Natural Family Planning requires a woman to watch her menstrual cycle to determine when she could become pregnant.
WHAT IS IT?
Natural Family Planning (also referred to as “the rhythm method” or “periodic abstinence” or “fertility planning” or the “Fertility Awareness Method”) requires a woman to chart her menstrual cycle to determine when is fertile (when she could get pregnant) and avoid unprotected vaginal intercourse on those days.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
There are special classes a woman (or a couple) can take to learn how to chart her fertility. The information on this website is not intended to be a complete guide to using Natural Family Planning.
HOW DO I USE IT?
Using Natural Family Planning requires a good understanding of the menstrual cycle. A woman must determine when she is ovulating and avoid intercourse around that time. There are three main ways that a woman can use Natural Family Planning:
1. The calendar method: In order to use the calendar method, a woman charts her
menstrual cycles to determine when she will ovulate. In general, women ovulate 12-
14 days before their next period (which has nothing to do with when the last period
was). So, a woman using this method will first need to chart at least three cycle’s
worth of periods to determine their length. She must then use that number to
estimate when her next period will be, and count backwards to determine when
ovulation will occur. Most people agree that this method is not reliable enough to be
used on its own. A new product, called CycleBeads™ can help some women chart
their cycles by keeping track of them on a beaded ring.
2. The cervical mucus method: This method requires a woman to watch her vaginal
discharge of cervical mucus for signs of ovulation. In most women, ovulation is accompanied by an increase in vaginal discharge. The discharge that comes with ovulation is different from regular discharge, which is usually cloudy, white, and somewhat sticky. Ovulation discharge is generally clear, slippery, and will stretch between the fingers. Many people say it is similar to raw egg white. A woman who uses the cervical mucus method to chart ovulation will have to regularly check her vaginal discharge for signs that ovulation is about to occur.
3. The temperature method: In most women, ovulation is accompanied by an increase in body temperature of 0.4 – 0.8°F. Because this is such a small increase, normal thermometers are not sensitive enough to detect it. There are special thermometers that should be used for this purpose. A woman using this method will need to check her Basal Body Temperature (BBT) every morning before getting out of bed or doing anything else. When she sees that her temperature has risen, she knows that ovulation is occurring and that she should avoid vaginal intercourse if she does not wish to become pregnant. In some women, the rise in temperature happens suddenly, and in others it goes up gradually over a few days.
In order to use this method most effectively, a woman should first chart her temperature for three months to determine what her normal pattern is.
The way to make Natural Family Planning most effective is to use all of these methods together. This is called the symptothermal method.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS?
There are no side effects associated with Natural Family Planning, but it can be difficult to use the method correctly, so a pregnancy may result.
HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
The temperature method, perfectly used, is about 98% effective in the prevention of pregnancy. The cervical mucus method is about 97% effective. The calendar method alone is about 91% effective. However, it is important to note that those numbers reflect perfect use. When human error is taken into account, the effectiveness of Natural Family Planning drops significantly – 25% to 80% effectiveness in the prevention of pregnancy. Natural Family Planning provides no protection against Sexually Transmitted Infections or HIV.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF THE METHOD?
o Is accepted by many religious groups that don’t allow the use of other birth control methods
o Can be stopped at any time if a pregnancy is desired
o Helps a woman to become aware of her menstrual cycle
o Requires a lot of effort to work well
o More difficult to use for women who have irregular cycles
o Might not work well for young women whose cycles are not regular yet
o Requires a woman to be a very good record-keeper
o On average, a couple using this method will have to avoid intercourse 10 days out of each menstrual cycle
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Natural Family Planning is free. If a woman is using the temperature method, she can purchase the required thermometer at almost any drug store for $10-$12. If a woman is using CycleBeads™, she should expect to pay $20 or less for them. Most reproductive health practitioners recommend that a woman who wants to use Natural Family Planning as her birth control method take a class on how to do it most effectively. The cost of those classes varies, but may be covered by some medical insurance.