Not planning a baby anytime soon? 5 reasons monitoring your fertility now is still worthwhile.
September 22, 2017
by Briana Baxter
When it comes to Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABM) and Natural Family Planning (NFP), its easy to think of the advantages, notably – preventing or achieving pregnancy. But what about those of us who are still figuring things out, especially those girls who are just getting started with their periods? What do girls who have just started their periods have to gain from monitoring their fertility?
Keep reading to find out.
Know what you’re working with. Fertility starts before we’re born.
Let’s start with a short anatomy and physiology lesson shall we? The female reproductive organs consist of two ovaries which house the follicles, a uterus which under the influence of hormones grows a lining that either is shed during a period or will serve as the home to a growing baby if an egg becomes fertilized, and fallopian tubes that serve as a bridge from the ovaries to the uterus. Each month, the ovary responds to hormonal signals from our brains to mature follicles. Follicles are a collection of cells that surround an oocyte (egg) and nourish it.
Ok, now that we’ve finished that we can get back to the reason you’re reading this. Unlike men, women start their fertility journey before they are even born. We all start with 7 million primordial follicles but by the time we are born we are already down to 1-2 million follicles. To top that off, less than 500 of those will actually become follicles during ovulation (1). Doesn’t seem fair does it? Luckily for most of us we wouldn’t want to have 500 babies anyway. So as you can see, even if you don’t plan on starting a family any time soon, these methods might still be useful to you in learning about your fertility and to identify possible issues early.
To help you to understand your confusing cycle!
I’m sure everyone reading this has had an odd cycle once or twice in their lives. Maybe it was shorter, longer, more painful, or didn’t occur at all. Some of these changes are due to the absence of ovulation (also called anovulation). This can occur in a few different situations.
In one, the FSH signal from the brain is working well and a follicle is stimulated but the LH signal from the brain isn’t strong enough to cause the ovum to be released from the follicle this leads to long cycles. The second scenario is when again, the FSH signal from the brain is strong, but not quite strong enough to make one follicle become dominant. In this case follicles continue to grow and secrete estrogen constantly, this can cause the lining of the uterus to become unstable and bleed unexpectedly, which can be very annoying (2).
Yet another scenario can occur when ovulation occurs but the luteal phase ( aka the progesterone dominant phase) is deficient because progesterone is too low. This can have two consequences, 1) if an egg was fertilized the uterine lining would be unable to support the growing pregnancy, 2) the length of your cycles and bleeding may be variable.
Practice knowing when you are fertile and infertile before you absolutely need it.
If you made it through the little anatomy and physiology lesson above, you already know a bit about cervical mucus. In case you didn’t, there are two main types of cervical mucus: one that is under the hormonal influence of estrogen and the other that is under the influence of progesterone (1). If you want to get really fancy, I can tell you that the estrogenic type of mucus can be broken down even further into L, S, and P Subtypes, but this is supposed to be casual so we’ll just leave it at that (3). FABMs can help you learn how to recognize cyclical changes in your cervical mucus to understand when you are fertile and when you are not (3). While you may not always use this information in the same way at every stage in your life, it is important knowledge which should be available to every woman (1).
Detect infections early.
This is usually where people begin to clam up, because no one likes discussing sexually transmitted infections, however common they are. These infections cause an inflammatory process. The bacteria secrete enzymes that break down mucus and cause a change in the character of the mucus and can disrupt the normal balance between good and bad bacteria (4). If a woman knows her cervical mucus pattern well, she will be able to recognize a STD early because it will typically cause changes such as continuous discharge and/or odor. Additionally, it is very important to realize that STDs can cause infertility, and the risk increases without timely treatment (1).
Detect ovulatory dysfunction early.
Endocrine disorders can cause ovulatory dysfunction. In fact, they are the most common cause and can be divided into categories based on the organ in which the problem begins(5). Some common endocrine disorders that can cause ovulatory dysfunction are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism (6). Hypothyroidism can cause menorrhagia or heavy menstrual bleeding. Additionally, Anorexia Nervosa can cause a hypothalamic (aka brain) disorder that can cause cycles to stop all together. Long anovulatory cycles can also occur in athletes (7). The most frequent cause of ovarian dysfunction is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which is characterized by high levels of androgen hormone and estrogen resulting in irregular cycles and continuous estrogenic mucus patterns (6).
It can help you achieve and maintain your general health.
A healthy reproductive system can only be beneficial for your overall health. Even if fertility is the last thing on your mind right now, using an FABM can be a valuable resource for young women. Understanding your reproductive health at an early age can help to diagnose and treat fertility problems early before they become a general health problem, and can help you achieve your fertility goals when the time is right for you (1).
- Vigil, Pilar et al. “Usefulness Of Monitoring Fertility From Menarche”. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology 19.3 (2006): 173-179. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
- Vollman RF: The menstrual cycle. In: Major Problems in Obstetrics and Gynecology, (1st ed.). Edited by EA Friedman. Toronto, W.B. Saunders, 1977, pp 11–193
- Brown JB, Blackwell LF, Billings JJ, et al: Natural family planning. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1987; 157:1082
- Billings EL, Billings JJ, Catarinich M: Billings Atlas of the Ovulation Method. The Mucus Patterns of Fertility and Infertility. Melbourne, Advocate Press, 1989, pp 1–108
- Howe L, Wiggins R, Soothill PW, et al: Mucinase and sialidase activity of the vaginal microflora: implications for the pathogenesis of preterm labour. Int J STD AIDS 1999; 10:442
- Vigil P, Steinberger E, del Rı´o MJ, et al: Sı´ndrome de ovario poliquı´stico. In: Guzma´n E, editor. Seleccio´n de Temas en Ginecoobstetricia. Santiago de Chile, Editorial Publimpacto, 2005, pp 833–842
- Mansfield MJ, Emans SJ: Anorexia nervosa, athletics, and amenorrhea. Pediatr Clin North Am 1989; 36:533