Natural family planning, or fertility awareness, is sometimes used by couples who are hoping to become pregnant, but it can also be used as a form of birth control. Natural family planning requires fully understanding a woman’s fertility cycle in order to be effective. You should consider another form of birth control if you have irregular periods, just given birth or are breastfeeding and still have an irregular cycle.
The idea behind fertility awareness is to track a woman’s menstrual cycle closely and abstain from sex or use a barrier method like a condom during ovulation. This method is 75-99% effective when done perfectly. Figuring out when ovulation is likely to happen is the key.
There are several ways to track your fertility and you should practice and take notes for a few months before relying on this as your only birth control method. One method is by tracking the calendar. The first day of a woman’s period is considered day one of the cycle. Typically a woman will ovulate between days 13-15. Another method is to take your temperature every morning with a basal body thermometer. On the day it peaks is an indication that the egg has left the ovary and you are in your fertile window. Noting the changes in the amount and consistency of cervical mucus can also help you predict fertility. By tracking the days you have the most mucus, you can determine which days you’ll need to abstain. There are also over the counter devices that test urine and saliva by measuring hormone levels, which are higher around the time of ovulation.
These natural planning methods require you give yourself a window of three days before and after your ovulation date to abstain or use a barrier method for protection against an unintended pregnancy. It’s really easy to make mistakes with this method, so if you’re going to use it, talk to your doctor who can help you learn to accurately track your cycles.