Top 3 Charting Mistakes When Beginning Fertility Awareness

I’ve been moderating a rather large Facebook group for fertility awareness charters for over a year and a half now (26,000 members and climbing, join here!), and before that I constantly scrolled through the Kindara community charts very regularly. These experiences in various FAM communities, as well as my certification as a FAM instructor, have alerted me to some common mistakes that new charters make. I outline what these are and how to avoid them in this post.

Mistake #1: Using a Fever Thermometer Instead of a Basal Body Thermometer

Many folks read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and see that we only chart to the first decimal place in Fahrenheit. Then they think that using a fever thermometer is okay since fever thermometers have only one decimal place. This is NOT true. We need the sensitivity of a basal body thermometer with two decimal places. If you are someone who has weak temperature shifts, it is even more important to have the right thermometer! Many people also miss that the original studies that the symptothermal efficacy is based on requires you to take your temperature for three minutes. Almost no fever thermometer does this, and even some basal body thermometers do not. Make sure that you have the correct thermometer that allows you to either take your temperature for three minutes or prewarm the thermometer.

Mistake #2: Overmarking or Undermarking Cervical Mucus Observations

I often see people overmark “watery” type mucus because the vagina is always moist. Other people will overmark “creamy” type mucus even though what they are seeing may be cell slough. While it is definitely better to assume fertility if you are uncertain, this can cause unnecessary abstinence. The solution to this problem is to work with an instructor. The efficacy of the method is based on working with an instructor anyways, and it is generally best to get a professional’s advice on your chart if you are seriously avoiding pregnancy. If you need an instructor, you can find one here.

I also see people undermark cervical mucus. This is the more dangerous of the two mistakes. Many people decide not to pay attention to wiping or walking sensation or view sensation as less important than their visible mucus. Since vaginal sensation is equal to cervical mucus, it is highly important that you also chart your sensation according to whatever method you are following. If there is any change in vaginal sensation, even if you do not see mucus, the fertile window should be considered opened in the pre-ovulatory time of the cycle.

Mistake #3: Following a Hodge-Podge of Methods

The fertility awareness method only works as a form of birth control when the rules are followed very carefully according to an established method. Simply beginning to take your temperature and marking mucus without reading a manual or taking a class is NOT enough for anyone who seriously does not want to get pregnancy. Do NOT rely on social media posts to learn how to chart. It is necessary to really learn what you are doing if you do not want an unintended pregnancy. You can find out about multiple methods by visiting my post on getting started.

An Example of a Symptothermal Chart on Kindara

An Honest Review of Pearl Fertility Kit

I tried the Pearl Fertility Kit. During my first kit, I got a little confused when the kit did not seem to line up with my fertility signs. However, I contacted Pearl Fertility and they were super helpful. They sent me another kit for free, and it worked perfectly when I tried it this last cycle.

Pearl is a product marketing to women who are trying to conceive (TTC). The product explicitly states that it should not be used to avoid pregnancy. The kit contained 15 follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) strips, 15 luteinizing hormone (LH) strips, and 4 progesterone (PdG) strips. It also included a few pink dye pregnancy tests. As I am not currently trying to conceive, I did not use these.

The app claims to open a woman’s fertile window by scanning the FSH and LH strips and giving you a fertility window from these results.

If anyone wants to try this product, I highly suggest tracking your cervical mucus, as good quality cervical mucus (eggwhite, clear, stretchy, wet) is what allows sperm to survive to meet an egg. Progesterone tests need not be used until at least 4 days past your peak day (the last day of good quality cervical mucus). Even then, some women do not see positive progesterone tests until as late as 7-10 days past ovulation. For more information, visit Proov’s website linked at the end of this article. By charting your real fertility signs, you could use these tests more wisely.

Overall, I thought the Pearl Fertility Kit was super cool. FSH strips are a brand new thing, and I have high hopes for them being integrated into a real fertility awareness based method in the future. If you have the money to invest in Pearl, this can be a fun kit to experiment with. Basically you get to see three main hormones of the menstrual cycle play out. Pearl graphs them for you.

If you cannot afford Pearl, do remember that it is free to chart cervical mucus and that this is always the best indicator for when to have sex when trying to achieve pregnancy. Without cervical mucus, sperm will never make it to the egg on its own.

Here is what my Pearl chart for this month looks like:

The highest pink dot is my positive LH strip.

Here is my Pearl information compared to my symptothermal method chart. In this chart, FSH equals Ferning since Kindara does not have an FSH category.

The Pearl fertile window is indicated by the green lights. It did start my fertile window on a day pregnancy was unlikely since there was no mucus. The blue hearts represent the fertile mucus where sperm can survive. These two fertile windows lined up pretty well.

Overall, I would rate myself satisfied with this kit.

One tip:

From the calendar screen, you can override what tests Pearl is asking for. I only suggest doing this if you are charting your other fertility signs (cervical mucus and basal body temperature) and know that something is not lining up right.

In addition to the strips, Pearl has spaces to track intercourse, your period, and pregnancy status.

Curious to know more about the fertility signs?

If you want to learn how to chart your real fertility signs to achieve or avoid pregnancy, read my guide to getting started.

Look for my next blog on using Proov progesterone tests.

Now Opening Enrollment For December 2019 Fertility Awareness Course

I am so excited to be offering this new course for those interested in learning the symptothermal method of fertility awareness. The method I teach is based on the rules studies by Sensiplan. You can read about this study here.

I found fertility awareness after 7 years on the pill, and it really rocked my world. When I started practicing it myself, I realized that it was a grave injustice that women are not taught about FAM. Practicing FAM has put me in touch with my body more than ever before. It healed some of the mind/body split that I had developed through years of resenting my period.

Moderating in Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control, the largest English speaking, secular fertility awareness group on Facebook at 25,000+ members, lead me to becoming a certified instructor through the Natural Family Planning Teachers Association (NFPTA). Starting in February 2020, I am pursuing a certification through Bebo Mia as a fertility doula to support women who are TTC. Outside of the fertility world, I am training to be a librarian. I have taught at the college level since 2016.

I teach a secular form of fertility awareness including information on barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms, etc). The NFPTA method has the same temperature rules as Sensiplan. I teach cervical mucus, cervical position, basal body temperature, and calculation rules (the doering rule and minus 20 and 21 rules). My distance course is offered on Moodle. It is a 4-week self-paced course that includes video charting examples and information on charting during all life circumstances (perimenopause, postpartum, postpill, and TTC). This class opens in December. Your partner is welcome to ask me questions and take the course along with you.

If you already have charting experience from reading TCOYF or the Sensiplan file (3 or more complete cycles), I will extend a discount to you if you decide to work with me. Reach out to me to find out more. I will also likely be holding a live introduction to FAM session in early December.

The best way to get in touch with me is through DM on my Instagram @chartyourfertility or through e-mail by completing a form on chartyourfertility.com. You can also follow me @chartyourfertility on Facebook

A symptothermal method chart
An Example of Symptothermal Method Chart on Kindara

*Disclaimer: These methods only work as well as the user. Even with perfect use, there is still a .4% chance of pregnancy. Using a calculation rule is built into the efficacy, and ignoring calculations may result in unintended pregnancy. I will work closely with you so that you understand the rules, but it is ultimately on the user to follow them.

Why I Do Not Suggest Using Natural Cycles

Natural Cycles costs around $10 a month, or $80 a year. The app claims to be able to tell you when you are and when you aren’t fertile by using basal body temperature (ovulation strips are optional).

This claim is not true. Natural Cycles only has a 93% typical use efficacy rating. After my experience, it seems even lower than that. I used Natural Cycles for 3 cycles and compared it with the sympto-thermal (STM) method that I use. The method I use is 98.2% effective with typical use.

As a long term charter, I use a doering rule (a rule to limit dry days). My last safe day for unprotected sex is day 5 of my cycle (usually the last day of my period) because of this rule. This rule is included in the high efficacy rates of the sympto-thermal method.

The charts that follow show when my method said I was safe versus when Natural cycles told me I was.

I have compiled 3 of my charts for comparison. During more than one cycle, Natural Cycles told me I could have unprotected sex on the day near my PEAK fertility. Peak day is the most likely day of ovulation, while not always the exact day of ovulation. Suffice it to say, the app told me that I could have unprotected sex on a day when pregnancy was still possible.

September Cycle (First with Natural Cycles)

On my very first cycle, without any knowledge of whether I had ovulated the cycle before, Natural Cycles gave me clearance to have unprotected sex during my period.

This is totally wrong. Without having confirmed ovulation the previous cycle, there is no way to know if this bleeding is safe or not.

The next BIG issue is that it told me I could have unprotected sex on the second day of my temperature shift (CD17). There is a huge chance that my egg could have still been viable and hanging at this point.

With the symptothermal method, you CANNOT confirm ovulation before 3 high temperatures.

The chart below has my actual safe days as calculated by doering. (Keeping in mind that I did confirm ovulation the cycle before so my period is safe. However, there is no way that Natural Cycles could have known that).

september 1

October Cycle (Second with Natural Cycles)

late september nc cycle

For the second time, Natural Cycles gives me a green light on the second day of a temperature shift in the morning. My egg could still be around! In fact, this green light was less than 24 hours after my peak day!

october 1 cycle

November Cycle (Third with Natural Cycles)

late october nc cycle

During this cycle, Natural Cycles decides that I’m not safe on CD 5 (I am).

It also gives me a green light on CD20. However, I would not be safe to have unprotected sex until the evening of CD21 due to peak day occurring on the first day of my shift.

oct 27 cycle

Conclusion

Natural Cycles does not follow the rules for STM charting.

When charting with STM, one must always wait until the evening of P + 3 and T +3 (three high temperatures and three days after peak). Both rules have to be met before you can have any unprotected sex. With weaker shifts, this wait can be a day longer.

Natural Cycles does not include cervical mucus. Since cervical mucus is what opens the fertile window (and not temperatures), this causes the method to lose efficacy. Cervical mucus is what allows sperm to survive and fertilize an egg. When cervical mucus dries up for 3 days and 3 high temperatures above the coverline occur, ovulation is confirmed for the cycle. Any app that leaves out cervical mucus, but still lets women have green days pre-ovulation, is misleading women and putting them at extra risk of pregnancy.

Another worrisome aspect of the app is that it frequently gave me a green light on the morning of the second high temperature. Temperatures can easily be disrupted, and new charters may not know their normal temperature ranges. Women need to be certain that ovulation is over before having unprotected sex. The third high temp (along with the third day after peak day) lets you know that ovulation is confirmed. Green lights after only one or two temps can put women at a risk of pregnancy, especially when cervical mucus isn’t taken into consideration. In fact, most STM methods require 4 high temps for women who don’t use cervical mucus (or cervical position). The reason that Natural Cycles may interpret shifts wrong is because of its static coverline. Some women may not see much of a change in coverlines from cycle to cycle. However, others may see a change. Having a static coverline can give users green days before they actually have a temperature shift.

Lastly, the app is misleading because it marks the day of ovulation. The only way to truly determine the exact day of ovulation is with a well-timed ultrasound. In fact, ovulation is most likely to occur over a period of about 4 days. Here is the link to the study that discusses which 4 days are the most likely. Since ovulation is likely up to day 2 of a temperature shift, this proves even further why it is so risky for Natural Cycles to give green lights on day 2 of a shift. In the other 9% of cases not hightlighted in the green box below, ovulation happened up to 3 or 4 days before a shift. This is why mucus is so important to record pre-confirmed ovulation. If there is mucus present, the sperm may live. Natural Cycles does not take enough factors into account when drawing its fertile window.

ovulation


If you are coming off of hormonal birth control or postpartum, this app may be an even worse choice for you. Those coming off hormonal birth control and postpartum may experience cycles changing in length and unexpected early ovulation even more so than people with regular cycles.

Anecdotally, I have seen many risky charts from Natural Cycles in the group I help moderate. You can find a link to this group here.

I highly recommend learning a real sympto-thermal method from an instructor and not wasting your money on the Natural Cycles app. I found it quite shocking that is was not very conservative when first learning about my cycles.

Check out my last post to learn how to start charting on a budget. Click here to sign up to learn to chart with me when my course opens in September 2019.

Here are some other articles on Natural Cycles that I recommend reading:

Natural Cycles’ FDA Approval: What’s The Big Deal?

5 Reasons I Don’t Use Daysy Or Natural Cycles

‘I felt colossally naive’: The Backlash Against the Birth Control App