- Fertility & Reproductive Systems
Why You Should Learn Fertility Awareness BEFORE You Want Children
What is Fertility Awareness?
FAM is a method where a woman charts her daily symptoms of body temperature, cervical fluid, and more. These charts reveal the health of her reproductive system and can be used to aid pregnancy achievment or as a birth control method. Learn more about FAM and how it can help you understand your reproductive health in Fertility Awareness 101: Understanding your body while preventing or achieving pregnancy.
We've all heard the story of the loving couple who decides that they are ready to have children, only to try for months--or years!--without conception. Some women also struggle with multiple miscarriages. This is usually a very stressful and saddening period, with confusion and endless questions haunting the couple. Why isn't it working? What's wrong? What can I do?
The good news is that many of these questions can be answered at no expense and with a little more education! A couple's fertility is equally affected by the male and the female, so men should not ignore their role in procreation. For women, the method of Fertility Awareness offers them the self-knowledge needed to understand their own, personal fertility.
In some cases, this knowledge is enough to achieve pregnancy by correctly timing intercourse with the woman's most fertile days. In other cases, it can identify the specific problem the woman is encountering, immensely aiding her and her doctor in correcting the problem.
Instead of saying to a doctor, "I haven't been able to get pregnant this year", imagine saying, "My charts show that I am not ovulating," or "My charts show that my progesterone is weak. What can we do to strengthen it?" Doctors aren't magicians! Having this information on your own fertility will greatly reduce the time spent trying to identify the problem and treat it.
There is one catch, however. Charting your cycles and identifying trends in your fertility can take months. This is especially true for women whose cycles are very long, and for those who discover they are anovulatory (not ovulating). Cycles can vary from one to another, and so it usually requires several charts before being able to positively identify any trends.
Unfortunately many women don't try charting until after they've had trouble conceiving. This will then add several months to their wait, plus any time needed to correct the problem. This waiting time shouldn't be taken lightly, as some of these problems take months or years to correct naturally, and even fertility treatments are not immediately successful. This is why women should consider charting their cycles BEFORE they even want children!
If you believe you may want children one day, or even if you are not sure, it can save you years of waiting and thousands of dollars in experimental treatments if you assess your fertility long before actually wanting children. Some women may find that their cycles are healthy and pregnancy will be possible whenever they choose. Others will find that their cycles are weakened or anovulatory, and they will have the time to improve their health and strengthen their cycles without the stress of wanting a child ASAP.
Possible Problems to Identify Before Trying to Conceive:
- Are you ovulating at all?
- Are you ovulating regularly?
Not all women realize that having a "period" does not guarantee that ovulation is occurring! Some women are anovulatory but still experience regular or irregular bleeding, and they mistake this for a period. Others have gone months without having a period. Although a woman with long cycles may still ovulate at the end of those cycles, long and irregular cycles certainly raise a red flag for fertility. Charting your cycles will clearly show you whether you are ovulating regularly, irregularly, or not at all. Obviously, ovulation is necessary to become pregnant, so identifying this problem early can give you time to strengthen your reproductive health to resume ovulating or to ovulate more frequently.
- Are you getting off hormonal birth control, like "the pill", Nuva ring, IUD, or others?
This is a similar problem as above. Not all women begin ovulating immediately after stopping hormonal birth control routines. Some do, while for others it can take several months, or even longer. Charting will identify whether and when ovulating resumes after birth control.
- Are your hormone levels healthy? Are they low?
Even if you ARE ovulating, your hormones might be too low to sustain a pregnancy. While the lack of ovulating makes it impossible to become pregnant, low hormones can make it difficult to stay pregnant, increasing the risks for miscarriage. Low progesterone levels can be identified in your charts by luteal phases that are either too short, or whose temperatures do not remain above the cover-line. Progesterone is essential for maintaining pregnancy. Very long follicular phases may be an indication of this as well, or of estrogen imbalance.
- Do you have low thyroid function? (Hypothyroidism)
This is a concern because pregnancy usually worsens this condition, especially after birth. Who needs to be dealing with extra fatigue, brain fog, and cold body temperatures when they have a new baby to take care of? Strengthening your thyroid (or getting on the right medication, if needed) before pregnancy might avoid this fallout. Also, miscarriage rates are higher for those whose basal temperatures dip into the 96s. It is thought that body temps this low are too cold for the embryo to grow. Thyroid function is generally identified on your charts by low, healthy, or high temperatures. Frequent low temperatures (usually defined as under 97.5) is a very strong indication of hypothyroidism.
- Do you know when to time intercourse in order to conceive?
Women are not fertile for the entirety of their cycle. Even ovulating women may miss becoming pregnant if their timing is wrong. It is a myth that every woman ovulates on day 14 of a 28 day cycle. You won't know the details of your own cycle unless you chart them. Charting will identify when you are fertile and infertile, when ovulating is imminent (the best time to try to conceive), or if ovulation has passed and intercourse will no longer lead to pregnancy (each egg only lives for 24 hours). Those with very long cycles can especially benefit from this knowledge, as a large portion of their cycle will not lead to pregnancy.
- Are you underweight?
- Are you overweight?
Women's bodies require a certain amount of body fat for healthy reproductive cycles. This is because the reproductive hormones are stored in body fat, and the level of body fat will dictate how much hormones are available to the body for reproduction. If a woman is underweight (even if it's from being athletic), her hormone levels might be very weak and insufficient to maintain her reproductive cycles. Underweight women are known to often stop menstruating and become anovulatory. Properly gaining a few pounds (not with junk food!) can turn this around and resume ovulation.
Women who are overweight may experience excessive hormone levels. This can result in excessive uterine lining, poly-cystic ovaries, or anovulation. Androgens are also hormones stored in body fat, and they are responsible for "male" qualities. Overweight women may produce excessive androgens and experience symptoms such as too much body/facial hair, acne, and compromised fertility. Losing weight should help balance the natural, female hormones again.
Avoid Expensive Fertility Treatments and Procedures
When couples have trouble becoming pregnant within 6-12 months of trying, they often turn to doctors for fertility help. These treatments are often extremely expensive, stressful, and still not guaranteed to work! They also come with a host of side effects, like hormonal overload and pain from any surgical procedures. Becoming pregnant is not supposed to be this difficult!
Increasing your knowledge of your own fertility and cycles can GREATLY reduce your chances of needing a doctor in the first place. Many who turn to doctors do so because they have little or no knowledge about their fertility. They have no idea why they are not getting pregnant, and often, the doctors don't either! There is a big difference in difficulty becoming pregnant, and difficulty staying pregnant (miscarriage), and these two issues demand different treatments. How are you and your doctor going to know which is the problem if you don't look at your own reproductive cycles? Your doctor may even ask you to begin charting for precisely this reason. You will save yourself months of waiting if you had already been charting for several months before turning to a doctor.
Most reports show that in cases of infertility, the cause was the woman's fertility 40% of the time, the man's fertility 40% of the time, and either both or different reasons 20% of the time. Men can easily have their semen analyzed for sperm count and quality by the proper doctor or lab.
What To Do About Fertility Concerns
Learning Fertility Awareness will help you to assess your fertility and any possible problems you may need to address before attempting to conceive. So, you've charted, you see a problem, now what do you do?
Books on Fertility Awareness, such as Taking Charge of Your Fertility and The Garden of Fertility, will have advice on how to address specific problems. A fertility specialist may also have advice on how to naturally strengthen your cycles without turning to heavy doses of artificial hormones (which are really only a temporary solution anyway). Changes in diet, lifestyle, and stress levels may be needed.
Of course there's no point in practicing FAM if you're still using hormonal birth control. They work by suppressing your cycles, so there won't be anything useful to chart!
Learn FAM BEFORE You Want a Child
Learning Fertility Awareness is easy, and the knowledge it gives you can be used in so many ways. Many women use it to prevent pregnancy, and others use it to help them achieve pregnancy. When you learn FAM before you have any plans for children, it will serve as a marker of your reproductive health and your chances for quickly becoming pregnant once you desire. You can give yourself the time to determine whether you are fertile and ovulating, or whether you need to strengthen your reproductive health. Remember, improving your health doesn't happen overnight, and it may take several months or even a couple years to see your cycles reach healthy stability. It's better to calmly improve your health just for the sake of it, instead of suddenly wanting a child and discovering you're unable to.