Menstrual cycle tracking can be both an empowering and a daunting task, especially if you’re new to it. Many women aren’t sure how to start and don’t know what to track, when to track, or where to track. That’s why I’ve created this beginner’s guide to menstrual cycle tracking. Here, you’ll find explanations of why it’s important, what to track, when to track and how to track, plus free journal templates to get you started. So, let’s get going on your menstrual cycle tracking journey!
Menstrual cycle tracking, on a basic level, is keeping a note of when your period arrives so that you can know when the next one will come.
Beyond it’s basic function, however, it can reveal a great deal more about who you are. Not just in terms of your cycle and hormones but in your motivations, moods, behaviours, wants and needs. And that’s only scratching the surface.
However, we cannot get to that understanding unless we start paying attention to what is going on and keeping track of it.
So at a deeper level, menstrual cycle tracking is paying attention to what is going on with our bodies and keeping notes either in a diary, a journal, or on an app. It is then reflecting on that information so that we can use it to our advantage.
Honestly I could list hundreds of benefits that I have discovered from tracking my own cycle. And talking to other women who do the same, so could they. The list below is just the tip of the iceberg…
Missing or irregular periods can be a sign of many issues, so it’s important to be aware of your body’s menstrual cycle and any changes that are occurring. Tracking these changes can be key to understanding what’s going on, and can help you decide if you need to see your doctor.1
What’s important is that we appreciate and respect what we discover and the intelligence of our body. And it all starts by paying attention to and making a note of what is going on2.
When you are just starting out, tracking your cycle can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. So I suggest you start off with these 3 main steps in order to to get into the habit of tracking.
Make a note of the first day and the last day of bleeding, how long you are bleeding for, how heavy your flow is on each day and any spotting you experience (either before or after your period or at other times in your cycle). All of these are important to help identify any possible hormone concerns that may be going on.3
Make a note of any days that feel particularly troublesome. You may come to discover these happen every cycle on the same day and so can help you prepare for them.4
I’d also add days that feel particularly amazing. Which again may happen each and every cycle and so identifying these can help you to optimise these days. 5
Write down just 3 words to describe how you feel on that day. This could be physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. You could add what you feel your strengths or your vulnerabilities are on that particular day. Or maybe just add a note of what you need today. It really doesn’t matter. Simply write down what is important to you!
So what if you need a bit of help with writing down 3 words? I know, I know. It’s only 3 words. But sometimes it can help to give some ideas of what to actually pay attention to. Hence we are going to look at:
We are going to look at what some people consider, the 4 bodies. Physical. Mental. Emotional. And Spiritual.
Our physical symptoms are usually the most common symptoms that we notice when it comes to our hormones and menstrual cycle. And this is more so with regards to the negative effects that we feel:
But the menstrual cycle also provides us with many positives too. It’s just that we tend not to give the menstrual cycle credit for these:
Just as with our physical body, we can often pick up on negative mindsets, and ones that we may often blame our hormones and our menstrual cycle for:
But again, there are positives too so don’t forget to pay attention to some of the more ‘positive’ effects of the menstrual cycle:
Are you feeling stable emotionally? Are you on a rollercoaster? Or do things feel more up? Or more down? Think about your mood, feelings, stress levels, confidence and self-esteem. Do you feel…
Remember that some emotions are actually cyclical and may not reflect a true picture of what’s going on in your life. Then again, maybe they do. At least if you track and you identify this then you will know if your hormones are having an effect or not.
Now this is an area that many people miss out on when tracking their cycle which I think is because it’s a much more positive area. And so we tend not to appreciate these as much and we definitely wouldn’t link them to our hormones or our cycle. Think about:
When we track our spiritual body, this is where we need to think about how connected we feel to ourselves or even to something greater than us.
We also need to think about our dreams and our goals. Because how we think, feel and behave around these areas really does change throughout our cycle.
Our menstrual cycle is often seen as an inconvenience which means that tracking our symptoms and vulnerabilities is not difficult for us to do.
But there are different times in our cycle where we have specific heightened mental abilities, emotional qualities, intuitive awareness and physical aptitudes.
But remember that we are all different and that includes our cycles so it is up to us to figure out what our own personal super powers are. It is up to us to become aware of our own optimum times, the types of heightened abilities they provide us and then practically apply these abilities to our lives.
This is why it’s important that we don’t just look for the vulnerabilities and the things that get us down. But also to become aware of our abilities and talents.
Because we really can become exceptionally productive and experience levels of achievement beyond our expectations both in our personal life and our work life.
So instead of struggling to keep all our plates spinning all of the time, we learn instead, which plates to focus on spinning in the phase that suits their optimum times in our cycle.
It is completely normal to have a season (or two) where we don’t really feel completely ‘at home’. These are times when we just don’t feel ourselves.
We may feel a little lost or overwhelmed or have certain days where we feel more vulnerable or uncomfortable and these days may pop up each and every cycle. For example:
Making a note of any days where we have sensitivities or weak points can really help us prepare for these days.
By knowing these danger zones we can put a reminder in our diary to maybe approach these days with more self compassion or more awareness for our behaviours around others.
Identifying what we need can help us to take care of our vulnerabilities so we can optimise our strengths in each phase. Remember to keep asking yourself “What do I need today?” & “What can I do to support myself?”
There really are an infinite number of ways to chart your menstrual cycle but we’re going to look at:
Remember that these are just some suggestions. Be creative. And use trial and error to find what suits you and your cycle. There are no wrong ways to track. I promise.
Using old school pen and paper is a great excuse to buy a notebook specifically for your cycle. Although you never ever need an excuse to buy new stationary!
One way that you can do this is by dividing each page into 3 sections. The first page of the notebook will be for day 1 observations, the second page will be for day 2 observations, the third page will be for day 3 observations…and so on. Then use one section of the page per cycle. This means that you’ll end up with 3 cycles worth of observations which will make it easy to notice patterns.
Tracking your menstrual cycle doesn’t mean you need to make things complicated. If you already keep a diary then you could add notes to that. Write as little or as much as you like. Colour code days. Or maybe use it to rate some of the things you want to keep track of such as your energy, your appetite and your motivation.
I tend to add a hashtag and the cycle day in the corner of the page. I also put future days in the diary too. And once I know when I ovulate, I know exactly when I will be coming on so can add that to my diary too. This helps with planning my social and work schedule (I know I struggle with stuff the days leading up to menstruation).
Just as with the suggestion to divide a page in a notebook into 3 sections you can do the same on your phone. Create a new note for each day of your cycle where you can jot down your observations each day on the appropriate note. Then with each new cycle you will go back and start again using the same note page for each day in the cycle.
This is another easy way to notice patterns over time and it’s super convenient as you’ll aways have your phone with you. Plus you won’t be limited to how many cycles you can track either (unlike the notebook).
Menstrual cycle awareness has really started to develop over the last few years as women are now realising how much benefit they can get from tracking their cycles. These journals are perfect if your want some more structure (and love using pen and paper). 6
If spreadsheets and analysing data light you up, then tracking your cycle this way will be perfect for you. It’s not something that I have tried but I can see how beneficial it would be. If you ever get round to doing it this way, let me know. I’d love to see how it works.
Menstrual cycle tracking apps are popping up all over the place so it means that you have a number to choose from. I have included a list below.
The benefits of using apps is that they are usually very user friendly and many have alerts that can come in handy if you tend to forget where you are in your cycle.
The other things is that once you’ve entered multiple cycles they will often make predictions about when you are ovulating and when your period will arrive which can be helpful when planning your diary.
As with anything, there are obviously some downsides too. Many apps simplify and generalise information which makes it difficult to make comparisons month by month.
So if you are going to use an app on it’s own then try and find one that allows you to input extra information such as physical, mental, emotional and spiritual observations. Or alternatively, use a tracking app alongside other charting tools (such as a hand written journal).
The other thing I do need to mention is that some apps do actually sell the data they collect to pharmaceutical companies so it’s worth checking out the apps properly beforehand. Here are a few cycle that do not sell or share your personal information7.
Clue App is an easy-to-use app that helps you make sense of your periods, fertility, pregnancy, and menstrual health. It’s a scientific and easy way to learn about your body and discover unique patterns in your menstrual cycle.
Natural Cycles is a birth control app that works alongside you Basal Body Temperature.
Kindara App provides tools backed by science so you can master your reproductive health. It’s goal being empowerment, providing a supportive user-based community, and accuracy.
Flo App can be personalised to make it unique and relevant for you no matter your life stage or reproductive goal. The app helps you to monitor your cycle, fertility, or pregnancy accurately and is a one-stop solution for all things female health and well-being.
Cycles App helps you get to know your own reproductive health. It is also the first app to introduce partner connect. It has a clean and simple interface that can help you keep track of your cycle effortlessly.
I have created a number of different menstrual cycle tracking templates over the years. These templates are ones that I have worked with in one way or another and have adapted to suit my tracking as it evolves and changes. Play around, be creative and see how you can incorporate cycle tracking into your life.
Now I have a confession…I am a bit of a geek when it comes to tracking. I started off with the basics and then found that the more I learned about myself, the more I wanted to learn. So if something cropped up one month I would be curious to see if it was cyclical or if it was just a one off, which meant that I would add that to my tracking.
Hence my own cycle charting includes a combination of tools. I have my handwritten journal where I write my reflections. Not just about my cycle but about everything. This is brilliant for the times in my cycle where I do not want to be connected to technology
I also use the Clue app where I add my bleed and flow, my cervical mucus and my temperature. This creates a graph and helps me identify where I have ovulated.
And finally, I have my Diary where I highlight my inner seasons as well as including sticky notes to help me to remember what I need to do for myself in each season.
For example, days 7-8 I usually have tension in my neck and shoulders which can lead to migraines if I’m not careful. My note is to remind me to move lots and not spend as much time in front of a screen which lessens the symptoms.
There are so many great reasons to start tracking your menstrual cycle. I for one have seen the benefit of doing so and have continued daily for almost 10 years now. But I also get how daunting it can be to get started. So I’m hoping these ideas on how to track and what to track have helped.
Remember though that these are just suggestions. Use trial and error to find what suits you and your cycle. Start off with the basics first and get into the habit.
Then maybe you will even find you want to take your tracking to the next level. Either way, even if this basic tracking is all you do you will still learn a huge amount. And finally, please remember that getting to know your cycle takes time. You do not need to know everything all at once (I’m looking at you perfectionists!)
We often get the best results when we’re patient and uncover our understanding layer by layer. And the more we uncover the deeper we will connect to our body, cycle, mind, mood, hormones. And the more we will be able to provide ourselves with the support and self compassion that we need.
Note that if you are having irregular or missing periods, using the advanced menstrual cycle tracking techniques can tell you so much more about what is going on with your body. This includes Tracking Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT), cervical mucus and monitoring your cervix position.↩︎
It’s never about having a textbook cycle. Remember that every woman is different which means that every menstrual cycle is different.↩︎
One way you could write this down is to use letters to help you remember. VH = Very heavy. H = Heavy. M = Moderate. L = Light. VL = Very light.↩︎
I tend to use an exclamation mark in my diary for these days↩︎
I draw a big heart on days like this ↩︎
Before you do buy, remember that some of these may not be great if your cycle is more than, say, 30 days. Many of the journals only have space for cycles that are of ‘average’ length. So it’s worth making sure before you buy. Check out Fertility Awareness Charting Workbook and Red Journal.↩︎
That’s the case at the time of writing this. But things change so please be aware.↩︎