Finding Your Baseline

Last week, I shared my experience going off hormonal birth control (HBC) and finding my baseline. This week, I’ll be sharing some tips on how you can do the same.

What do I mean by baseline? I’m referring to your natural monthly uterine cycle, unaltered by hormonal medications or supplements. Your baseline can be a key component to finding the birth control method that is right for you by giving you a starting point for identifying possible side effects when you are on one.

So let’s get to it! If you’re not currently on HBC, you can skip to step 4.

Step 1: If you’re currently on any hormonal birth control, you’ll need to go off it. Why? HBC uses a combination of estrogen and progesterone, or sometimes progesterone alone, to alter your cycle and prevent ovulation. It also thickens the cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to pass through the cervix and into the uterus. Some types also prevent the lining of the uterus from thickening during the cycle so that if an egg is somehow released it can’t attach to the uterine wall.

It’s important to note that stopping HBC isn’t for everyone. People use hormonal contraceptives for many reasons aside from pregnancy prevention. Before deciding whether this is right for you, take some time to reflect on why you might want to find your baseline.

Step 2: Set a date. Going off HBC can be difficult, especially if you’ve been on it for a long time. While fertility returns quickly, it takes your body some time to adjust to the new hormone levels. You might have some unpleasant side effects, such as the ones I wrote about last week. Try to be open to the process, and prepare in the ways you can, such as keeping something on you in case your period catches you by surprise or painkillers in case of cramps.

I originally set a goal of one year off HBC, but two years just flew by. Your experience may not go as well so remember that you’re not tied to any timeline you set. If you experience serious discomfort and realize it isn’t for you, you can always start your method again. It’s always best to evaluate as you go!

Step 3: Choose another method and commit to it. Many unplanned pregnancies occur in between methods or when taking a break from birth control. Decide on a backup method and know how to use it. Condoms are a great option since they offer protection from both pregnancy and STIs.

Step 4: Track it! Download a cycle tracking application – I recommend Period Tracker for Android or iPhone. I love this one because it doesn’t force a 28-day cycle and instead calculates your next cycle based on previous ones, letting you manually set the default. Once you have a few months of data entered, it can help you track and eventually predict ovulation and period start and end dates.

It also lets you enter symptoms and feelings, with a large bank of pre-loaded ones and the option to add others. Every night I would sit down and reflect on symptoms I noticed that day. Some days there wasn’t much, but other days symptoms were obvious. The app identifies patterns in this data and generates charts that help you discover which symptoms are associated with which parts of your cycle.

It can be difficult to maintain this daily habit. It could help to think of it as replacing the time you would normally take your pill. You might also prefer an old-fashioned paper system, in which case you can get a cheap daily agenda and keep it by your bed as a reminder.

Step 5: Share with people close to you. Telling close friends or a partner what you’re doing can be helpful. They may be more supportive if you’re having off days, and they may even be able to help you identify recurring symptoms.

Finally, remember that this is meant to benefit you. If you find after a while it isn’t helping, then don’t feel like you need to continue.

I decided to try this because I was unhappy with the side effects of every method I tried and I felt desperate. In speaking to close friends I realized this is a common experience and that my process may be useful to others.

Sometimes just hearing other people’s experiences helps, so I’d love to hear from you whether you try this out or not! Share your positive or negative experiences with me on the Sex & Pancakes Facebook page and we can start the conversation around making birth control work for us.

-Melissa Fuller @mel_full

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