Even though there are many different methods that fall under the umbrella of fertility awareness, the main goal is to identify your fertile window. With that knowledge, you can then make an informed decision according to your intentions of avoiding a pregnancy or trying to conceive.
So how do you identify your fertile window? There are three primary fertility signs that are observed and recorded by most methods in order to chart a woman's menstrual cycle: cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and cervical position.
Cervical mucus is the most important part of your menstrual cycle charting because it actually gives you information about how close you are to approaching ovulation. Cervical mucus creates a hospitable environment for sperm, which can keep them alive for up to five days. Without mucus, sperm die after just a few minutes to hours.
Different methods of fertility awareness have different ways of checking for cervical mucus and how to record what you see. The most common "categories" are dry, meaning no mucus is present, a range of non-peak type mucus which can be referred to as sticky, tacky, or creamy, depending on how much it stretches, and your peak type cervical mucus, which is clear in color, lubricative in sensation, and very stretchy. This is often referred to as egg white cervical mucus because of its resemblance to raw egg white.
Basal Body Temperature
Your basal body temperature can be very helpful in pinpointing ovulation, however, this is done in retrospect! AFTER ovulation, your basal body temperature rises in response to the hormone progesterone which is produced by the corpus luteum - the follicle from which the egg was released.
In order to get an accurate temperature reading, you need a basal body thermometer with two digits after the decimal point and take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed. The general rule is that the temperatures should be taken at the same time each day, give or take 30 minutes. However, since life happens and you got to bed late, want to sleep in, or woke up a lot during the night, you can simply add a note to your chart or mark your temperature as "questionable" in order to help you interpret your chart more accurately.
Often considered an optional sign, checking the position of your cervix can help you better understand your menstrual cycle and is a very helpful tool to consider when your cervical mucus or temperature recordings seem off.
During your infertile days, your cervix will be lower, meaning easier to reach with an inserted finger, it will be firmer like the tip of your nose, and it will be closed, meaning there is no noticeable opening and it appears smooth. As you get closer to ovulation, your cervix moves up higher, meaning it is harder to reach, it will be softer like your lips, and you may be able to notice a dimple when you move your fingertip across your cervix, which is the opening leading into your uterus.
In my case, checking my cervical position is often more insightful than my cervical mucus because I generally have very limited mucus. However, this is a great example of how fertility awareness can work even for women who don't see the textbook perfect cervical mucus pattern. We successfully prevented pregnancy for 18 cycles before we decided it was time to try and conceive, which only took one cycle!