Before I start talking about this amazing method that every woman should know, whether she is trying to avoid pregnancy, trying to conceive, or just monitoring her health, there is one thing you should keep in mind:
THIS IS NOT THE RHYTHM METHOD!
Okay, we got that out of the way. Remember that. This is a scientifically proven effective method of avoiding (or achieving) pregnancy. It is not the rhythm method. It works not only for women with regular cycles, but also for women with irregular cycles or health issues. It uses observations of fertility signs, not a calendar. Like I said, no matter what you cycles are like or what stage of life you are in, every woman should know this amazing method!
So what is it?
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a natural method of avoiding or achieving pregnancy. No hormones, no barriers, no chemicals. As a result, it is the only method of family planning approved by the Catholic Church. However, this is not a Catholic method. This is an everyone method! Many non-Catholics use this method in conjunction with an alternate non-hormonal method, such as condoms, diaphragms, or spermicide. However, keep in mind that if you get pregnant while using one of these devices during your fertile phase, it is the secondary birth control, NOT natural family planning, that failed. And if the method does fail, since it is during the fertile phase, there is a higher chance of pregnancy. Besides, condoms produce waste and spermicide is an irritating chemical. Because of these factors, I will be writing the remainder of this post describing NFP practiced without barriers.
Fertile Phase? And no barriers?
Yep! To practice NFP, a woman tracks various signs of fertility throughout her cycle. These signs include basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position. She (with the help of her partner, if she chooses) interprets these signs to determine her fertility at a given point in the month. Women are only fertile for a very small window of time around ovulation – about 24-48 hours. This window is expanded to about a week once the life span of sperm is factored in. The exact amount of time depends on the woman and how she chooses to practice NFP. During this fertile time, a couple can choose whether or not they would like to conceive a child and act accordingly.
When used perfectly, NFP is over 99% effective for avoiding a pregnancy. Even actual effectiveness, which includes human error, is 96.5%. When used to achieve a pregnancy, 75% of couples will conceive in the first cycle. Those are pretty good statistics! Whatever your fertility needs, natural family planning is there to help you out. (source)
Now, as you may have realized, there is some abstinence involved. If a couple wishes to avoid pregnancy without using hormones, barriers, or chemicals, they must abstain when the woman is in her fertile phase. Some couples may think this sounds too hard, or that it is unhealthy. However, keep in mind that every couple will go through periods of abstinence, for whatever reason (illness, pregnancy, work, etc.). Periodic abstinence itself is not unhealthy or unnatural. This time each month can be used as a chance to grow closer as a couple and find ways to love each other outside of sex. Plus, you get a honeymoon period every single month when you choose to resume having sex.
Beyond successfully avoiding and achieving pregnancy, natural family planning is an amazing resource that every woman should have for monitoring her health. Many health and fertility problems can be detected through charting. By learning NFP early in life, these problems can be detected early on and taken care of before they become serious – or before they prevent a trying to conceive woman from becoming pregnant. NaProTechnology is a great resource for overcoming any health problems naturally, working with a woman’s body, rather than against it (as hormonal birth control does). The intimate understanding of a woman’s cycles that natural family planning gives also allows a woman to receive tests and treatments at the proper time in her cycle, rather than based on a stock, estimated, and usually incorrect guess at when she may ovulate.
Learning Natural Family Planning
There are multiple methods of natural family planning available for women to choose from. Sympto-Thermal (STM) involves basal temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position. STM is taught by Couple to Couple League from a Catholic perspective, or under the name Fertility Awareness Method in the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility from a secular perspective. I highly recommend reading TCOYF. It is a very quick and informative read. It instantly sold me on NFP! Also, the TCOYF forums can be very helpful if you are concerned about practical effectiveness. There are women there who have successfully avoided pregnancy for over 5 years!
The Billings Method and the Creighton Model are methods based solely on cervical mucus. I personally have taken Creighton classes and find the method of teaching very complimentary to my personality. It is very standardized, which helps me with my observations. It is also the method associated with NaProTechnology. It sounds weird to say I enjoy my method of family planning or that I enjoy checking my cervical mucus, but I really do enjoy this method!
Charting (like what you see in the above picture, which is my Creighton chart) looks complicated at first, but it is very easy to catch on. What looks like gibberish and baby stickers soon becomes a meaningful analysis of your cycle and baby stickers. Do not let the idea of charting scare you off, it soon becomes second nature.
I really hope you consider looking into Natural Family Planning. Whatever your motivation, be it your health, the environment, your religious convictions, or simply discontent with your current method, I truly believe that NFP is a great resource for every woman to have. If you have any questions, or wish to share your own experience with NFP, please leave it in the comments!