Plans to Get Off Birth Control? Need Help Tracking Your Cycle?
If you have recently decided birth control is just not for your body, we are here to support the need to still monitor and track to avoid conception. Maybe you are planning to conceive and want to know when the best time to try is. Maybe you have just been on birth control for hormonal issues and ready to go the natural, safer route. Maybe none of this is you and you just want to better track your period and ovulation. All of the above, we are glad you are here to learn more about the magnificent facets of the female body.
Natural Family Planning
Natural family planning (NFP) is a method that women and couples can use to help prevent (or plan) pregnancy. It involves tracking your natural cycle of fertility and your menstrual cycle, developing a better awareness of your body, and using a variety of non-pharmaceutical methods to detect ovulation. For the NFP method, you abstain from sex or use backup contraceptives during your most fertile days. The effectiveness varies depending on the combination of tracking you use and how in-tuned you are to the balance of your body.
How Does Natural Family Planning Work?
If you’re a premenopausal adult woman, you’re most likely to be fertile and get pregnant if you have unprotected sex within the fertile window. Ovulation occurs approximately once per month, about 14 days before your next menstruation but the specific day on which you ovulate depends on your cycle length. This is largely controlled by fluctuations in your sex hormone levels. For some women, these fluctuations are quite consistent from one month to another. If you are tracking from the start date of your period, with a 28 days cycle, your fertile window is typically day 10-15, with day 14 and 15 being the most likely days of ovulation.
Once an egg is released from your ovaries, its life span is very short. Conception can only occur if the egg is fertilized 24 to 48 hours after the time of actual ovulation. However, male sperm can remain alive and viable in your body for up to five days, so it’s possible to have intercourse up to five days before you ovulate and get pregnant as a result. These biologic realities mean the actual period of viable fertility can last anywhere from five to eight days for most women. In general, women are most fertile during the following times:
the five days before ovulation
the day of ovulation
within 12 to 24 hours after ovulation
You’re less likely to get pregnant if you’ve accurately identified your fertile window and avoid unprotected sex on those days each month. Theoretically, this will prevent viable sperm from being present in your fallopian tubes at the same time as a viable egg. In turn, this will prevent fertilization and conception.
That being said, fertility awareness CAN be among the least reliable methods of contraception when we are not dialed in on our body's communication. Multiple methods of collecting information are necessary. Use the calendar method, the temperature method, and the cervical mucus methods to increase the effectiveness of NFP.
Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)
Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different. There are several ways to track your ovulation cycle and fertility. Using a combination of the following improves effectiveness in preventing pregnancy.
These are some common methods incorporated into fertility awareness:
Calendar rhythm method. You use past menstrual cycles to estimate the time of your ovulation. When used on its own, this is the least reliable method of birth control. It should be avoided if your menstrual cycles are shorter than 26 days or longer than 32 days.
Temperature method. You track your basal body temperature (BBT) for several cycles by using a very sensitive basil thermometer to take your temperature before you get out of bed each morning. Due to hormonal surges, your BBT goes up right after ovulation. Your body temperature dips a bit just before your ovary releases an egg. Then, 24 hours after the egg's release, your temperature rises and stays up for several days. Before ovulation, a woman's BBT averages between 97°F (36.1°C) and 97.5°F (36.4°C). After ovulation, it rises to 97.6°F (36.4°C) to 98.6°F (37°C). Record the results on a chart. If you have a somewhat regular cycle, the chart will help you predict when you will ovulate next. Here's a chart to help your track your temperature through your cycle: TEMP CHART. They also sell devices such as the Ava that takes your temp, charts it for you, and then notifies you of your fertile window. These are devices are a great investment for women and couples planning to use Natural Family Planning as your consistent form of birth control.
Cervical mucus method. Tracking your cervical mucus (CM) will require some practice, and well, being very comfortable with your body. Around that fertile window, pay attention when using the restroom. See below for what your CM is telling you...
Dry or Sticky CM: this is not fertile CM. Your body is not ready to ovulate
Watery: Your body is preparing for ovulation
Creamy & Wet: Ovulation is getting even closer
Stretchy, egg-white consistency: ovulation has arrived!
When it comes to your fertility, one of the most important indicators of the health of your cycle is Cervical Mucus. Have you ever had that feeling like you peed yourself right around ovulation, but it was really just a gush of CM in your underwear? Some women just feel a wet and lubricative sensation, but don't actually see any CM through out the ovulatory phase. CM is made by your cervix in response to the rise in estrogen levels leading up to ovulation. There are 3 different types of cells that create cervical mucus, all differently triggered by estrogen, creating the different types of mucus we see during our fertile window:⠀non peak or peak. Non Peak mucus tends to be creamier in texture and is filled with filamentous fibers which are visible when you try to stretch it between your fingers. This is made on the 2-5 days before ovulation occurs. Peak mucus is the "raw egg white" CM that people are always talking about that is slippery, watery, stretchy, and clear/cloudy. This is made on the 1-2 days of ovulation. If you're seeing little to no CM, or many days of persistent CM, these are signs of hormonal imbalances.
Cervical Mucus has 3 main functions:
-keep sperm alive and healthy for up to 5 days
-filter out the bad swimmers
-assist in the transport/travel of sperm through the uterus⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Nutrients essential for healthy CM production include Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin B6 + B12, Folate and Vitamin C. Foods like carrots, sunflower seeds, kiwi, spinach, broccoli, chia seeds and garlic are great for promoting healthy CM.
If you use the three Family Planning Methods listed above all together, you should track at least 6–12 menstrual cycles before you begin to rely on NFP as a contraceptive. Lean into your body and listen, looking for and noting any changes in your cycle. NFP requires a significant and consistent investment of time and effort, BUT it can also be a great and effective choice for women who are willing to invest the time and understanding.
How effective is the fertility awareness method?
The effectiveness of FAM depends on:
which fertility tracking method you use
how regular your menstrual cycles are (how balanced your hormones are)
how reliably you track your menstrual cycles
how long you abstain from sex around your ovulation date
What are the benefits of the fertility awareness method?
Natural Family Planning has several advantages.
For example, it:
costs very little
is safe to use
requires no hormonal contraceptives
produces no side effects
can be stopped easily and immediately if you decide you want to get pregnant
Practicing NFP can also help you and your partner learn about fertility. This may help you get pregnant later on, if you so choose.
What are the disadvantages of the fertility awareness method?
FAM doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections. It can also be unreliable when not used correctly.
You need to consistently track your menstrual cycles for at least six months before the method can be considered reliable.
You need to abstain from sex or use backup contraception during your fertile days.
Both members of the couple must be involved in the process.
FAM has a higher failure rate compared to many other forms of birth control, such as condoms, diaphragms, and birth control pills, patches, or injections. But if used correctly, it can be just as effective.
If you would like guidance and support through getting off of birth control for health reasons, or if you are looking to track fertility to grow your family, reach out to Jamie or schedule a time to chat more about the next steps.
Phone apps recommended for assistance in tracking:
Flo - ovulation calendar, period tracker, and pregnancy app
Period tracker and ovulation calendar
Log over 70 symptoms and activities to get the most precise AI-based period and ovulation predictions.
Daily health insights
Enjoy thousands of expert articles, quizzes, and surveys in your personal feed continuously being adapted for your changing lifestyle.
Get engaged in dialogues on different health topics to understand your body signals better.
Pregnancy and post-pregnancy modes
Track your baby’s development and learn the essentials of being a parent with special visuals and articles developed by medical experts.
Discuss intimate topics, ask questions anonymously and get support from millions of women worldwide.
BellaBeat (Period Diary) - Cycle Calendar & Ovulation Tracker
Period Diary is a free menstrual cycle tracker, ovulation and PMS calendar, fertility monitor, & general women’s health app. Whether you’re planning a pregnancy, trying to avoid it, or simply want to learn more about your natural cycle, this app has you covered.
Register to join our FREE Facebook group to discuss all things natural health!