Fertility awareness-based methods—or natural family planning—are all about tracking a person's menstrual cycle to determine the days that they can get pregnant. To know when those days are, people need to pay very close attention to their body and its patterns.
Types of Fertility Awarenesss
If a person's menstrual cycle is between 26 and 32 days long, they can use this method to record their periods and determine when they can’t get pregnant.
This is another method where a person observes cervical secretions to see when they're fertile.
People with vagina's secrete a distinct kind of goo when they're most fertile. This method is all about observing the cervical mucus.
This method charts a body's temperature every single morning to determine whether or not a person is ovulating.
There are many signs that communicate when a person is fertile and this method tracks several of them at once, including how open the cervix feels.
Breastfeeding naturally suppresses fertility. This method works for those who have just had a baby and are breastfeeding in a very specific way.
You want to get to know your body better
In addition to using Fertility Awareness as birth control, tracking your period can be a great way to get to know your body better, notice changes, and understand your cycle.
You wouldn't mind getting pregnant
Failure rates are high if not used correctly—so if getting pregnant would be disastrous for a person, choose another method or use a backup like condoms while getting the hang of this method.
You’re okay with having a time-out from sex or using another method
For those who do not want to pause from sex or using another non-hormonal method during their fertile time every month, fertility awareness-based methods likely aren't the right method.
You want a method with no side effects
Many people who use this method want something that doesn't affect their bodies.
No prescription necessary
For those who don't want to use hormones, this is one option.
Fertility Awareness-based methods—and tracking a body’s natural rhythm—take time and commitment, but they don’t cost a lot.
- Thermometer: can be purchased in the $10 range at any grocery, drug, or super-store—just make sure it reads to the tenth decimal place.
- Fertility Awareness Chart: free download one here or here.
- CycleBeads: this is a color-coded string of beads that represents the days of a person's cycle and helps them use the Standard Days Method correctly. Available online in regular and deluxe versions, ranging from $10-$25.
- Classes: free up to $25-100+ per hour depending on where location. Ask a health care provider or local health center if they know of qualified instructors, or check out the Fertility Awareness Center to find out about local workshops. Some church-based organizations offer free classes, but they may require a person to be married or engaged and want them to skip sex (rather than use another method) during fertile times.
- Barrier Method: depends on what method chosen and only needed if a person choose to have sex during their fertile time of the month.
How to Use It
Fertility awareness-based methods come down to this: track your menstrual cycles and don't have sex on the days that you can get pregnant; if you do have sex on those days, use an alternate method, like a condom—external or internal—or diaphragm.
There are several different methods that can be used to track a cycle and ideally people will use a combination of them to help with accuracy and success. They all involve observing changes in the body and calculating where folks are in their menstrual cycle. This takes effort and commitment, so before deciding this is the best method, be sure to really understand what is needed. Be prepared not to have sex for at least seven days out of every month. And have backup birth control on hand.
Standard Days Method
In order for this to work, a person's menstrual cycle must be between 26 and 32 days long. This method incorporates CycleBeads, a handy string of colored beads that help mark off the days of the menstrual cycle and track fertility. Get more info here.
To get the hang of it, check out the Fertility Awareness Center. It has lots of information including where to find local workshops. They can even coach people over the phone.
Every day a person will check to see if they have any cervical secretions. If secretions of any type—today or yesterday—are seen then a person is fertile. That means no sex or using an alternative form of birth control. Get more info here.
Cervical Mucus Method
Ready to check your mucus? This involves monitoring changes in the cervical mucus on a daily basis. This idea is that folks can get pregnant from the onset of their secretions (when the goo is clear, stretchy, slippery, and wet) until 3 days after it stops. Best when used with Symptothermal Method or Standard Days method.
Body Basal Temperature Method (BBT)
A person will take their temperature every morning before getting out of bed and write it down on a fertility awareness chart. Download one here or here. Best when used with Symptothermal Method or Standard Days Method.
This method predicts fertility by combining more than one of the other Fertility awareness-based methods, most often the Body Basal Temperature Method and Cervical Mucus Method. Temperature Method and Cervical Mucus Method. Get more information here.
There are entire classes to learn how to use this method, so we're not going to go into the details here. Churches teach some classes, health care professionals teach others.
Lactational Amenhorrea Method
Breastfeeding can be used as a family planning method up to six months after having a baby. For this to work, people have to meet all three of the following criteria:
- No menstrual bleeding since your baby was born.
- You only breastfeed your baby (no other foods or liquids given).
- You feed your baby at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours during the night.
Every method has its own positives and negatives, and because everyone's birth control is different what one person experiences may not be the same as another's experiences.
- Doesn't cost a thing—except for the price of a basal thermometer or CycleBeads.
- No prescription necessary.
- No hormones added to the body.
- No worries about side effects (other than the possibility of getting pregnant).
- Helps people learn more about their body and how it works.
- Takes planning, record-keeping, and self-control.
- Requires abstinence (or use of an alternate method) for at least a week per cycle.
- Both partners need to participate 100%.
- The Calendar Method and the Standard Days Method don't work for those with irregular periods.
- Not something a person should try if they've just gone off a hormonal method, because the hormones effect the cycle.