Maybe you just heard that this little device is useful for trying to get pregnant or for birth control and you bought it. However, you don't really know how to use the information it's giving you. Hopefully, this will help answer your questions.
Maybe you're reading posts in our Facebook Group, and don't understand half of what people are saying. You're seeing lots of acronyms and medical terms that you're not familiar with. If any of this applies to you, this post is to you.
First, the basics. The female cycle begins with menstruation, the shedding of the uterine lining. The first day of your period, actual red bleeding, not just spotting, is cycle day 1 (CD1).
While you are bleeding, your body is starting to prepare for ovulation. A hormone called FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) is telling your eggs to develop in their follicles. It takes many cycles for an individual egg to fully ripen, so you always have eggs in various stages of development.
During this part of your cycle progesterone, estrogen, and luteinizing hormone levels are all fairly low, but soon that will change. First, your estrogen levels will rise. Estradiol, as shown on the included graph, is a type of estrogen. Estrogen is produced by the developing follicles which causes your body to slightly lower in temperature, begin producing cervical mucus, and open your cervix.
Many of us are taught as young girls that some vaginal discharge is normal, but we're rarely told more than that. The truth is that your body produces several different types of discharge which have different purposes.
Your vagina has a certain degree of moistness all the time, which is part of healthy lubrication and natural cleaning. When you are sexually aroused, your body produces more fluid to lubricate your vagina for sex. This fluid usually doesn't hang around long.
When your body is preparing to ovulate, rising estrogen levels tell your cervix to begin producing mucous. This mucus serves an important function in your fertility; it provides a receptive environment for sperm. Without fertile mucus, the sperm will die in a matter of hours or less. With good fertile mucous present, sperm can live for 3-5 days and sometimes even a bit longer.
If you are trying to conceive (TTC), good mucus is essential to allow sperm to survive long enough to find your egg. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy (TTA), cervical mucus gives you a valuable clue that you are fertile and not safe for unprotected sex (UP).
Illustration 1: By The original uploader was Ekem at English Wikipedia. [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
The surge of estrogen in your body also triggers your LH (Luteinizing Hormone) levels to begin rising. When it peaks high enough, LH is what triggers your egg to be released from your ovary and ovulation takes place.
The egg only lives for 12-24 hours, so any sperm that are hanging around still present in your mucus have a narrow window to make contact. If your body is going to release a second egg this cycle, that will also occur in this 24-hour window.
After ovulation, estrogen, LH, and FSH all drop off and progesterone, which is produced by the now-empty follicle called the Corpus Luteum, begins to rise. Progesterone prevents your body from releasing any more eggs and tells your cervix to close up tight and stop producing mucus since there is no need for it now.
Progesterone also raises your body temperature and thickens your uterine lining, both of which help provide a good environment for a possible new embryo.
The corpus luteum continues producing progesterone for about 12-16 days, sometimes a bit more or less, and then dies off.
This period, between ovulation and your next period, is called the Luteal Phase (LP) and is usually the same length in each cycle with very little variation. Now one of two things can happen. If you're pregnant, the embryo and placenta take over progesterone production. Your temps will stay high, and often go even higher.
If your temps stay high for more than your normal LP length, that's a good clue that you may be pregnant. Luteal cysts can also cause a prolonged LP though, so a pregnancy test is still needed to confirm.
If you're not pregnant, when the corpus luteum stops producing progesterone your levels will drop abruptly. This drop in progesterone allows your menstruation to begin and FSL levels to rise, beginning a whole new cycle.
Using this Knowledge
Okay, so how do you use this information?
Your fertile phase begins with the production of cervical mucus and continues until ovulation has been confirmed. If you can identify with reasonable accuracy which days those are, then you can use that information.
If you don't want to get pregnant, don't have unprotected sex on your fertile days. If you are trying to get pregnant, then have lots of sex on your fertile days!
You can determine when you are fertile by making daily observations of your symptoms and interpreting those observations according to a set of rules, a method of NFP/FAM. Different methods have different ways of making observations and focus on different symptoms, which may include: external mucous, internal mucous, cervix (height, texture, and open/closed), basal body temperature (oral, vaginal, or Tempdrop), hormone tests (LH, progesterone), and ferning of mucous (using a special microscope).
Many women also find it useful to chart other symptoms for additional confirmation, such as cramping, moods, breast soreness, bloating, libido, and more. It's not necessary to chart all of these at once - your method will focus on a few, and the rest is up to you to chart what you find helpful. In our Tempdrop users group, we focus on Sympto-Thermal Methods (STM). STM is a category of methods, not a particular set of rules. STMs use temperatures cross-checked by some other symptom.
Your next step should be choosing a particular method, and finding resources to learn it thoroughly. This might mean reading a book, taking a class, or meeting with an instructor. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, this is particularly important. Winging it before properly learning your method can lead to errors and unplanned pregnancies.
Most methods will also recommend that you abstain or use protection for the first few cycles while you are learning to avoid mistakes. If you still have questions or need clarification about any part of using FAM, Tempdrop's Facebook Group is a great place to learn and find support, however you must be a Tempdrop user to join.