Understanding Your Basal Body Temperature

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) extends back thousands of years to a time hardly fathomable in our age of modernity. Without the distraction of emails and text messages, video games, microwaves or television, people were more closely connected to the rhythms of the planet, and of their bodies.
Much like our fertile homeland, the body cycles through shifts of its own seasons, temperature and soil conditions. This is especially true for a woman still in her childbearing years. The climes of the menstrual cycle can be extremely effective indicators of fertility if one knows what exactly to look for. Without the distraction of running full steam in our daily lives, we might be more intuitively connected to our body's phases and temperatures. But surely it's the last thing we're aware of while sitting in a board meeting or traffic or on vacation trying to forget about everything.
The realization that many of us are quite disconnected from our bodies can be a little frightening. It's kind of like realizing you forgot to pick up your child from school. This is, after all, your body—the only one you get—and how easy it is to disregard its delicate intricacies.  The slightest oversight can have detrimental and lasting effects.
I've discussed it before in this blog, and it's worth repeating: stress is often the number one cause of fertility challenges. This recent article in Wired magazine does a great job in discussing just how detrimental stress can actually be. More over, when trying to establish your most fertile time, it's extremely important to be as stress-free as possible.
Detecting Basal Body Temperature (BBT) has been a TCM method in use since the early 20th century to determine ovulation as well as other menstrual issues like amenorrhea (lack of period). By taking the body's temperature in the same place (mouth, rectally or vaginally) at the same time each morning upon waking, a pattern emerges that shows when the temperature indicates fertility.
A regular menstrual cycle is considered to be anywhere from 21-35 days. When ovulation is about to occur, usually in mid-cycle (day 13-15 for a 28-day cycle), the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) will cause the BBT to drop. Shortly after this drop, a raise in BBT in what is referred to as "post-ovulation" will follow. The LH spike is detectable typically only for a few hours and a woman with a regular cycle who is following her BBT will be able to notice this. The ideal opportunity for becoming pregnant occurs within the 24-hour period before and after ovulation because cervical fluid creates an optimal environment for sperm survival. Yes, your womb literally becomes a "man cave." It can take several days before conception occurs—after all, the sperm has to travel up into the fallopian tubes to find the egg, and we all know how difficult it is for men to ask for directions.
This chart gives an example of what a woman's BBT will look like throughout the month. It may sound complicated, but once you get started charting your BBT, you'll pick it up in no time.  Notice ovulation's occurrence at the lowest temperature and the immediate spike afterwards.

While it's unlikely that most of us will ever be as harmonious with the Earth's and our own rhythms as women once were, we can shorten the distance somewhat.  There is a great joy in reconnecting with your body's rhythms and cycles. As you get to know yourself on this new plane, you automatically begin to decrease your stress levels by developing a deeper sense of understanding and self-awareness. In other words, tracking your BBT is a bit homeostatic as well—the more you nurture it, the more capable it is of self-correcting, and that seems worth doing even if fertility isn't your goal.