femaccI just received an email from a woman wanting me to help her figure out when her period is coming because she lost track. This reminded me of a new survey I read in the journal Birth. Of 125 women between the ages of 18 and 51 surveyed, 53.6% of the participants didn’t know when their next period would be coming. The sample size of this survey was fairly small and narrow, however, for any woman to lose track of when her period will be arriving is just asking for ruined underwear and possibly a good pair of pants, too.

Now, I could go on and on and on about how my amazing Hormone Horoscope menstrual cycle tracker apps can help you know when your period is coming every cycle. However, truth is, you don’t always need an app–or pre-app menstrual beads for that matter–to keep track of your cycle. There are easy clues you can look for that can help you figure out which cycle week you’re in and when your period is coming.

Here’s my easy step-by-step guide to use when you need to pinpoint your next period due date:

Step 1. Take the “dipstick” test to find out which cycle half you’re in

The first step is to check your vaginal secretions to figure out if you’re in the first half (Week 1 or Week 2) or second half (Week 3 or Week 4) of your cycle.

If you’re bleeding from menstruation, then obviously you’re in the first half of your cycle. If you can recall when your period started, then figuring out the date of your next period is easy: You simply count backwards to how many days ago you got your period and subtract that number from the full length of your usual cycle. For instance, if you got your period 3 days ago and your cycle is usually 28 days long, then when you subtract 3, you get 25–the length of your full cycle. Which means 26 days from now you’ll get your next period. Because 26 days from now is the next day after a full cycle has ended.

But, if your period is over and you no longer remember how many days it’s been since your cycle started, then it’s time to do the dipstick test. This is where you use your finger like a dipstick checking car oil: You just insert it into your vaginal canal and swish it around a bit. Then, you pull it out and analyze your vaginal secretions: If they’re thin, clear, watery and/or slick, you’re in the first half of your cycle. If they’re thick, sticky and/or cloudy, it means you’re producing progesterone–and that indicates you’re in the second half of your cycle.

Step 2. If you’re in the first half of your cycle, track when you ovulate

Did your dipstick test reveal that you’re in the first half of your cycle? Then here’s an incredibly useful fact you need to know: Once you ovulate, your period arrives 14 days later (barring intense stress, illness, medications and other things that can make your cycle wonky, of course). That’s because the first half of your cycle is typically the part that varies in length. If you have a short or long cycle, it’s because the first half of your cycle is short or long. But, once you reach ovulation, your body has a specific timeline that it follows, which means you can rely on getting your period 14 days later.

Fortunately, there are several easy-to-use tools that can help you determine exactly when you ovulate:

Basal thermometer: Use this especially sensitive thermometer right after waking, but before getting out of bed, to measure your basal temperature, which is your body temperature when at rest. On the day after you ovulate, your basal temperature rises slightly–about .4 to one degree Fahrenheit–due to progesterone. You can purchase a basal thermometer, such as the Easy@Home Digital Basal Thermometer at drugstores and Amazon.com.

Ovulation test strips: You know how you can pee on a stick to find out if you’re pregnant? The same easy method can also help you detect when you’re ovulating. When you dip an ovulation test strip into your urine, a chemical in the strip measures levels of a certain hormone (luteinizing hormone–LH) that spikes right before ovulation. Results come in as little as one minute. One to try: MediTesti Ovulation Test Strips, available at drugstores and Amazon.com.

Ovulation mini-microscope: This device is as small as a lipstick tube and you can use it anywhere. Just dab a little saliva on the lens, let it dry, then take a peek through the microscope. Seeing dots, sticks or ferns on the lens tells you how close you are to ovulation. It couldn’t be easier. Order it at Amazon.com.

IMPORTANT: Please do not use the methods described above to detect ovulation as a method of birth control. Semen, a surprisingly patient male bodily secretion, can live within your body for up to seven days, which means if you have sex up to a week prior to ovulation, you could possibly get pregnant even if you abstain during ovulation. To avoid pregnancy, use a form of birth control with a high efficacy rate (such as an IUD, condoms with spermicide or hormone birth control) all cycle long.

Step 3. If you’re in the second half of your cycle, track when you enter your Week 4

Did your dipstick test reveal that you’re in the second half of your cycle? Then, you have to rely more on your moods than your mucus to find out where you are. Here’s how: The second half of your cycle is comprised of your Week 3 (the week right after ovulation) and your Week 4 (your premenstrual week). You’ll know when you’ve transitioned from Week 3 to Week 4 when you suddenly go from mellow to moody, patient to impatient and from the best sleep of your life to the kind of tossing and turning that makes you wonder if you accidentally had caffeine at dinner. All these changes are due to a swift drop in estrogen and progesterone that occurs at the start of your Week 4 and continues all the way through to the end of your cycle.

Once you determine that your Week 4 has started, your period will arrive 7 days later.

Step 4. If you’re in your Week 4, track your libido

Have you figured out that you’re somewhere in the midst of your premenstrual Week 4, but not sure where? Then keep track of your sex drive. In many women, the closer you get to menstruation, the higher your libido goes due to congestion in your uterus activating nerve endings down below. When you find that your sex drive is rivalling a Week 2 gotta-have-it-or-bust kind of day, then you’re likely getting your period in the next day or two.

[Photo: Your friend Le]

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