Last week was an especially busy one for me with ten new infertility patients seen. I love how all their stories are uniquely different. One patient in particular had been infertile for almost three years and brought a neat stack of color-coded temperature charts to show me! This follows a trend I've been noticing lately with more and more patients turning to the internet for fertility information, often going to special websites that provide tools for charting ones cycles, either for free or for a small fee. Overall, there is more benefit than harm to doing this if used correctly, but in this patient's case, it was harmful in that she wound up doing it TOO long before getting professional help, thereby wasting several of her potentially fertile years.
The first thing that needs clarification is this. How exactly does ones body temperature have anything to do with fertility? It all has to do with a hormone we discussed previously known as PROGESTERONE. When a egg is ready to be released, the cells surrounding the egg produce progesterone. Over 95% of the time, this is accompanied by actual physical release of the egg. There are some unusual instances when there is a rise in progesterone, but no actual ovulation, but this is rare.
Elevated progesterone levels lead to elevated temperature. However, other factors also affect body temperature. Some of these include activity level and environmental temperature. This is why, in an attempt to standardize conditions, basal body temperatures are intentionally measured first thing in the morning after complete rest (sleep). Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Basal body temperature, on the other hand, is a little cooler, about 98F or 36.6C. This makes sense because when at rest, you don't burn as many calories. The levels of progesterone that are present after ovulation will make ones BBT rise about half a degree F. So a normal BBT chart should consist of a range of lower temperatures before ovulation and a range of higher temperatures after ovulation.
Now, here are what I consider to be the PROS and CONS of charting ones BASAL BODY TEMPERATURE.
GOOD: It can bring some peace of mind, giving you "something active to do" while you are trying on your own. Remember that for most couples who want to have a baby, unless they already have some suspicion of an existing infertility factor, their best strategy is try on their own just having sex every 1-3 days. This should continue for six months to a year to give things an adequate chance. However, some of us have good proactive tendencies and like the feeling of taking action. Charting ones temperature is a good safe way of channeling these energies.
GOOD: It can alert you early if you are not ovulating, so that you will know to get help sooner. If your temperatures don't rise in the second half of the cycle, this is a tip-off that you are likely not ovulating. This early warning can help you know to get help right away rather than wait a year. One possible reason for not ovulating is if you suffer from PCOS.
GOOD: It can play a part in a nurturing supportive environment, which lowers stress and therefore helps conception. Many of these websites allow women to copy or even email their charts and share them with friends. Again, this fosters an atmosphere of supportive community which has many positive effects.
BAD: Temperature charting can NOT be used to signal the best time to have intercourse. By the time you see the temperature rises, it is already too late. Therefore charting temperatures more tells you when your fertile period has already passed and gone rather than telling you when it is about to come.
BAD: Temperature charting does NOT help increase the chances of conceiving for couples who already have sex regularly. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the best way to get pregnant naturally is to have sex every 1-3 days. It's only when sex is very scarce that you can benefit from meticulous timing.
BAD: For some people, obsession with temperature charting leads to INCREASED stress which in itself, could lower their chances of conceiving. I've encountered many patients for whom this was the case. They actually reported starting to feel worse (much more tense) from the time they first began charting.
BAD: For some people, obsession with temperature charting leads to DECREASED frequency of sex, thereby lowering their chances of conceiving. I've seen patients who were inaccurately predicting their peak fertility time. It was actually later than they thought. But since they thought it had already passed, they stopped having sex that month, ironically missing the most favorable times.
Overall, charting ones BBT can be done in the context of a grander strategy that takes care to have a backup plan for seeking professional help when too much time has passed with no pregnancy still.