If you are fed up with popping that daily contraceptive pill, or you are thinking that it might be time to give little Johnny a brother or sister? Then consider throwing out those medical methods and try a more conventional approach. Natural family planning is an umbrella term used to describe the methods used to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Natural family planning (also called fertility awareness) relies on the observation of signs and symptoms of the different phases of a woman's menstrual cycle, instead of utilizing other medical variations of birth control such as IUDs, condoms, oral contraception, and diaphragms. So if you are ready to ditch all those drugs and devices, take a look below to learn more about the 2 most popular types of fertility awareness!
>> Read more: Quick Guide to Creating a Birth Plan
The first step is to develop a deeper awareness of your menstrual cycle. In order to do this, it is essential that you begin to chart your fertility pattern. The key is to remember that a woman's average menstrual cycle is between 28 to 32 days, and that there are two stages of the cycle: before ovulation and after ovulation.
Take a look at the average 28-day cycle below, courtesy of the American Pregnancy Association, for a better understanding of how to examine your own cycle:
- Day 1: The first day of your menstrual flow is the beginning of your cycle.
- Day 7: By day seven your egg is preparing to be fertilized by sperm.
- Days 11-21: Hormones in your body cause the egg to be released from the ovary around this time. This process is known as ovulation. The egg travels through the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If sperm penetrates the egg, the fertilized egg will attach to the lining of the uterus and begin to grow.
- Day 28: Hormone levels drop around this day, causing the lining of the uterus to be shed, making up your menstrual flow.
It is absolutely critical that you remember that every woman's cycle is different — the illustration below is just an example, so please don't rely on it for your own uses!
Now let's examine the most common methods of fertility awareness.
Calendar Tracking Method (also known as the Rhythm Method): Plan on tracking your period for at least 8 months (it may take up to a year!) in order to gauge your fertility cycle. We know that's quite a long time, but it is essential that you know as many specifics as possible!
- Step 1: Day 1 is the day that you begin menstruating.
- Step 2: Once you have tracked your cycles, pick the longest and shortest ones. If you feel that you are familiar with your past menstrual cycles, then they may work as a guide for estimating your fertile times.
- Step 3: The first day of your fertility period is determined by subtracting 18 days from the length of your shortest cycle. If 25 days was your shortest menstrual cycle, take 25 and subtract 18 to come up with the number 7. This means that the first day of your fertility starts on the 7th day of your cycle.
- Step 4: Your final fertile day is determined by subtracting 11 from the length of your longest cycle. If 31 days was your longest menstrual cycle, take 31 and subtract 11 to get 20. This means that the last day of your fertility period ends on the 20th day of your cycle.
That window, from day seven to day 20, is your fertility window — or when your ovulation is expected to occur. While you cannot get pregnant every day during your fertility window, it will be sometime during this time frame that pregnancy can occur. Therefore, if you are trying to avoid getting pregnant, you need to abstain from having sex, or use alternate forms of birth control, during this time.
>> Read more: 6 Causes of Infertility in Women
Basal Body Temperature Method: If the rhythm method isn't your style, then why not give this variation a shot? Your basal body temperature measures a change in the temperature that occurs after ovulation and remains elevated until your next period. You can examine the temperatures on your charts from a couple of your menstrual cycles in order to determine the pattern that your ovulation tends to follow. Check out the steps below for more information:
- Step 1: Take your temperature orally every morning before you are up and about. Use a basal thermometer in order to detect even the smallest changes in your temperature. You will notice that your temperature only rises about 0.4 to 1 degree Fahrenheit when you are ovulating.
- Step 2: Make sure to record your temperature every day on your fertility tracking calendar.
If you consistently record your temperature, you will find that before ovulation your temperature is fairly consistent. However, as you get closer to ovulation, you may experience a slight decline, followed by a sharp incline after ovulation. That increase in temperature is absolutely key! It is your sign that ovulation has just occurred. Notice that the increase happens after you start ovulating, so this method is primarily used by those who are trying to ensure the best chances of conception, not prevention! Also keep in mind that certain elements like lack of sleep, sickness, and drug use can affect your basal temperature and make it difficult to report accurate readings.
>> Read more: 11 Things That Mess with Your Period
Natural family methods are about 90 percent effective, when used correctly, and it can often be a challenge to monitor your cycle perfectly! If you are using these methods in order to prevent pregnancy, it may be wise to utilize some back up measures just in case, especially during those days when you are probably ovulating. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 25 out of 100 couples who utilize natural family planning as contraception will become pregnant, so it is not the most effective method. Also keep in mind that fertility awareness does not protect against STDs. If you think that natural family planning is for you, make sure you stop by your doctor's office to talk through your options.