One of the first things I discuss with all of my female fertility patients is Basal Body Temperature (BBT) charting. Though many women who are trying to conceive have heard of if, most women aren’t exactly sure how to do it, or feel intimidated by it, or maybe just find the daily charting to be tedious – which it certainly can be. The benefits of charting, however, make it well worth the effort, in my opinion.
How does BBT Charting work?
During each month, there are two hormones that predominate the cycle, estrogen and progesterone. During the first half of your cycle (called the follicular phase) estrogen is more dominant. Estrogen helps your ovaries produce an egg that is released during ovulation.
During the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase), after ovulation, progesterone becomes dominant. Progesterone will remain higher until it falls in anticipation of your menstrual period. If you become pregnant, estrogen will remain high (this is one early way to track pregnancy, even before HCG tests will show anything).
Estrogen tends to be a “cool” hormone, which is in part why women sometimes experience hot flashes during menopause, when estrogen wanes.
Progesterone is a “warm” hormone. When it is dominant, body temperature raises. Prior to ovulation, when estrogen is dominant, your body temperature is slightly cooler than after ovulation, when progesterone is in charge. This is why tracking these subtle changes can give us so much insight about your fertility.
BBT charting is one of my favorite methods for evaluating a woman’s cycle because it is inexpensive and has the potential to provide a lot of really useful information.
Basal Body Charting Can:
- Help determin if/when you are ovulating
- Illuminate where there may imbalances in the luteal or follicular phases of your cycle
- Help depict your monthly pattern (s)
- Help us figure out if you tend to run warm or cool, or if you are very stressed out, are dealing with poor estrogen metabolism and more. All of which directly affect treatment plan and course of action!
Tips for Creating an Accurate BBT Chart
BBT charting requires just a few basic tools, consistency and a little bit of patience:
- Buy a basal body temperature thermometer, rather than a standard one. This is important because BBT thermometers measure to a tenth of a degree, giving a more precise reading. This is important because the changes in body temperature throughout the month are subtle, so we need very accurate measurements. Also, I’d suggest a digital thermometer, because it gives a quick reading and is easy to read in the wee hours of the morning.
- Download a Fertility Tracking App. My favorites are Fertility Friend or Kindara. Alternatively, you can print out a BBT chart and manually write your temperatures down.
- Develop a routine. Accurate BBT charting requires that the temperature be taken around the same time each morning. If you don’t naturally wake up at the same time each morning, it is a good idea to set an alarm to remind you (don’t worry, it will only take a moment, and you can fall back to sleep if you’d like!). You’ll want to take your temperature before you get up or move around. Most women will keep the thermometer by the bed. Once your temperature has been taken, document it, either in your fertility app or on paper. If you plan to fall back to sleep and don’t want to deal with your electronic device, keep a notepad by the bed to scribble your temp down on, and then plug it into the app or paper chart later.
- Make sure you’ve had at least 3 hours of sleep before taking your temperature. Traveling or working night shifts may make BBT charting more difficult. Be sure to chart when you’ve had a poor nights sleep, as this can throw temperatures off.
- Limit alcohol, or at least make notes of when you’ve had it. Alcohol can superficially spike temperature.
- Try to de-stress. High stress levels can make for a wacky BBT chart (and less than optimal conditions for fertility and pregnancy). If you know you’re ready to start trying for pregnancy, do your best to manage stress and stay in a mellow, happy place as much as possible.
Diving into the world of fertility and pregnancy can be exciting, challenging and potentially a little nerve wracking. Be sure to build your support network, and do your best to be gentle and patient with yourself. You’ve got this.
In good health,
Merritt Jones, LAc, MS, CNC