What the heck is the sympto-thermal method exactly?
Is it the same as cycle tracking?
How does it work as birth control?
Can I just teach myself?
These are questions I get all the time - And, today, I'm going to answer them all!
On this episode of Menstrual Mastery, we’re doing a deep dive into the sympto-thermal double check method of fertility awareness that I teach here at Sauvage wellness and how it works as natural birth control.
Today we’re going to cover…
>> How the sympto-thermal double check method is different from simply cycle tracking. Even I use these terms interchangeably for the sake of using language that most folks are familiar with, however more accurately the sympto-thermal double check method is a form of cycle tracking - BUT not all cycle tracking is the sympto-thermal method and we’ll explore why that is
>> We’ll also cover what symptoms you need to keep track of when using the sympto-thermal method, how to track them, and how these symptoms give us all the info we need to prevent pregnancy naturally
For some of you who’ve been in the Sauvage Wellness community for a while, this episode is a great refresher and for those who are new to our community - Welcome. This episode might just blow your mind!
Let’s dive in…
The sympto-thermal double check method - that’s what we’re talking about today.
It’s the method I teach here at Sauvage Wellness and use personally as natural birth control. The sympto-thermal double check method is a form of cycle tracking, or what is often referred to as fertility awareness methods. Fertility awareness methods are different methods of cycle tracking that are used as natural birth control and to achieve pregnancy naturally. There isn’t one specific fertility awareness method, however there are a few common ones. The most common fertility awareness methods are the billings ovulation method (or cervical fluid only method), the temperature only method, and the sympto-thermal method. I choose to teach the sympto-thermal double check method because it utilizes an added rule that increases the efficacy of the method in preventing pregnancy. The sympto-thermal method incorporates BOTH the cervical fluid only and temperature only methods rather than relying on one or the other.
All of these methods work by tracking symptoms in your current cycle and using that information to isolate the 6 day fertile window for that cycle along with a buffer zone for added efficacy. For those who are unaware - we are only able to get pregnancy from intercourse on 6 days of any given menstrual cycle. This is because sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to 5 days in optimal cervical fluid and an egg once released during ovulation is viable for 12 to 24 hours. This means that most pregnancies occur from intercourse on the days BEFORE ovulation.
One thing I want to be super clear on here is that when people talk about cycle tracking as natural birth control, they almost always mention - if not exclusively think of - the rhythm method. Here’s the deal - the rhythm method is highly ineffective and not even something I would consider a true fertility awareness method. The rhythm method relies solely on information from past cycles to predict fertility in your current cycle. That doesn’t work because you are not a robot and your current cycle will not be identical to your past cycles. Life gets stressful, we get sick, we travel -- all of this can impact our cycle from one month to the next. If you hear someone starting to talk about the rhythm method - RUN. Any time I ever talk about cycle tracking or fertility awareness, please know that I am NEVER talking about the rhythm method unless I explicitly say so.
Okay - now that we’ve cleared that up… let’s explore why cycle tracking and the sympto-thermal method are not the same thing.
It boils down to the old - all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares concept. The sympto-thermal method is a form of cycle tracking, but not all cycle tracking is the sympto-thermal method. Cycle tracking can be many things - from cervical fluid only tracking, to temperature only, to simply taking notes on breast, pelvic, pms, and period symptoms throughout the month. There are many ways to track one’s cycle. The sympto-thermal method involves cervical fluid, temperature, cervix, and body symptom tracking as well as the application of 4 specific rules in order for it to be used effectively as natural birth control. I like to think of it as taking cycle tracking to the next level.
Okay - so we know that the sympto-thermal method is a highly specialized form of cycle tracking. Great!
Now we’ve got to explore what it is we’re actually doing when we’re using the sympto-thermal method.
The sympto-thermal method involves 3 main tracking signs -- cervical fluid shifts, temperature change, & cervix position and texture. It also involves secondary tracking signs like ovulation spotting, ovulation pressure, breast changes, and other body symptoms. For the sake of time, we’re going to focus on the 3 main tracking signs today.
First up - and honestly my favorite - is cervical fluid. Cervical fluid is produced by your cervix as a result of the rising levels of estrogen that occur after your period and leading up to ovulation. We can see and feel cervical fluid at the vaginal opening, on our undies, and on toilet paper. We can also feel its wetness and slipperiness when walking around. Cervical fluid goes through a transition from wet and watery, to creamy and milky, to slightly stretchy, to clear, slippery, and super stretchy like the consistency of raw egg-whites. This egg white type fluid occurs closest to ovulation and is the best type of cervical fluid for sperm mobility and transportation and therefore is thought of as the most fertile type of fluid. Following ovulation, under the presence of progesterone, cervical fluid dries up and becomes sticky, tacky, a bit thicker and white. In a healthy cycle we only see that wet and fertile type fluid prior to ovulation. Therefore, the presence of cervical fluid following our periods tells us that the body is preparing to ovulate and we are in our fertile window.
The next tracking sign is temperature - specifically your temperature first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. Your resting temperature will be low in the first half of your menstrual cycle and will rise slightly and remain high following ovulation as a result of the impact of the hormone progesterone, which is only made after we ovulate. This is referred to as the biphasic temperature pattern. With daily temperature tracking we are able to identify our day of temperature rise and record sustained high temperatures on the following days. This sustained temperature rise tells us that progesterone is present, ovulation has occurred, and our fertile window is closed.
Last up we have cervix tracking. I often think of this as a bonus tracking sign, especially if a woman has very clear cervical fluid and temperature shifts. The cervix is located at the base of the uterus and extends down into the vaginal canal. It is located at the back of the vagina. The cervix can be felt by entering a finger into the vagina. The cervix is used in the sympto-thermal method because it is highly influenced by the hormone estrogen. The rising levels of estrogen leading up to ovulation causes the cervix to feel soft, slightly open, and located higher up in the vagina. Once estrogen drops and progesterone rises, the cervix feels firm, closed, and located lower in the vagina. Because of these shifts, the cervix can help us confirm what we are seeing with cervical fluid and temperature changes.
Now to use cervical fluid, temperature, and cervix shifts as natural birth control you have to learn and practice the 4 rules of the sympo-thermal double check method for determining your fertile and non-fertile phases. The 4 rules are: the calendar days rule, the dry days rule, the peak +3 rule, and the 3 over 6 rule. I teach women how these rules work and how to apply them to their unique cycles in my Natural Birth Control Academy course and my 1x1 coaching programs.
It’s not enough to know the theory of the sympto-thermal double check method, or the theory of the rules - it’s incredibly important that one learns how to apply these rules to their unique cycle, what to do when signs aren’t so clear, and how to be prepared for cycle scenarios like early or delayed ovulation, hormonal imbalance, withdrawal bleeds (aka not real periods), and missing periods.
It’s also important to note that when we’re talking about cycle tracking we’re talking about tracking natural cycles, not tracking while on hormonal birth control. I know this makes me sound like a hormonal birth control hater, but it’s not like that. We don’t generally use cycle tracking tools when a woman is on hormonal birth control because hormonal birth control prevents pregnancy by flatlining your hormones and taking away the cycling that would normally take place. Hormonal birth control (and the copper IUD) thickens cervical fluid in an attempt to prevent pregnancy and therefore we do not see changes in cervical fluid over the course of a month while on these types of birth control. Quite simply - there’s nothing to track.
Another way that hormonal birth control works is that it flatlines your hormones so that ovulation does not occur. Without ovulation, you will not experience the natural shift in temperature that occurs following the release of the egg from the ovary. Again - there’s nothing to track.
It’s not that cycle tracking isn’t for women on hormonal birth control. It’s that there’s no cycle to track when on the hormonal methods. The hormones have been flatlined rather than fluctuating in their natural cyclical pattern.
Okay - that was a lot. It probably sounded a little like health class - if health class was empowering and taught us the bigger truths about how our bodies and our fertility works.
Disclaimer: Brandy Oswald, Sauvage Wellness LLC, and her employees are not doctors, nurses, physicians, psychotherapists, or in anyway licensed medical practitioners and information presented here is to serve as an educational resource and not to be interpreted as: (1) medical advice; (2) a 100% effective birth control option or (3) nutrition or health guidelines. By reading this you acknowledge that you understand that as a specialized form of consulting, coaching is not the same as professional or licensed therapy or medical advice and intervention; and recognize that it is your responsibility to seek such services from a licensed professional. Brandy Oswald is not a medical provider and cannot give medical advice. All information provided by Sauvage Wellness LLC and Brandy Oswald is of a general nature and is intended only for educational purposes to help with your personal health improvement goals and should not be relied on as medical advice. Always consult a physician with any health concerns and prior to changing your diet, lifestyle, supplements,birth control, or prescription medicine routine. Should you choose to use the information provided by Brandy Oswald it is of your own volition and you recognize that neither Brandy nor Sauvage Wellness LLC is not held liable for any intended or unintended outcomes.