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A brief history of fertility charting


A short history of fertility charting. Read here some highlights of research into observing fertility signs.

A Brief History of Fertility Charting

Prior to the 20th century, a great deal of superstition and misinformation surrounded fertility and the menstrual cycle. During the last century and a half, however, multiple observations from a variety of researchers contributed to our current understanding of the meaning of our fertility signs. Included here is a timeline of a selection of some significant contributions to our understanding of our fertility signs.

A short timeline:

In 1855, W. Tyler Smith observed that cervical fluid offers a medium well-suited for the passage of sperm and in 1868, J. Marim Sims described cervical fluid as having the consistency of a white of an egg.

The first observations that the basal body temperature has a biphasic (low temperatures followed by high temperatures) pattern during the menstrual cycle were made by Squire in 1868 and Mary Putnam Jacobi in 1876. Neither, however, associated the thermal shift with ovulation.

In 1905, Theodoor, Hendrik Van de Velde, a Dutch gynecologist, published a series of biphasic charts and noted that the length of elevated temperatures prior to menstruation was independent of the length of the menstrual cycle, thus demonstrating that the luteal phase is constant. He also made the connection that the upward shift was related to ovulation. By 1926, he stated that it was the corpus luteum (the remains of the ovarian follicle after ovulation) that caused the upward shift in temperatures after ovulation. Van de Velde also observed the occurrence of mucus secretions and intermenstrual pain around the time of the thermal shift.

The finding that ovulation precedes menstruation by about 12-16 days and that this time is constant, was used by Kyusaku Ogino, in Japan and Hermann Knauss in Austria in the early 1930s. Ogino and Knaus, at the same time, but separately, used it to develop the largely ineffective calendar rhythm method of birth control.

In 1935, a German Catholic priest named Wilhelm Hillebrand began to study the idea of using the temperature shift as a replacement for the calendar rhythm method.

In 1962, Edward F. Keefe published observations of the physical changes of the cervix throughout the menstrual cycle.

Throughout the forties, fifties and sixties, a number of fertility researchers collected BBT charts and engaged in interpretation and analysis. Most notable among them were R. Vollman in the United States, G.K. Doring in Germany, B.Vincent in France, John Marshall in Britain and a team from the World Health Organization. Several sophisticated methods were suggested to interpret BBT graphs. Many of them, however, while quite accurate, required complex mathematics and complete charts, and were thus deemed not practical for couples practicing natural family planning on their own.

The World Health Organization and Professor John Marshall, however developed the "coverline method" and "three over six" method respectively in the sixties. Essentially the same method, a trained couple simply had to observe three temperatures higher than the previous six to identify when ovulation occurred. While methods requiring more complex mathematical calculations were found to be more accurate in a comparison study by McCarthy and Rockette in 1983, this method was the most practical and easy to apply and was taught to natural family planning practitioners for decades. This is the method still published in most textbooks and workbooks about Natural Family Planning and has come to be known as the Fertility Awareness (FAM) method. [Fertility Friend offers this method as an alternate method in our tuning section. Our default, "advanced" detector makes use of the computing power of our servers to offer a sophisticated method that is based on all data and the chart pattern].

In 1970, V. Insler published a method of "scoring" cervical fluid according to its characteristics. Using similar observations, John and Evelyn Billings in Australia developed a system, known as the "Billings" or "Ovulation" method to teach women how to observe and chart their cervical mucus signs to recognize their own fertility pattern.

Many couples made use of these natural methods (usually for contraception purposes) for religious, philosophical, health or economical reasons. The basics of self-observing and interpreting fertility signs, however, were never routinely taught to large populations of women.

By the 1980s, the role of natural fertility signs was very well understood and well-documented in medical research. Awareness and research about infertility grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Medical researchers and medical professionals also began to investigate more high-tech methods of ovulation detection at this time, particularly assays that identify hormones in urine and blood and pelvic ultrasonography.

By the late 1990s, the Internet, along with increased awareness of infertility and conception difficulties, brought natural methods of ovulation detection and identification of the fertile and infertile periods back into the spotlight- now for conception purposes. Information sharing among women trying to conceive made this vital information readily available. Information, tools and discussion on the Internet have taught hundreds of thousands of women about their fertility signs and how to use them to help them to conceive and identify fertility issues. Fertility Friend played a large role in this resurgence of interest in fertility charting, offering primers and cutting edge tools in the early days of the Internet, to the present time.

In 2008, Fertility Friend brought fertility charting to mobile.

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