If you want to use the sympto-thermal method to postpone pregnancy, it's best to learn from an expert - it'll give you confidence in your abilities and a set of experienced eyes to make sure you are using the sympto-thermal method effectively while also not suffering unnecessary abstinence. In the mean time, charting is a great way to get more familiar with your cycle. If you're waiting to take a class, starting to chart now will get you familiar with the basics and allow you to ask more specific questions during your class.
Here's what a sympto-thermal chart looks like. All sympto-thermal charts have sections for recording basal temperature, cervical fluid, and cervix changes. This chart is from "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" - our charts from CCL are slightly different looking, but have the same basic fields.
- Thermometer - Preferably a basal thermometer (more accurate), but a thermometer accurate to the tenths place will work. (I couldn't find a basal thermometer at the local drug store, but I was able to find fairly affordable ones online Here's the thermometer I have.)
- Something to record your observations on. For those who want to record on paper, there are printable charts from "Taking Charge of Your Fertility." Many couples like to record electronically. There are many websites and apps for natural family planning. We use the Couple to Couple League's website because it allows us to easily share our charts with teaching couples, but I think the website is a bit clunky.
- An alarm clock.
To get started, recall the first day of your last period. This is "Day 1" of your sheet. Count forward to today's date for the first entry.
There are three easily observed signs that change through the menstrual cycle - basal temperature (your temperature when you first wake up), the amount and type of cervical fluid, and the position, firmness, and openness of the cervix. Some methods of natural family planning use only one of these symptoms (such as cervical fluid). Sympto-thermal methods use body temperature and cervical fluid. Some women track the position of the cervix as well.
Temperature is best observed first thing in the morning, before you've gotten out of bed and moved around. Ideally, take your temperature every day at the same time, first thing when you wake up. I use 7:00 am because it's the time I normally wake up for work. On the weekends, I wake up just enough to record my temperature, and then sleep a few more hours. Learn more about temperature observations..
Cervical fluid is observed throughout the day. You'll generally have enough information if you pay attention to discharge. Note color, consistency, and quantity. Before bed, fill in the chart. Learn more about cervical fluid observations.
The cervix is more of a nuisance to observe because it's internal. The cervix is inside the vagina, separating the vagina from the uterus. It can feel firm (often described as the firmness of a nose) or soft (often described as softness of lips). Learn more about cervical observation.
If you're currently on hormonal contraceptives, you will not observe a typical cycle - hormonal contraceptives prevent ovulation and completely alter the body. Learn more about what happens when a woman discontinues the pill.