Maybe you’ve heard someone mention Natural Family Planning (NFP) or Fertility Awareness Methods of Birth Control, but you aren’t sure what it is. Maybe you’ve never even heard of this, and now you’re wondering what in the world we’re talking about.
Let’s look at the basic facts about this type of birth control.
What is fertility awareness or NFP?
Fertility awareness is simply knowing your body and recognizing the signs of when you are fertile (when you can get pregnant). Knowing your own body allows you to avoid having sex when you are fertile if you don’t want to get pregnant. And it helps you know when the best time to have sex is if you do want to get pregnant.
What are the signs?
- Standard Days – You menstrual cycle begins on Day 1, the first day of bleeding, and goes to the first day of bleeding in the next cycle. The average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days, and the average woman ovulates (releases an egg) about 14 days before the menstrual cycle starts. Because an egg can live for 24 hours in the fallopian tubes and sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to 5 days after sexual intercourse, you can get pregnant any time from 5 days before ovulation to 1 day after. If your cycle is between 26 and 32 days, you can get pregnant any time from Day 8 – Day 19.
So to keep track of this, you chart your cycle and make note of the days. If you don’t want to get pregnant, you avoid sex from Day 8 – Day 19. If you do want to get pregnant, you have sex on those days.
- Cervical Mucous – There are actually different methods of tracking this. Because the mucous at the cervix increases and becomes thinner and more slippery just before ovulation, the most simple variation of this method is to ask yourself Did I notice secretions of mucous today? And did I notice secretions of mucous yesterday? If the answer to either of these questions is Yes, then you should consider yourself fertile (able to become pregnant).
- Basal Body Temperature – Your basal body temperature is your body’s temperature at rest. For most women, the body temperature increases a little during ovulation, half a degree to a degree, and stays elevated until the end of that menstrual cycle. The most fertile days are the 2-3 days before the body temperature rises.
To notice this sign of fertility, you take your temperature at the same time every morning before you get out of bed or eat or do anything. Then you chart the daily temperatures and watch for the pattern of elevated temperature.
- Symptothermal – This combines all of the above – the calendar/standard days tracking, the cervical mucous monitoring, and the basal body temperature charting. Obviously, making note of all the signs is the most effective way to recognize fertility.
How effective is this?
Used perfectly, these methods are reported to be 95% effective in preventing pregnancy. Typically, though, the commitment and motivation to track all the signs and then avoid sex during the fertile days are not perfect. So these methods are usually reported to be about 76% effective in preventing pregnancy for most people.
What are the advantages?
- It’s almost free. You buy the thermometer and a calendar and the paper and pencil to chart the information, and that’s it. There is no other cost.
- No risk of side effects from birth control medications or devices.
- Better understanding of your body. As you pay attention to the signs of fertility, you are learning your body. Because of this, you may be able to recognize any warning that something is wrong and tell your doctor about it sooner than if you weren’t tracking the signs of fertility.
What are the disadvantages?
- To avoid pregnancy, you must avoid sex certain days of each cycle. Some couples may have a difficult time abstaining from sex.
- Sickness, disruption of sleep, changes in personal hygiene products, and some medications can affect some of the fertility signs.
- Fertility awareness methods do not protect against any Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). This method is for people in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship (you both only ever have sex with each other).
Where can I learn more?
You can read more about fertility awareness and natural family planning here and here. And you can call us and schedule a time to come in and talk with us. We’d love to give you more information and talk with you about whether natural family planning is right for you.
The content on this page has been reviewed and approved by our Medical Director.