Fertility Awareness, or Natural Family Planning, is the most natural way to prevent pregnancy or to attempt pregnancy. The amazing thing is, anybody can do it. The most important thing you need to use it as a method of birth control? Knowledge.
A Woman’s Cycle
As you know, the female body works in reproductive cycles. Though it may vary from person to person, let’s use the average 28-day cycle as a point of reference. The first day of menses is day 1. It is also the same day that the follicular phase begins; in other words, the time when an egg is maturing. Estrogen is the key player during this part of the reproductive cycle.
When the egg reaches maturation, typically at the half-way point of your cycle, it slips out of the fallopian tube and lives for 12-24 hours, awaiting fertilization. This is ovulation, and once it occurs, progesterone takes over as the key player. As a result of the sudden switch to progesterone, a woman’s basal body temperature, then, increases. During this luteal phase, the body’s uterine lining thickens to make a cozy, nutrient-rich environment for a fertilized egg. If a fertilized egg doesn’t implant, the body sheds the lining (menstruation) and the cycle begins again. If conception did occur, the body transitions into pregnancy mode.
The Fertile Window
There is a “fertile window” for each cycle, meaning, there are a few days each cycle in which a woman can become pregnant; the days leading up to and the day following ovulation. Because sperm can survive in cervical fluid 3-5 days, those little swimmers can be anxiously anticipating the egg before ovulation even occurs. The fertile window “closes” within 24 hours after ovulation, when an unfertilized egg dissipates. After the egg is gone, there is no chance of getting pregnant for the remainder of that cycle.
It’s Ovulation, Baby
By design, the female body wants to make babies. As ovulation approaches, cervical mucus becomes an egg-white consistency, much more sperm-friendly. Without hormonal birth-control interfering, pheromones are released that literally make you smell attractive and look your best self. I’ve heard it said that if you feel sexy and confident and receptive to the idea of sex, you are most likely near ovulation. So have sex! But use a condom, if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy.
Using Fertility Awareness as Birth Control
It’s quite simple, really. Determine your fertile window is by tracking your temperature and cervical mucus (don’t worry — there’s an app for that, and I’ll tell you about it soon). Then, to avoid pregnancy, use a condom or abstain from sex for the weekish you’re fertile. After you’ve ovulated, give yourself one more day with protection, then put the condoms away for next month.
How do you know when you’ve ovulated? I’m so glad you asked.
The Importance of Temperature in Tracking Fertility
While the length of women’s cycles differ, the pattern is the same. Menses and the follicular phase, then ovulation, then the luteal phase. Some may have longer periods, some shorter luteal phases. You need to best understand your unique cycle to understand your fertility window.
The tell-tale sign of observation is an increase of basal body temperature. This is how many apps and fertility trackers work. If you track your temperature every day and notice a sudden increase (without being sick, of course), ovulation occurred. Your resting temperature will remain slightly elevated until your cycle begins again.
That is why it is so helpful to have a record of your temperature. Once you see a jump in your temperature, you can assess that ovulation did happen, and your fertile window is nearly closed.
Tracking Your Temperature
The best time to check your temperature is at a consistent time every morning before getting out of bed. If you want to go the thrifty route, you can purchase a basal body thermometer and keep a notepad by your bed, and set an alarm for the same time every morning.
When I was first doing fertility awareness, the best option for me was the LadyComp, a compact computer that tracked my temperature for me. I’d set an alarm, it would go off every morning, and I would use the attached thermometer to check my temperature. It kept a record of every temperature and shine a green, yellow, or red light to tell me if I was fertile (red meaning, you can make a baby right now, beware!). It was expensive up front, but served me well. It is pretty much dummy-proof!
Now, though, with technology the way it is, there are a variety of apps available for tracking your fertility. I recommend an amazing app called Kindara, which is what I am using now. It not only can track your temperature, but your cervical mucus (more on that in a bit), menstruation, sex, and other custom data that is connected to your cycle. Kindara also sells a discreet basal body thermometer called Wink that syncs up to the app automatically.
(You can also follow Kindara’s blog, which provides incredible insights on everything from “How to Support your Body While Coming off Hormonal Birth Control” to “When Should I be Having Sex if I’m Trying to Conceive?“)
Tracking Cervical Mucus
Tracking cervical mucus (I know it sounds gross) is another way to determine your fertility. You may have noticed, but it changes every few days. It can be wet, thick, tacky, egg-whiteish. When you use the bathroom, check your toilet paper or reach up with clean fingers to determine its consistency. The general rule of thumb is, if it seems like a sperm can swim through it, you’re fertile. When cervical mucus is stretchy and seems egg-whiteish, you are likely ovulating.
Fertility Awareness for Pregnancy
Of course, you use all of the same knowledge and information to try to get pregnant, too. The days approaching ovulation are prime baby-making time. The great thing about fertility awareness is you do not need to wait for your body to readjust to its natural state as you would for hormonal birth control; your body is already ready to go. If you are already on hormonal birth control, consult with a doctor on how long to be off it before trying to conceive.
Why I love Fertility Awareness
I was intimidated by the prospect of using fertility awareness at first, but I can tell you that after a few months of tracking my fertility, I become in-tune with my body in a way I never had been before. It is empowering. I began noticing trends in the way I felt, noticing the symptoms of ovulation and pending menstruation simply because I had become a student of my own body. It’s not uncommon for me to feel a slight pang in my abdomen and tell my husband, “Oh! I just ovulated!”
There are no side effects. It’s natural. My body has not been tampered with. My husband and I are partners in preventing pregnancy, and he is equally aware about my fertility. Conceiving was straightforward. There are wonderful benefits to this method of birth control, and I am so grateful for our choice.
And you, dear reader, can do it, too! With the resources now available, it’s never been easier.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions – I am not always quick on the reply, but I will look at it in time!