the answers to their fertility.

  17. Tanya says:

    I don’t understand the resistance to use apps. I suppose I could use a pen and paper to record my symptoms, cycle days and period length, but that’s not different than putting that info into an app on my phone. It really isn’t. All the app does is record information. There is no analysis or feedback.

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