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Natural Family Planning (NFP), describes methods of family planning that do not involve sterilization, contraceptive devices, or drugs. By observing the body and charting changes, you can learn when ovulation is coming and use that information to achieve or avoid pregnancy.
When am I most likely to get pregnant?
In a typical cycle, a woman experiences menstruation, usually followed by a few infertile days.
At this point, an increase in estrogen causes the cervix (the opening into the uterus) to open and produce a thin, slick fluid (cervical mucus or CM). Then, an egg is released from a woman’s ovary. This is called ovulation.
Once released, the egg moves toward the uterus through the fallopian tubes, where fertilization may take place. An unfertilized egg may live for 12 to 24 hours. If it’s not fertilized and implanted in the uterus, the egg will be shed during the following menstrual cycle.
If you have sex when no fertile mucus is being produced, the sperm die quickly and pregnancy is unlikely. When fertile mucus is present, the sperm can live for up to five days. This means that you are fertile – most likely to get pregnant – when fertile mucus is being produced, even several days before ovulation.
How can I tell when I’m most fertile?
Basal body temperature, or BBT, is your body temperature in the morning before rising, moving, or eating.
At the same time every morning, take and record your temperature immediately upon waking. A rise of approximately half a degree Fahrenheit, most accurately read with a basal body temperature (BBT) thermometer, is indicative that ovulation has occurred.
Your BBT usually stays elevated for two weeks and drops just before your period starts again.
The second sign of fertility is the quality of the cervical mucus.
Fertile mucus lasts about three to seven days and has the consistency of stretchy egg white. Less fertile mucus is tacky, opaque, and generally less abundant.
In the usual cycle, fertile CM is present then ovulation occurs. Next, the mucus changes and BBT goes up, verifying ovulation has occurred.
To effectively manage your fertility, these symptoms have to be charted and reviewed over time.
Books such as Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control and Pregnancy Achievement by Toni Weschler are helpful, and the companion website offers free printable natural family planning charts to track changes throughout your cycle.
Dozens of phone and tablet apps are available – check out this list of the six most accurate natural family planning apps to narrow down your search.
Classes on natural family planning methods are offered by many family planning health centers, church-affiliated instructors, and at Catholic hospitals. Cost is usually little to nothing.
Can natural family planning help achieve pregnancy?
Couples without fertility concerns will become pregnant more often if they have sexual intercourse on the days that the cervical mucus is clearest and most stretchable.
Is natural family planning effective as a method of preventing pregnancy?
Natural family planning has recently drawn scrutiny after unwanted pregnancies were reported by women using the popular tracking app Natural Cycles.
It’s important to remember that to avoid pregnancy, there are only three methods of 100% effective birth control: abstinence, removal of the ovaries (not tubal ligation), and castration (not vasectomy).
Science and health magazine STAT reports:
All methods of contraception have a failure rate. The FDA estimates Natural Cycles [the app] has a “typical-use” failure rate — the rate expected for those who use the app regularly, but not perfectly — of 6.5 percent. That’s actually lower than the comparable rates for birth control pill, which the CDC’s website puts around 9 percent. Condoms have a typical-use failure rate as high as 18 percent.
Natural family planning methods can help couples manage their fertility if they receive education and carefully follow the program. According to the American Pregnancy Association, NFP can be 90% effective when practiced correctly.
If instructions are not followed completely, these methods will be much less effective.
What if I have irregular cycles?
It’s not uncommon for women to have menstrual cycles that are irregular. A woman who has irregular menstrual cycles may still be able to determine when she is ovulating by observing and documenting changes in her body.
What is the calendar or rhythm method?
The rhythm method is based on menstrual cycle history. It involves using previous cycles to predict future cycles.
The rhythm method does not allow for normal variations in the menstrual cycle, which are very common. The rhythm method is not as reliable as other methods and is generally not recommended as a sole method of family planning.
How can natural family planning benefit me?
Natural family planning does not involve the use of medicines, mechanical devices, or chemicals.
Consequently, side effects and risks of such interventions are not a concern with natural family planning methods.
In addition, natural family planning methods are inexpensive. A nominal fee may be charged for instructional training and supplies, but ongoing costs are nearly nonexistent.
Finally, natural family planning methods can bring couples closer as they share the responsibility for planning or avoiding pregnancy.
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