How to track your menstrual cycle is all the rage these days. There are apps, tracking journals, and pen and paper methods, but you may be asking yourself ‘how do I track my menstrual cycle’ or ‘what symptoms should I track during my period’?
As you track your cycle symptoms, you will notice patterns that help you identify what phase you are in. To properly track the menstrual cycle, it must be done every single day consistently. This will not only help you understand your body but also recognize if symptoms change (and if that’s a cause for concern).
First, it’s important to know what happens during your cycle, here is an overview of the four phases that you will track…
Note: Menstrual cycles can range anywhere from 20-35 days, the timeline breakdown is generalized for simplicity sake. Your phases may be longer or shorter than this example1.
What are the Menstrual Cycle Phases?
The Menstrual Phase (Day 1 - 7-ish):
Starts: Day one of our cycle is marked by the beginning of our period.
Duration: This phase can last anywhere from a few days to a week depending on your cycle.
What happens: Estrogen and progesterone levels dip down causing our uterus to shed its lining (aka our period blood) to prepare a hospitable environment for the possibility of egg fertilization coming soon. The end of our menstrual phase is marked by bleeding stopping.
Follicular Phase (Day 1-14ish):
Starts: The follicular phase begins simultaneously with our menstrual phase but continues until ovulation.
Duration: This phase can range anywhere from 12-23 days depending on how long your follicle takes to release an egg (which indicates the next phase, ovulation).
What happens: The pituitary gland (hormone regulating center in our brain) secretes a hormone to trigger a follicle in the ovary to mature and release an egg. It takes roughly 13 days for an egg to reach maturity once it's begun transforming from the follicle. While the follicle is maturing, it secretes a hormone to build up the endometrial lining once again. The body creates this lining to act as a protective cushion for potential fertilization of an egg, if fertilization does not occur, the lining is shed as a period and the cycle starts again.
Ovulation Phase (Day 15-20ish):
Starts: Ovulation begins when the pituitary gland secretes a hormone that alerts the ovary to release the matured egg.
Duration: Ovulation only lasts for a day or two.
What happens: The egg is released from the follicle in the ovary and makes its way down the fallopian tubes for potential fertilization.
The egg is only viable for 12-24 hours once in the uterus to be fertilized, however, your fertile window is larger than that as sperm can survive for 5 days inside the body.
Luteal Phase (Day 20-29ish):
Starts: After ovulation near the end of your cycle.
Duration: 11 to 17 days
What happens: At the start of the luteal phase the egg has now been sitting in the fallopian tube for about a day. If it hasn't been fertilized by sperm, it will disintegrate. By the end of the luteal phase, the hormone used to build up the endometrial lining is all used up. This triggers menstruation to occur once again. Premenstrual symptoms occur toward the end of the luteal phase, and it ends when menstruation begins again.
When Should I Start Tracking My Menstrual Cycle?
Day one of your cycle is the first day of your period. You don't need to wait until your next period begins to start tracking though. You can take a guess for now and go with the cycle, then when it ends and your period does start, start your next month of charting.
Tracking can look like many things:
a list of things going on,
written like a journal entry, or
jotted random thoughts relevant to that day in your cycle.
Figure out what works for you. After a few cycles, you'll start to see patterns and predictability in it.
What do I Chart When Tracking My Menstrual Cycle?
In short... everything.
But to get you started here are some things to look out for and make notes of with your tracking:
Physical Symptoms to Track:
Record down any physical symptoms you are experiencing daily such as:
Cramps (level of pain)
Cervical fluid (see below for further information)
Bowel movements (frequency, pain, etc)
Breakouts and location of acne
*During the menstrual phase it's important to track the colour, consistency, and amount of blood (read more about the meaning of period blood colour here). Track any spotting you have throughout your cycle and the consistency/colour as well. Throughout the three other cycle phases, it’s beneficial to track cervical fluid as well (see below).
Emotional Symptoms to Track:
On each day of your cycle write down the major moods you experienced that day. If you were feeling a high or a low. Motivated or in need of rest. Charting mood patterns can reveal cyclic changes in anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. These recordings can come in handy at doctors’ appointments, or therapy sessions to see hormonal patterns affecting the psyche.
Tracking Cervical Fluid:
Cervical fluid (aka discharge) is secreted by the cervix during the remainder of the menstrual cycle when there isn’t any bleeding. The consistency and amount of cervical fluid can indicate the cycle phase. When charting cervical fluid daily write down:
Amount of cervical fluid (none, little, lots)
Colour of cervical fluid
Consistency (dry, creamy, runny)
Smell (if applicable, most important if it smells ‘off’)
To examine your cervical fluid collect a small amount once a day by putting two fingers just inside the opening of your vagina. Bring your fingers in front of you and spread them apart. This will give you a good visual of the consistency, color, and texture. You'll notice how things change in fluid especially around ovulation.
After menstruation, cervical fluid is typically thicker and creamy and gradually gets thinner until fertile fluid is seen which looks similar to egg white consistency/color. If this method of tracking cervical fluid feels like too much for you, try looking at a piece of toilet paper after wiping first thing in the morning. By doing this in the morning, your vagina has had time to collect fluid overnight while laying relatively still.
All these symptoms can either be plugged into your period tracking app, written on a calendar, or put into a period tracking journal. Integrate tracking as a daily habit by setting an alarm each evening to spend time thinking about how you felt that day and recording it.
Now you're ready to start tracking! Take a screenshot of this page or refer back to it if you get stuck on what to track.
Tracking your period is also important in understanding why you may have missed a period and if there are any related symptoms.
Free! Click to download joni's three-month period tracker:
Read, B. (2018, August 05). The normal menstrual cycle and the control of ovulation. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/