My #1 Tip for Couples Trying to Conceive

My #1 Tip for Couples Trying to ConceiveImage courtesy of annstheclaf

For better or worse, I’ve been pretty open and public about our difficulty conceiving babies. It just takes us a long time — 20 months the first time; 19 months the second time.

So every now and then, I’ll get an email from a friend or reader in a similar place seeking advice. Something like the following:

“We’ve been trying to have a baby for 10 months. What do you think we should do?”

And my first question is always the same:

“Well, are you charting?”

Most often, they’re not.

So my first piece of advice? Start charting!

(Please note that I am NOT a qualified medical expert; I’m just speaking from experience and personal research. This is my own personal opinion.)

Regular readers will know what I’m talking about; but new readers might not, so I’ll explain:

I’m talking about learning about and tracking your fertility signs.

The broader term for this approach is known as Natural Family Planning (NFP) or Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) (I generally prefer the second). It is a form of birth control used either to avoid or achieve pregnancy, by being aware of when you’re fertile and timing sex accordingly. (The average woman is only fertile for a handful of days every cycle, so you can choose what you want to do during that time: abstain or use a barrier method if you want to avoid pregnancy, or have well-timed sex if you want to have a baby.) There are several forms of NFP/FAM, including the symptothermal method, the Billings Ovulation method, and the Creighton method, just to name a few.

If used properly, FAM can be as effective as contraception for preventing pregnancy. And it can really enhance your chances of getting pregnant when you want to have a baby.

But knowing your fertility signs can do so much more than that, too. It can also give you valuable clues about your fertility and overall health. This information can be key when you’re having a hard time conceiving.

You can see whether or not you’re ovulating, or if you’re just ovulating late in your cycle. Maybe you’re just not timing sex right. You might find that your post-ovulatory phase is too short to support a pregnancy, or that you don’t have enough fertile-quality fluid. Maybe you’re actually repeatedly miscarrying very early and missing it. The easiest way to find out is to start charting.

In my opinion, learning about the Fertility Awareness Method is the least invasive and most empowering step towards understanding and enhancing your fertility.

Now, charting mostly just provides insight into the female half of the fertility equation (and about half of all fertility issues involve the man). As far as I know, the only way to get insight into the male half is for the husband to get a sperm analysis. I definitely recommend considering this option at some point as well; but I understand that many men are reluctant to take this step. I don’t blame them. And it’s possible that this unpleasant step may be avoided if the woman’s charting shows that her fertility needs improvement. Yes, it’s possible that both have fertility issues that need to be dealt with — in fact, about 10-20% of cases involve both partners. But depending on how long you’re willing to wait, if correcting the woman’s problem alone doesn’t help you could always take a look at the man’s later. (Or at the same time, if you’re in a hurry.)

Conversely, if the woman’s charts seem to show a very healthy cycle and strong fertility, you could look into male factor issues with more confidence that that’s where the problem lies.

Basically, as far as I can see, there are NO down sides to charting. It just provides you with knowledge.

Kathleen writing

It takes some time to learn, of course. And if you want to take classes with a qualified instructor (which I recommend) there is usually a bit of a cost (much less than most fertility testing and treatments, though). And charting can be more difficult if you already have children (who follow you into the bathroom and wake you up multiple times at night, making it slightly more challenging to observe your cervical fluids accurately and get a good basal body temperature reading). But no matter what, the information you get from charting is empowering.

(Of course, some women report feeling more stress when they’re always keeping such a close eye on their fertility signs, and worry that this might put a strain on their fertility. But in my personal experience, it’s more stressful not knowing what’s going on; and I can’t see charting being any more stressful than medical testing and treatment.)

If you identify any fertility problems in your charting, you can know more precisely what issues to target:

Not ovulating? There are approaches you can take — both medical and alternative — to stimulate ovulation. Luteal phase too short? There are approaches you can take to increase progesterone and lengthen that phase. Inadequate cervical fluid? There are ways to encourage production of fertile-quality mucus. Wildly irregular cycles? You can learn to pinpoint exactly when to time sex, regardless of cycle length, to maximize your chance of conception.

Charting does not in any way have to replace getting medical help. Rather, it can enhance it: if you need fertility treatment, your charts will arm you with another layer of information about what needs correction. This can reduce the amount of testing that needs to be done, and hurry the process along.

Instead of telling the doctor, “We’ve been trying for ten months and we have no idea what’s wrong,” imagine being able to say, “I know I’m ovulating every cycle on day 21, but my post-ovulatory phase is too short to allow implantation. I think we need to work on that.” (Or even, “I can tell that my cycles are regular and I ovulate every month, and we’ve been having sex at the right times. But nothing has happened in ten months. We’d like to have a sperm analysis.”)

Already knowing your body can eliminate unnecessary steps in the process, and help put the focus on the right things. And most of all, it puts you at the helm so that you know what’s going on. In my experience, this is so empowering.

Of course, the ideal time to start charting is before you even start trying to conceive. That way you’re already familiar with your cycles by the time you want to start trying. You might already have some clues into potential problems before you get started. (This would require you to go off the Pill, if you’re taking it, several months before you want to conceive; but that sounds like a good idea to me regardless.)

But it’s never too late to get started.

If you’re hoping to conceive, or think you would like to start trying soon, I highly recommend you look into NFP/FAM and start charting. Knowledge is power!

Resources for further research:

  • Fertility Flower is a highly-recommended online resource for charting. On the site you’ll find blogs, forums, and online charting.
  • FertilityCare offers instruction in the Creighton model — a highly scientific and thorough approach that focuses on cervical fluid (the site can help you find a teacher in your area). I’ve worked with the Toronto branch — they helped me find a teacher, and arranged an appointment with a NaProTECHNOLOGY physician. This is a costlier approach but I highly recommend them if you’re dealing with infertility issues.

*If you have any additional resources to share, please let us know in the comments!*

Disclaimer: this post includes affiliate links.

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  1. Yay for body knowledge! I have found FAM/NFP so very empowering in my fertility journey. Thanks for getting the word out.
    Laura recently posted..The Little One, version 2: A New Birth StoryMy Profile

  2. Hi, I’m a newbie here so I hope you don’t mind me poking my oar in, but I noticed you hadn’t listed in your resources, and having been an obsessive charter for each of my bundles, I found that site a great resource. Its free. It has a great handbook too, really thorough, and apps for various gadgets, and a forum where you can compare cycles; fertile, non fertile, successful etc.

    Hope that helps add to the information pool. :)
    Nim recently posted..Making Vinegar from Scraps (and growing your own mother)My Profile

  3. Thank you for this post! In my personal experience charting is really a good way of understanding what is going on. I was even able to detect the first ovulation during breastfeeding, which was great!

    But I actually do see a down side:
    I am also quite sure that in my case some of the signs of ovulation were a bit late after the actual ovulation happened. When we were trying to conceive our first baby, I was stressed by too short luteal phase (7-10 days). I have never heard about the possibility of temperature rising few days after, so I did not know that was possible. It took us just 4 months to get pregnant, so the stress was really unnecessary. The second time I was just happy to see the ovulation going on, not worrying about the luteal phase, and everything was fine as well.

    I can also understand that some people are reluctant to time their love life by a thermometer…

  4. ah darn, i was hoping for some new information ;)

    but yes, no down sides! unless you’re like my mom and think that its possible for someone to know TOO MUCH and that if we were ONLY STUPIDER we would get pregnant. Yes, true story.
    alison recently posted..Sub-fertility and (slowly) learning to embrace my square pegMy Profile

  5. I’m just about to begin reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and even looking at the (blank) chart in the book is giving me some anxiety! But, seriously, where do you (and others) do your charting (paper, online, etc)?
    Rebecca recently posted..The Met Gala, 2014My Profile

    • I did mine online because I was lured in by all the fancy graphs, and being able to compare against thousands of other charts etc, but I keep track of mid and end cycle with my own secret code on the calendar in the kitchen, just so I know roughly where I’m at. It’s not scary once you get the hang of it. Whatever you choose, good luck! :)
      Nim recently posted..DIY Indestructible Boy Pants {Tutorial}My Profile

    • I do mine on paper. A piece of paper I keep by my bed. And then when it’s full, I put it in a 3-ring binder. I’m old-school like that.

      At first I printed out the official TCOYF charts from the website; but after several months (or maybe even a year) I made my own simplified chart on Excel, eliminating the categories I don’t use (e.g. I don’t pay attention to cervix position; I don’t write down exercise, etc).

  6. I was wondering what your experience was like taking basal body temperature while breastfeeding and co-sleeping. I have been charting for a couple of years using the Creighton model, but I recently borrowed TCOYF from the library and FAM works a little bit better for us (we’re not Catholic). I know she says you’re supposed to take your temperature at roughly the same time every day, after at least a 3 hour sleep stretch. We bed-share and my daughter’s last sleep stretch (and thus mine) is rarely 3 hours, and we don’t always wake up at the same time. Did you find any of this to be a problem? I would love to start charting my temperature to confirm ovulation.

    • Yes. Breastfeeding and co-sleeping make it very difficult to get an accurate temperature reading, for all the reasons you mention. So that’s why I was glad to have more than one source of information to go by (i.e. cervical fluid AND temperature). So when my temps were fuzzy, I would rely more on the other observations. Sometimes I didn’t feel 100% confident I had managed to pinpoint ovulation, but fortunately for us we were ready to welcome another child basically as soon as I got my cycles back (around a year post-partum).

  7. An amazing testimony on a sorceress who help me to get pregnant, So me and my partner have been trying for a baby for the last 2 years now. I don’t have a regular cycle so it is hard for me to tell when I’m ovulating or not, but we always have sex at least 3 times a week, sometimes more. I know it can take up to a year to conceive but everyone i know who have had a baby have conceived within 2-3months of trying and it is really getting to me. my partner had a fertility test about a year ago and his sperm were fine. I’m thinking it could be a problem with me but I’ve never had any symptoms of any problems. My partner does smoke and have the occasional drink, and i used to smoke and also have the occasional drink. i know i’m slightly overweight but that shouldn’t affect our chances too much, one faithful day my friend told me to contact a Sorceress that help her sister, then i contact the woman on her email. after three months the doctor confirm that i am pregnant thank you Sorceress mama jaja for helping me get a baby, I am thankful for all she had done. contact her via email: (, if you are trying to get a baby. she has powers to do it.

  8. I’m glad to know that it only took you 20 months before you were able to conceive for the first time. My partner and I have been trying to do so for 3 years now and we haven’t gotten any positive results yet. Maybe it is the perfect time to try other methods like IUI and see if we’ll be successful in having our first baby.

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