When your doctor asks you for the first day of your last period, are you someone who can tick the date off without thinking, or are you like most women who stare blankly at the doctor’s calendar, guesstimating the date?
If you’re in the second group, you probably aren’t tracking your menstrual cycles on a regular basis. But keeping a menstrual calendar can be helpful for most women, even those not thinking about pregnancy.
Keeping a Record of Your Periods
Tracking your menstrual cycle simply means keeping a record of when you’re menstruating and other information related to your cycle. The best way to get started is to begin with a regular planner or calendar, says Marjan Attaran, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“I tell patients the best way to keep track of menstruation is to mark the first day of the period on a calendar,” Dr. Attaran says. “At the time of their gynecology appointment they can then count from the beginning of the one period to the next to figure out their cycle lengths.”
Your gynecologist can help you figure out the length of your menstrual cycle so you can keep a menstrual calendar. For most women, the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, though it can range from 21 to 35 days in adult women and still be considered “normal.”
Tracking Your Menstruation: How It Helps Your Reproductive Health
Knowing your cycle length can be helpful for many reasons. For women who are trying to conceive, or for women who are trying to avoid pregnancy, understanding the rhythm of their menstruation can help.
For women trying to avoid pregnancy who have very regular cycles, the calendar rhythm method can be an effective means of birth control, says Attaran.
“The calendar rhythm method has been used for generations for family planning purposes,” she says. “In someone who is highly motivated and has regular cycles, this method may be helpful to try to avoid pregnancy.”
The idea is to avoid sex during the time in a woman’s cycle when she is most fertile — generally during ovulation and for several days before and after. When done correctly, this can be between 80 and 87 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Attaran notes, however, that it can be rather complicated to figure out exactly what days to avoid sexual intercourse, so there’s a high risk of failure if you don’t track your cycle correctly. She also adds, “This method will definitely not work for people who have irregular periods.”
“The goal of keeping track of your periods is to determine the length of the menstrual cycle and extrapolate the probable timing of ovulation,” Attaran says. In order to avoid pregnancy, you can abstain from intercourse for several days prior to ovulation and a few days afterwards, she says. Because it is difficult to know exactly when you ovulate, it is best to use an additional type of birth control to prevent pregnancy.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, understanding the timing of your cycle can be critical, as well. Because ovulation generally occurs 14 days before the start of your period, it’s important to know what day your period is supposed to begin.
Categories: Reproductive health