Menstrual cycle tracking apps have been popular for a long time, and for good reason. They help women feel more in control of their health through awareness and education about their cycles and bodies.
Tracking your period, or keeping tabs on your monthly cycle by documenting the dates, symptoms and other changes throughout the month, can be helpful for a variety of reasons. And it's not just to help you remember when your period will arrive -- tracking your monthly cycle can help make you aware of other aspects of your health, like if you could have a hormonal imbalance or other related condition you'd want to keep track of.
Keeping tabs on your cycle is also a good idea if you're trying to become pregnant, or even want to take extra steps to prevent pregnancy in addition to birth control. Keep reading for more reasons why you should track your cycle and how you can start.
Should you track your period if your cycle is 'normal' or regular?
Even if your cycle is pretty regular, tracking it on a monthly basis is still a good idea. Not only is it for predicting when your period will arrive, but it can be a helpful tool for gauging other factors about your health. For example, irregular or absent periods can point to other underlying health issues, so it's important to be aware of what is happening and when so you can tell your doctor.
"Periods are so helpful to track because it can help with planning lifestyles, fertility and also to help women know when there may be some changes to their cycle," Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB/GYN, told CNET.
For example, if you're planning a vacation, you'll be better equipped to schedule it on a date that's not around your period (when you're more likely to enjoy it). Some women find that being aware of their cycle can help with planning other social or work-related activities too.
Maybe you know that around 2-3 days before your period you don't feel your best -- maybe you have low energy or get headaches. If that's the case, you can use period tracking to help you plan your biggest work projects or date-nights on days when you're feeling your best.
If you do start to experience changes in your cycle (like the length, new or worsening symptoms, the amount of bleeding) then keeping track on a monthly basis can help you remember when you experience changes, and try to detect any patterns or recurring changes. Changes in your cycle aren't necessarily a problem, but helpful to track in case you'd like to discuss them with your doctor.
Can tracking your period help if you have a condition like PCOS or endometriosis?
"For women with PCOS and endometriosis, it can help women take a better account of their irregular cycles so that they can report to their doctors with more accuracy about the changes in their cycles," Shepherd said.
If you suspect you may have PCOS or another condition that involves irregular cycles, period tracking can help. Some tracking apps (like Clue) have features that can alert you when you have irregular cycles and suspect that it could require more attention.
Can tracking your period help you get pregnant or help prevent pregnancy?
One of the first signs of pregnancy is a missed period, so it makes sense that keeping track of a cycle can help you be aware of a possible pregnancy sooner. If you are trying to get pregnant, being aware of your cycle is a helpful tool for predicting ovulation, which is when you are most likely to get pregnant if you are not on birth control.
Oftentimes, period tracking apps can predict your ovulation period over time, and will alert you when you may be ovulating. This is the time frame (usually a 6-day window) when you are most fertile and may be able to conceive the easiest.
If you're not looking to get pregnant and want to find ways to prevent pregnancy, period (and ovulation) tracking can also help. Depending on if and what type of birth control you are on, knowing your fertile window or ovulation phase can be helpful since you may want to avoid sexual activity on those days or be extra careful.
If you are using birth control, using this method (also called the fertility awareness method or natural family planning) can make whatever form of birth control you are using even more effective. Some people also use the fertility awareness method on its own, in combination with other methods like a barrier method or condom, or in place of taking hormonal contraceptives.
How to track your period
One of the easiest ways to track your period is by using an app -- Clue, My Flo, and Eve are just a few of the popular ones out there. The apps will keep track of the dates of your period, and allow you to note your symptoms.
Depending on the app, it will also make predictions of when you are ovulating and when to expect your next period. You can also keep notes of the dates of your period and any noticeable symptoms in a calendar or on your phone if you don't want to use an app.
Whichever method you choose, you'll want to note the day your period starts, how long your cycle is (28-30 days is average), and any other symptoms you experience throughout the month you think are related to your cycle.
Keep in mind that symptoms aren't just cramps or headaches -- it's a good idea to track your moods as well. Severe changes in mood that coincide with your cycle could be diagnosable as Premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services office on Women's Health, you'll want to track when your period starts, how long it lasts, the amount of bleeding (heavy, light, or medium flow), and any pain. You should talk to a doctor if you experience changes or new or different