Spot Fertility Problems Sooner: Track Your BBT

Pull out your thermometer! Taking your waking temperature using a basal body temperature (BBT) thermometer can clue you in to your chances of conceiving. Here's what to look out for.

Spot Fertility Problems Sooner: Track Your BBT

When you and your partner first decide to have a baby, you might think you'll get pregnant easily. Then after the first month or two with no success, you wonder, "What if something's wrong?" For a healthy couple under 35, doctors advise a year of trying before seeking infertility treatment. But when you're ready to conceive, that can seem like a really long time.

There's an easy way you can detect certain fertility issues more quickly, and without a doctor visit. According to Toni Weschler, MPH, author of the trying-to-conceive bible Taking Charge of Your Fertility, whose 20th anniversary edition hits shelves July 7, taking your waking temperature is key.

Called the "basal body temperature" (BBT), your temperature first thing in the morning shows the hormonal shifts in your body throughout your monthly cycle. By taking your temp before you even get up to pee and recording the results with an app like Fertility Friend or a simple pen and paper, you can start to understand your chances of getting pregnant.

Tracking your cycle

"Basal temperatures range from about 97.0 - 97.7 before ovulation, and 97.8 and higher after ovulation," says Weschler. "Women who are ovulating normally will usually observe two levels of temperatures, a range of lower before ovulation and higher after." The rise in progesterone after ovulation causes this temperature spike. When you get your period, your progesterone level, and your temperature, drop again. If you get pregnant, your temps remain high.

After several months of charting your BBT, you should see a regular pattern of rising and falling numbers. But if the pattern is all over the place, your temperature never rises, or you have less than 10 high temps after ovulation (which reflects a lack of progesterone), it may be cause for concern. "Women who are not ovulating typically have only one level of temps throughout their cycle," says Weschler.

Why your chart could be out of whack

If your fertility chart is less than perfect, what could that mean? "Anovulatory or irregular cycles may be caused by thyroid issues, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, excessive prolactin, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or a form of premature menopause called primary ovarian insufficiency," says Weschler. "The good news is, all of these conditions can be resolved if they are properly treated." Realizing you may have a fertility problem is scary, but the sooner you find out, the sooner you can get help. If your charts don't follow a predictable pattern, contact your OBGYN.

Charting doesn't reveal all forms of infertility—for example, blocked fallopian tubes or male factor infertility won't show up. But knowing how your body works is the first step to understanding your chances of getting pregnant. "The best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to identify potential problems so that you can be proactive in your own journey to motherhood," says Weschler.