For many women, tracking their menstrual cycle is limited to marking a calendar once-a-month or inputting their first day of bleeding into an app. But tracking your cycle is about more than just your period. Tracking your cycle is a great way to check that your hormones are functioning properly and you are ovulating each cycle—which is essential for hormonal and overall health. By tracking a few key elements of your menstrual cycle, you will be able to have a better understanding of your own body and will be able to look out for any bodily signs that something might be off with your hormones, which you can then mention to a healthcare provider.
The first step is to find a reliable app for tracking. There are many great options, like FEMM, Clue, and Flo. All of these apps allow you to track your period and the other aspects of your cycle, such as energy levels, sleep, supplements and medications, and others. Many of these apps also include areas for you to create your own categories and track those in your cycle as well.
On the first day of bleeding—day one of your menstrual cycle when the shedding of your thick uterine wall occurs—input that data into a period tracking app. In the days that follow, you can track your bleeding and its severity (as well as PMS symptoms and their severity) via the app. If you notice that you don’t have any days of heavy bleeding, or you have severe bleeding for more than a week, it is a good idea to make an appointment with a gynecologist.
After your period, the next phase of your cycle is the time leading up to ovulation—when your ovary releases a new egg to be fertilized. In the days leading up to this, you might notice wet spots on your underwear. These are cervical mucus secretions and can help indicate your fertility levels. Pasty, scant, clumpy, sticky, or dry mucus comes first in this phase (indicating low fertility, or low changes of conceiving if you had intercourse that day). This is followed by creamy mucus that is usually white and looks like lotion (this indicates high fertility). Finally, you should notice mucus that resembles egg whites or is abundantly watery. This mucus should also have a stretchy quality to it. This kind of mucus indicates that you are ovulating or are just about to ovulate. You can track all of this information—what kind of mucus you have on what days of your cycle—in any of the previously mentioned period apps. You can also track ovulation pain during this part of your cycle, if you experience it. If you notice that you don’t have any cervical mucus secretions during your cycle, or your mucus doesn’t follow this pattern, you might want to make an appointment with a gynecologist to check your hormone levels, as these mucus secretions are bodily signs of hormonal changes inside of your body.
After ovulation in the post-ovulatory or luteal phase of your cycle, you might not experience any mucus secretions at all, though you may experience some “low fertility” mucus that is sticky or dry in the days leading up to your period. In this phase, you can also track any PMS symptoms you might experience such as cramping, low energy, moodiness, headaches, and other symptoms.
Tracking your menstrual cycle not only helps you understand what is happening inside of your body every month, but it also empowers you to be able to spot anything that might not be quite right within your cycle so that you can advocate for yourself to a healthcare provider if need be.