Now, the reason why this method has not been scored very high when it comes to efficiency is because of the mistakes often made by its users in its application. Many people are not diligent at the necessary monitoring and charting required and/or at abstaining during their peak fertility days.

Before going any further, let’s look at the advantages of this method –

  • It has no physical or health side effects
  • It involves no medications, devices or chemicals
  • Pregnancy can be achieved as soon as you go off it
  • It costs very little

However, it does have the following disadvantages

  • Not everyone is patient or careful enough to keep track of their safe/unsafe days records
  • It is hard to implement if you have an irregular cycle
  • Not everyone can abstain during their unsafe (high fertility) days
  • Certain medications may influence the signs which warn about approaching fertility days
  • Tracking your fertility days while breastfeeding may be difficult due to unpredictable hormone shifts

Now, there are 5 different types of Natural family planning methods –

  • Standard Days Method
  • Calendar Method
  • Temperature Method
  • Cervical Mucus Method
  • Symptothermal Method

But before we get into them, let’s learn a thing or two about our fertility patterns…

Using the natural method, when trying to avoid pregnancy, we work around our safe days. But if pregnancy is what we’re after, then it’s all about our peak fertility (unsafe) days.

Now, for pregnancy to happen, after ovulation occurs (i.e a ripened egg is released) fertilization must take place (i. e. a woman’s egg must be joined with a man’s sperm. For healthy women, there are about 7 days when this can possibly occur and these can also be called her fertile days or unsafe days (depending on whether pregnancy is trying to be avoided or achieved)-

  • 5 days before ovulation
  • The day of ovulation
  • 1 or 2 days after ovulation

So, the standard questions then are – how do I know when I’m about to ovulate? Which are my safe days? Which are my fertile days?

In response to your questions, here’s more on the different natural family planning methods…

 Standard Days Method

This method is pretty much easy and straightforward to follow but will only work for people with regular cycles of 26-32 days. Once you’re certain that your cycle falls between 26-32 days, simply make sure you abstain from sex during days 8-19 of your cycle because these are considered to be your unsafe days i.e days of increased fertility. Below is a sample plan for a person with a 30-day cycle.

 

Calendar Method

If all your cycles are less than 27 days, this method is not for you!

To start it off, track your cycle length for 12 consecutive months.

Based on your records, identify the longest and shortest cycle lengths

Then, to predict your first fertile day –

  • Subtract 18 from the total number of days within your shortest cycle. For example, if the shortest is 28 days, your calculation will be 28-18 = 10
  • Count the total number of the calculated days from day 1 of your present cycle, including day 1 in your count. For example, if day 1 happens to fall on 16thAugust your calculation will leave you with 25th August (10 days from August 16th) as your first fertile day

Now predicting your last fertile day –

  • Subtract 11 from your longest cycle length and as you did when predicting your first fertile day, count that total number of days from day 1 of your present cycle. For example, if your longest cycle had 32 days, you will be left with 32 – 11 = 21 days.
  • Then counting 21 days from 16th August, leaves you with 5th of September.

Hence your unsafe (fertile) days will be 25th August – 5th September. It’s best you abstain during these days

 

Temperature Method

Usually, in the first part of your cycle, your body temperature drops. But it then rises just after ovulation. Your body temperature will then stay slightly elevated until just before your next period begins, of which it will then drop again. Actually these temperature readings vary from person to person but for most people, it is likely to fall between 96-98F before ovulation and 97-99F after ovulation.

Now, note that the temperature you take is not just any temperature. It is your BBT (Basal Body Temperature) which can be described as your temperature when you are totally at rest. Temperature readings can be influenced by factors such as stress, illness, etc. and that is why your BBT is therefore best taken first thing in the morning, before even getting out of bed. Let the thermometer stay in place for 5 minutes before taking the reading. Note that it is important you use a thermometer that recognizes small changes in temperature (i.e a basal thermometer) because when you ovulate your temperature only rises between 0.4 and 1 F

Now the challenge with this method is that with the temperature rise, you are only informed that ovulation has already occurred. There is absolutely no prior warning that it is about to occur. Hence your safe days will be 3 days after your temperature rises up until when your temperature drops before your next period.

You will have to chart your BBT for at least 3 months before adopting this method in order to be sure you really do understand it and know whether your own body’s pattern of temperature rise is sudden or gradual.

 

Cervical Mucus Method

The cervical mucus that is found in your cervix and vagina, changes in quality and quantity before, during and after ovulation-

During your period – The mucus is covered with your blood flow

Immediately after your period – Usually you have a few dry days of no mucus

When your egg starts to ripen in preparation for ovulation – Sticky or tacky mucus increase which is usually yellow, white or cloudy

Just before ovulation (slippery days) – Clear, slippery, raw egg white mucus which can be stretched between your fingers. It’s at this time you have the most mucus.

After about 4 slippery days – Mucus may suddenly decrease and become cloudy and tacky again. Then you may have a few dry days before next period begins

Women who ovulate on day 7 or 8 may have too little mucus to carry out any quality tracking. However those with good mucus quantity can monitor it using any of the following:

  • Before you pee, wipe your vagina opening with tissue and observe the colour and texture of the mucus
  • Inspect the color and texture of discharge collected in your panties
  • Use your fingers in wiping your vagina opening from front to back and then carry out your inspection

Note that mucus could be influenced by factors such as breastfeeding, spermicide, cervical surgery, recent use of hormonal contraceptives, vaginitis, etc. In addition, your mucus may not necessarily exactly fit into the described pattern. In such cases and in fact, for everybody in general, what we should monitor are

Consistency – Stretchy, thick or sticky

Color – Cloudy, white, yellow or clear

Feel – Dry, wet, stretchy, slippery or sticky

Based on your months of monitoring, you’ll then be able to identify ovulation as when you have the most stretchy (consistency), slippery (feel) and clearest (color) mucus

Also note that using this method, your period days are not safe days (especially if you have a short cycle) because your flow covers your mucus signs. Also the dry days immediately after your period are not necessarily safe (especially for those with short cycles) while the 2 -3 days just before your slippery mucus are definitely unsafe.

With this method, it is best to assume your safe days to begin after your mucus switches from slippery to cloudy or tacky or sticky and the subsequent dry days that follow. However, to be on the very safe side, let your assumption begin on the dry days.

Another means of identifying your safe days using the cervical mucus method is by asking yourself these questions- Did I have cervical mucus yesterday? Do I have cervical mucus today? If both answers are NO, then you can assume today to be a safe day. However, with this method you are likely to have only 12 safe days and it is claimed that this method is slightly less effective than its counterpart.

 

Symptothermal Method

This method includes combining the temperature, cervical mucus and calendar methods. By monitoring and comparing all three factors, accuracy is increased and you may also be able to identify more safe days.

 

Do you know that…

  • The length of the first part of the cycle is different from woman to woman and may even also differ from cycle to cycle for the same woman. It typically varies from 13 -20 days
  • The length of the second part of the cycle is approximately similar for every woman; about 12-16 days from ovulation to beginning of next period
  • Stress could delay ovulation but stress will not delay your period. Once you have ovulated, within the assigned 12-16 days your period will show up if you are not pregnant. So the reason for a delayed period is not stress but a delayed ovulation
  • Ovulation Predictor Kits only tell you of the LH surge that occurs right before ovulation but doesn’t confirm that you actually ovulated within the expected 24-36 hours. Hence it can be used as an assistant when trying to conceive but not as a sole birth control tool
  • Most conceptions are results of the sex that happened about 2 days before ovulation
  • Even though your egg will die within 12-24 hours and even though most sperms die within a few hours to a day or two within a woman’s body, there are still some that will make it into the warm, moist reproductive tract and survive for as long as 5 days.
  • Since a sperm can stay alive for up to 5 days, having sex 5 days before ovulation can lead to pregnancy
  • Other ovulation signs include breast tenderness, slight one-sided pain and cervix softening
  • On your peak fertility days, asides from abstaining you could also use one of the barrier methods such as condom. However know that these methods are not 100% accurate. Hence, there is still that chance that pregnancy occurs
  • Breastfeeding can be quite effective as a birth control method if all of the following apply: you are fully or primarily breastfeeding and not mixing with some other liquid or solid, your baby is less than 6 months and your period is yet to return. However, irrespective of whether or not your period has returned pregnancy risks return if there are longer intervals between feeds, night feeds are stopped and/or baby is older than 6 months. However, like other methods, this is also not 100% foolproof 
  • To obtain the best results with the natural family planning method, be sure to be diligent in monitoring and recording your fertility patterns and abstaining during your unsafe days. 

Source: natural-family-planning.info, americanpregnancy.org, plannedparenthood.org, fpa.org.uk

Image courtesy: www.imgwhoop.com, www.natural-family-planning.info