Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade ending the federal right to an abortion, there has been increased worry about how period tracking app data could potentially be used against people seeking abortion care.
This has led many people to realize that they don’t know how to track their own cycle using an old school paper calendar, or without the use of technology. Not to worry— Planned Parenthood is here to help.
What Is a Menstrual Cycle?
As experts in all things reproductive health care, we know a lot about menstruation. Menstruation, also known as having a period, is when blood and tissue from the uterus comes out of the vagina. It usually happens about once a month as a part of the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is the body’s way of preparing for pregnancy every month. If someone’s not pregnant they have a period, if someone is pregnant, they do not have a period until they are no longer pregnant.
Benefits of Menstrual Cycle Tracking
Keeping record of the length and timing of your period, qualities of your menstrual fluid (color, texture, amount), and symptoms like cramping or fatigue can help you learn what is normal for your body. Finding out what a “typical” period is like for you can make it easier to spot trends that help you prepare for your next one. This information can also help you estimate when your next period will come. This can be helpful when deciding the days for your next big vacation or even when planning for certain health care appointments like an IUD insertion, etc.
Knowing what is normal for your body when it comes to menstruating can also come in handy when meeting with a health care provider. Because periods are important health indicators, it’s pretty common for clinicians to ask about the first day of your last menstrual period during a visit. This information is a lot easier to provide when you track your cycle.
Cycle tracking can also help you identify significant changes to your cycle or symptoms that might be worth mentioning to a doctor like unusual bleeding between periods, feeling dizzy while on your period, severe pain that keeps you from engaging in regular day-to-day activities, and heavy flow that means you need to change you tampon or pad hourly. Tracking the menstrual cycle may help to identify patterns that clinicians might be able to help with by prescribing a hormonal birth control method that could make your period lighter or more regular.
How to Track Your Cycle
Now that we know the benefits of keeping a record of your menstrual cycle, let’s get into how to actually do the tracking.
- First, you’ll need to gather a little information. If you’ve been using an app to track periods, take note of the days of your previous periods.
- Next mark these days on either a paper calendar or a notebook adding a note or key to indicate the days of your period – feel free to get creative with it by using colorful markers and stickers. The options are endless.
- Once you’ve made note of your past periods and added them to a calendar, you’re ready to look at what a “typical” period looks like for you.
- First, you’ll look at how many days your period usually lasts. Period length can vary from person to person and can last anywhere from 2-7 days, but most people have a pattern for how long it usually lasts for them (ex: 3-4 days or 5-6 days). Based on past period lengths, take note of how long your periods last and write down this information.
- Next, you’ll look at how long your menstrual cycle typically is. To do this you count the days from the first day of a period to the day before the next period. Typically, cycles are between 26 and 32 days long and vary from person to person. Based on the length of your past menstrual cycles, take note of how long your menstrual cycles usually are and write this information down next to your period length.
- Keep in mind that the length of periods and amount of days between cycles can not only vary from person to person, but even from one menstrual cycle to the next (especially if someone experienced physical/emotional stress or a change in routine). Whether you use an app or a paper calendar, predicting future periods is taking a best estimate, so it’s not always a perfect prediction for when a period will come.
- Now that you know how long your periods and cycle are, you can start to estimate when your next period will likely come. To do this you begin at the first day of your most recent period (this is day one) and count out the number of days your menstrual cycle typically lasts. On the day following the end of your cycle is when they next period is predicted to begin. You can add a note on this day as a reminder. For example, if your period typically lasts five days, and your cycle is normally 28 days long, this is how your calendar would look:
- Be sure to write down how you’re feeling, how heavy your bleeding is, any emotional changes, or other patterns you notice during each day of your period. You can also keep a record of patterns you notice while you’re not on your period, for example, any discharge changes that you notice, days that you had sex, or even took emergency contraception.
Your Local Planned Parenthood is Here for You
If you have any questions about your cycle, birth control options to help regulate your periods, or any other questions about menstruating, visit your local Planned Parenthood. Our expert providers are available to answer any and all questions about reproductive health. To make an appointment, call (714) 922-4100.