You may be interested in fertility awareness-based methods of contraception (FAM), if you wish for a drug-free, no side-effect method of birth control; or perhaps your religion or culture permits you to practise only natural family planning as a form of birth control.
Whatever the case, this method of birth control lets you know the times of the month when you can either avoid getting pregnant, or achieve pregnancy.
Fertility awareness method, also known as natural family planning (NFP), is a natural form of birth control which involves methods that let you track your own body signs to understand when in your menstrual cycle you are most fertile. In other words, it simply means tracking your ovulation.
To avoid getting pregnant during this time, you would have to abstain from sexual intercourse, or use barrier methods of birth control such as condoms, diaphragms, or spermicide.
How effective is natural family planning?
When used according to teaching and instructions, and when a combination of fertility awareness methods are used, natural family planning is up to 99 percent effective.
For best outcomes, fertility awareness is best taught in a class/hospital by a trained Natural Family planning expert. The information provided in this article is for general information only.
What are the fertility awareness methods?
- The calendar method or rhythm method: Keeping track of the length of your menstrual cycle.
- The basal body temperature (BBT) method: Keeping track of your waking body temperature.
- The cervical mucus method: Keeping track of the changes in the cervical mucous.
- Sympto-thermal method: A combination of charting BBT, cervical mucus and calendar method.
Moms who are practising exclusive breastfeeding for their babies under six months of age, can also use the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) as a form of natural family planning.
The Calendar Method
The calendar method works best for women with a regular menstrual cycle, with cycles between 26 and 32 days long. A menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of a period to the day before another period starts.
The average length of a woman’s cycle is 28 days, but this varies from 26 to 32 days for most women. Ovulation occurs halfway through a woman’s cycle, on the average between 10-16 days before a period
The calendar method entails keeping a record of the length of your menstrual cycle over several months (at least 6 consecutive months) to see its pattern, and then using it to predict the most fertile time of the month.
To predict the most fertile time of the month, there’s a formula to it:
- Take note of your longest and shortest cycles.
- Subtract 18 days from the shortest cycle. This would be the estimated first day of your fertile period.
- Subtract 11 days from the longest cycle. This would be the estimated last day of your fertile period.
For example, over a period of 12 months, Ama’s longest cycle is 31 days, while her shortest cycle is 28 days. Subtracting 18 from 28 and 11 from 31, Ama’s most fertile time of the month falls between the 10th and 20th. This period is unsafe for sexual intercourse if Ama is trying to avoid getting pregnant; alternatively, if she’s trying to get pregnant, this is the best time for her to get freaky!
You can also use Cyclebeads to keep track of your fertile days. This is a string of color-coded beads that tell you when you are fertile.
The Basal Body Temperature (BBT) Method
The basal body temperature is the temperature of the body at rest, also referred to as the waking body temperature. Your body temperature rises slightly just after ovulation due to the release of the hormone progesterone, and then stays elevated till the next menstrual period.
This rise in temperature is in fractions of a degree (about 0.2° to 0.5° C or 0.4° to 1.0° F), therefore to keep track of your basal body temperature rise, it’s best to take the measurement with a digital thermometer early in the morning before you get out of bed. Do this at the same time everyday, and keep a chart of your basal body temperature as shown below.
The fertile time ends when you have recorded a slightly higher temperature than usual for three days in a row. You can then resume unprotected sex until your next period. The days from the first day of your period till after the 3rd day of elevated temperature are considered unsafe for sexual intercourse.
Illness, a bad thermometer, inaccurate readings, or use of pain relievers are some of the things that can affect the accuracy of the basal temperature method.
The Cervical Mucus Method
This method is also known as the ovulation method or the Billings method.
Observing the changes in the colour and texture of your cervical secretions and keeping a chart of this will help you know the fertile and infertile times of the month.
A few days after your period, you may experience dryness without any cervical secretions. Then, as the body gets ready for ovulation, the discharge becomes thicker, cloudy and inelastic.
Just before and during ovulation, the cervical mucus changes. An increased amount of discharge which is thinner and more slippery like egg whites (ideal for transporting sperm more easily to the released egg), is an indication that you are ovulating or about to ovulate. This is when you are at your most fertile.
To avoid falling pregnant, sexual intercourse is avoided from the the first appearance of cervical mucus, or in the case of women with shorter cycles, from the first day of her period up until 3 days after ovulation.
The Symptothermal Method
The sympto-thermal method is a combination of the cervical mucus, basal body temperature and calendar methods. This is the most reliable method.
In this method, you are considered fertile from the first fertile day estimated from the calendar method, up until three days after an increase in temperature and changes in cervical secretions.
Limitations of Natural Family Planning
Every form of birth control has it’s pros and cons. In the case of natural family planning, the downside is that you would have to keep a daily record of your fertility indicators. Also, these fertility indicators can be affected by illness, lifestyle, stress or travel, thereby making the result unreliable.
Furthermore, natural family planning takes some time to learn, usually over several menstrual cycles. It also doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Finally, you need to avoid sex or use male or female condoms during the fertile time. This might not be such an easy task for a lot of couples; but if it helps, be consoled in the fact that you are going the drug-free, no-side effect way, acceptable to your religion or culture.