Keeping track of your monthly cycle

Monthly cycle calendar

Changing hormone levels in your monthly cycle bring with them a whole range of body changes. These include:

  • Differences in vaginal discharge
  • Body temperature increases and decreases
  • Stomach cramps
  • Pain
  • Changes in mood

To keep in charge of the symptoms like pain and cramps, it's a good idea to chart your menstrual cycle and period symptoms on a monthly cycle calendar or period calendar. This helps you predict your periods, note changes in your body and track possible premenstrual or other period symptoms. Plus, when you visit your doctor, they will probably ask you the date of your last period – so you’ll be prepared to answer their questions.
Another good reason to chart your cycle is that you generally don't want to visit the doctor when you’re having your period. Certain tests, like Pap smears, must be done when you're not bleeding, so it's important to know where you are in your cycle. Ultimately, charting gives you more control over your reproductive health and helps you understand your own body rhythms.

Handy hints

Keeping track of your period symptoms on a monthly cycle calendar is simple, but you do need to remember to do it. Make sure you note down the first day of your period. Also think about writing down when you get cramps, if you have mood changes, changes in your vaginal discharge, experience pain when you don’t expect it, or other changes you think might be unusual. Soon a cyclical pattern may emerge and you can match certain symptoms to your periods.
If you want to identify the times when specific period symptoms occur, think about recording changes in your basal body temperature. Most gynaecologists have a graph you can use for this. You’ll need to get hold of a digital thermometer, which is easy to use. Just take your temperature first thing in the morning, after a good night's sleep, and before getting out of bed. Your basal body temperature increases from one half to one degree Fahrenheit when you ovulate.
If you’re not pregnant, your body temperature will return to its pre-ovulatory level as oestrogen and progesterone levels drop and you approach your next period. However, if you are pregnant, your basal body temperature will stay elevated for more than 16 days after you ovulate.
While keeping track of your periods, keep in mind the following questions – as your doctor may ask you these:

How long is your period?

Mark down the days of your period on a calendar. The first day of your period is also 'Day One' of your monthly cycle. If you begin to chart your cycle each month, you'll see a pattern. A normal cycle is 21 to 35 days.

How heavy or light is your flow?

If you've been having periods for a while, you know what your flow looks like. So keep track of light or heavy bleeding and any changes in colour and texture, such as blood clots. Tell your doctor if you notice anything unusual about the length of your period, amount of flow or the way it looks.

Other symptoms

Note down any unusual vaginal secretions that occur during the month. You may notice a thicker or stickier discharge at mid-cycle – this is normal and means you’re ovulating. Other changes that give you and your doctor important information include:

  • Variations in your period length
  • Timing or amount of menstrual blood, such as spotting between periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Any change in vaginal secretions such as colour and amount, particularly if it's itchy or smelly
  • Vaginal lubrication problems
  • Any pelvic pain, whether or not it’s linked to your period
  • Depression, mood swings and irritability.

If any symptoms don’t seem right, call your GP right away.