It was the tool I needed to feel some control while trying to conceive, and now it’s my preferred birth control.
I had no idea what basal body temping (BBT) was until I was about 5 months into trying to get pregnant.
I was searching online forums for any clues and tricks to help me conceive and came across BBT — it was being touted as a must-use tool for conception. What I later found was not only were these parents to be correct, but it was also the tool to unlocking a life free from ever using hormonal birth control again.
Basal body temperature is the term used to describe your at-rest temperature. This temperature goes up slightly when you’re ovulating, and by keeping track of your monthly temperature trends, you can locate any patterns and predict when you’re likely ovulating.
Using BBT (alone or in combination with other indicators like cervical mucus, if you choose) helps you know the time frame where you’re likely dropping an egg so you can time sex to give yourself the best chance to conceive.
While I was trying to conceive, I’d take my oral temperature every morning before I got out of bed. My alarm clock would go off, and basically while still in sleep mode, I’d reach over to my nightstand for my thermometer and pop it in my mouth.
After waiting for the beeps signaling it was done, I’d record that temperature and graph it using a phone app. The key to accurate temperature readings is to take them before you get out of bed and at the same time every day.
The app that I used over 4 years of trying to conceive is called Fertility Friend. I started using it way before it was an app — it was just a website at the time — but by the time my fourth child came around, the app was a huge benefit. The app helps graph your temperature, predicts when you may ovulate, and provides helpful reference material for understanding BBT.
Two other apps that also come highly recommended are Clue and Ovia Health. These also have the ability to track your cycles, temperatures, and other data that could be indicators of fertility (like sexual mood and cervical mucus).
Temperature tracking sounds like a lot of work, and while you’re getting used to it, it can be inconvenient. But what I found was the longer I recorded my temperature daily, the easier it became — it wasn’t a big deal to add this step in my morning routine.
And the best benefit of it all is that it worked! Using BBT helped me conceive after a few months of tracking my temperatures and seeing my pattern unfold. I was able to time when ovulation was going to happen, and I had a gorgeous baby 10 months later.
After my child was born, my partner and I discussed when we wanted to have another child. We had to take into consideration the struggles we had conceiving and my previous history with hormonal birth control — and the dangers it can pose to my body.
I have a blood clotting disorder called Factor V Leiden that predisposes me to blood clots. With this, I’m not able to use all hormonal birth control options, specifically ones that contain estrogen hormones.
This significantly limited my options, and since we knew we didn’t want to wait too long to have another baby, going with a longer-term hormonal birth control option like an IUD didn’t seem to fit either.
After I found BBT, there was no way I was going to go back to hormonal birth control. For me, BBT told me all I needed to know about how to get pregnant, and thus also told me what I needed to know to avoid pregnancy, too.
Using BBT to avoid pregnancy is a category of the fertility awareness birth control method, and it’s great if you don’t like or can’t use hormonal methods of birth control.
But it does have its downsides too. Because of the potential for human error, it is one of the least reliable methods for birth control. It also doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections.
I’m lucky because my cycles are regular, so it makes BBT for pregnancy and pregnancy avoidance clear. If your cycles aren’t regular, it can be a lot harder to see the pattern you need to help you avoid a pregnancy, if that’s your goal.
Combining BBT tracking with other elements, like tracking your cycle over time for patterns as I did using the app, and tracking your cervical mucus, can make it more effective for birth control.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, up to 5 percent of women will get pregnant with the fertility awareness method if they use the method (track) consistently and correctly throughout their menstrual cycle. Without “perfect use,” pregnancy rates go up to 12 to 24 percent.
Choosing the right birth control for you should come with a lot of research and several conversations, both with your partner and your healthcare professional. This method worked for me, but it might not be for everyone.
That said, learning more about your own cycle can be empowering and can help you to understand your body, whether you use BBT for birth control, ovulation tracking, or just to understand your fertility.
Devan McGuinness is a parenting writer and recipient of several awards through her work with UnspokenGrief.com. She focuses on helping others through the hardest and best times in parenthood. Devan lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and four children.