Based mainly on avoiding sex during ovulation, natural family planning methods of birth control are once again enjoying a rise in popularity. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls natural family planning “an effective way to prevent pregnancy” if done correctly. But what exactly does “correctly?” mean? Regardless of why you’re investigating “fertility awareness”, here is the information you need to make an informed choice about natural birth control methods.
How Natural Family Planning Works
The exact techniques vary from method to method, but all natural family methods are based on avoiding sexual intercourse just before and after ovulation. All natural family methods are designed to help a woman recognize her body’s unique signals of pending ovulation.
Basal Body Temperature Method of Birth Control
Most women experience fairly predictable spikes in body temperature just after ovulation. Women who learn how to chart these spikes over the course of several months can also accurately predict when ovulation is most likely to occur and plan accordingly.
The accuracy of the basal body temperature method depends heavily on a woman’s ability to accurately track her temperature every day. Unfortunately, body temperature can be influenced by infection, lack of sleep and even day-to-day stress.
The Mucus Method of Predicting Ovulation
Most women also experience changes in their vaginal fluid throughout the month. By learning to identify the distinctive types of mucus produced at various stages of a woman’s monthly cycle, a woman using the mucus method can accurately predict ovulation.
While the mucus method can be more convenient than the basal temperature method, it’s far from perfect. Infections, medications and the use of personal lubricants can all change both the volume and texture of vaginal mucus.
The Calendar Method of Contraception
The most basic method of natural family planning, and the one most familiar to many women, is a technique known as the calendar method. In the calendar method, which is also known as the rhythm method, a woman simply records her menstrual cycle for several months then looks for patterns. Because ovulation occurs roughly the same time every month, many women can accurately estimate ovulation.
Of all the natural planning methods in widespread use, the calendar or rhythm method is the least reliable but the simplest to implement.
Problems with Natural Family Planning
While the effectiveness of the various natural planning methods varies from method to method and from woman to woman, natural family planning is not as effective as other forms of birth control. As a whole, women who rely on natural family planning methods have a 25% chance of becoming pregnant within one year.
Another issue with natural family planning is that it provides no protection against sexually transmitted diseases. For some couples this may not be an issue but for many women, this can be a very real concern.
Perhaps the biggest problem many women experience with natural family planning is the loss of spontaneity. Relying solely on this form of birth control means avoiding sexual intercourse for several days every month and carefully planning when sexual intimacy can take place.
Getting The Most Out of Natural Family Planning
While these methods can be effective for some couples, natural family planning isn’t for everyone. Medications, infections, irregular menstrual cycles and even stress can make natural family planning difficult or impossible for some women.
If you would like more information about the various natural family methods, see your gynecologist. Only your doctor is qualified to give you medical advice and he or she will help walk you through the birth control options that are appropriate for you.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2007). Natural Family Planning.