Table Of Contents
- What Are Fertility Awareness Methods?
- How do they Prevent Pregnancy?
- What Are the Benefits?
- What Are the Disadvantages?
- How Effective are they?
- How Safe are these methods?
- How Do I Use FAM?
- Tips for Using
What Are Fertility Awareness Methods?
Sometimes referred to as “natural family planning” or FAM, the methods based in fertility awareness consist of keeping track of ovulation, and timing sexual activity to coincide with times of the month which are less conducive to pregnancy. In this way, a woman can abstain from sex, or use extra protection during times in which she is most fertile.
There are several different types of methods women use to keep track of their fertility.
These include the Temperature method, the Cervical mucus method, the Calendar method and the Standard Days Method.
How do they Prevent Pregnancy?
Pregnancy happens when fertilization occurs, which is when sperm joins with an egg. For a woman with a normal healthy reproductive system, there are times during her menstrual cycle when fertilization is impossible, times when it is unlikely and times when it is most likely.
Fertility awareness methods of birth control reduce the likelihood of pregnancy by informing you of when you are most fertile. This way, you can take measures to prevent sperm from accessing your eggs during your most fertile times. In other words, you can find out which days are your most fertile days, and abstain from sex or use extra protection (eg. condoms, sponges, diaphragms, spermicide etc.) during these times.
Fertility awareness can also help prevent pregnancy by encouraging the use of emergency contraception (eg. Plan B), if a woman has unprotected sex during a highly fertile time of the month.
In order for these methods to be used effectively, a woman must be fully aware of her menstrual cycle. There are 7 days of every menstrual cycle when sperm has the opportunity to meet with the egg and cause pregnancy. These days can be identified by figuring out when ovulation will occur.
What Are the Benefits?
The benefits are as follows:
- Little to no cost
- No effect on hormones
- No Side Effects
- No Physical commitment
- No need for medication
What Are the Disadvantages?
Fertility awareness methods tend to take a tremendous amount of discipline and support from all sexual participants to maintain with accuracy. If you don’t feel like you are the type of person who can keep close track of your menstrual cycle and your safe days, then you may want to look into other forms of birth control. Similarly, if you have multiple partners, or your partner is not committed to fertility based awareness methods, then this method of birth control may not work.
Your ability to employ fertility awareness based methods may also be compromised by taking certain medications which may introduce irregularities to your cycle. Those who have irregular periods should not depend on fertility awareness based methods of birth control.
Those going through hormonal changes such as teenagers, those undergoing breast feeding, and those who just finished using hormonal birth control, and those approaching menopause, may be unable to track menstrual cycles accurately.
How Effective are the Methods?
Average effectiveness depends on the type of fertility awareness method being used.
Of 100 couples who use the Cervical Mucus Method and always use it correctly, 3 will become pregnant over the course of a year.
Of 100 couples who use the Standard Days method and always use it correctly, 5 will become pregnant over the course of a year.
Of 100 couples who use a combination of methods (ie. the Sympothermal Method) and always use them correctly, 0.4 will become pregnant through the course of a year.
Among women who may not always use fertility awareness methods correctly, 24 out of 100 will become pregnant through the course of a year.
How Safe are they?
They are extremely safe. No side effects can occur from them. Remember that their effectiveness is based entirely upon the user’s ability to employ them with accuracy.
How Do I Use them?
There are 4 main types of FAM are:
- the temperature method
- the cervical mucus method
- the calendar method
- the standard days method
To use any of them requires cooperation and support from both partners. They can be learned by seeking a course or a trained specialist in the field of sexual health and family planning. It is suggested that both partners learn the techniques together.
Remember that this is page has basic background information on fertility awareness methods and should not be taken as professional medical advice.
The temperature method can identify when ovulation occurs by measuring body temperature every day. That’s because a woman’s body temperature rises slightly after ovulation and remains elevated until right before the start of her next period. The object of this exercise is to not have unprotected sex until 72 hours after the end of ovulation.
This involves taking your basal body temperature every day. This means you must take your body temperature every day, when your body is at rest. For the most accurate results, your body temperature should be taken in the same way every day. To this end, it is advised that you take your temperature right when you wake up, before starting your day or engaging in any activity whatsoever. In other words, you should literally take your temperature first thing in the morning.
Once your temperature is taken, you should record it to a tenth of a degree. Because of the subtle changes in body temperature which must be detected, it is suggested that a large scale basal thermometer be used. The average woman’s body temperature will be between 96 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit before ovulation and 97 to 99 degrees after ovulation.
Your temperature should be recorded in a special chart. These can be obtained by a health care professional or women’s health center. If you are feeling angry, suffering from illness, or dealing with any other condition which could raise your blood pressure and body temperature (even slightly), it is best to put this in your chart to help you understand how that might affect the results. It is also advisable to have a health care professional help you interpret your chart for the first little while.
Chart your temperature for at least 90 days before solely relying on this method of birth control so you can get a sense of your patterns and cycle.
Using the temperature method, a woman’s safe (non-fertile) days begin 72 hours after the rise in temperature begins and end when the temperature drops just before the beginning of her next period.
Cervical mucus method
If you are a woman who produces a high amount of vaginal mucus and is comfortable with touching your vagina, the cervical mucus method may be for you. If you are going to use this method, it is advised that you abstain from unprotected sex for an entire cycle while you get a sense of your normal mucus levels.
The cervical mucus method (also known as the ovulation method or billings method) involves keeping track of the amount and physical properties of your vaginal mucus. This works because vaginal mucus changes its consistency based on whether or not a woman is ovulating.
You would normally produce less mucus after your period. You can call these your dry days and they may be considered safe if the cycle is long. More mucus gets produced when the egg becomes ripe. You can find this yellowish white substance at the opening of your vagina. It should feel sticky. When ovulation is just about to occur, your mucus will ramp up in volume and take on a wet and slippery consistency. This is when a woman is most fertile. After 4 days of this, your mucus may return to being cloudy and sticky, which will then transition back to dry days, which can be considered safe.
In order to use this information to figure out when you may or may not be at the height of your fertility, you need to examine your mucus frequently and chart it in a calendar.
You should check your mucus several times a day. You can do this by wiping your vaginal opening with toilet paper before urinating, examining the nature of the discharge in your underwear, or putting your fingers in your vagina and examine the color and consistency of what you find. Mark your calendar with the properties of your mucus. Was it sticky? Cloudy? Wet and slippery? Nearly non-existent? Mark it in your calendar and try to see a pattern. If you were on your period, you do not need to check your mucus, but be sure to mark this down as a flow day.
Note that women, who are breast feeding, undergoing medical procedures on their cervix, in a postmenopausal state, just got off hormonal contraceptives, use spermicide or suffer from STIs or vaginitis may have irregular mucus patterns which could compromise the accuracy of this method.
The days of your mucus pattern which are least safe begin three days before slippery mucus first appears and end three days after the height of the slippery mucus stage. Period days are also less likely to be safe. This is especially true for women with short cycles. Days which are more likely to be safe begin after the slippery mucus subsides and cloudy sticky mucus takes its place. The days most likely to be safe are the following dry days.
The calendar method is employed by keeping track of how many days are in your cycle from period to period. To do this, you would start counting days on the first day of your period and tabulating the amount of days until the first day of your following period. This method is not recommended for women whose cycles are all shorter than 27 days.
You can determine your safe days and your most fertile days once you have tracked the amount of days in each of your cycles for at least 8 cycles (12 cycles is preferred for accuracy).
Once you have determined the number of days in each cycle for 8 to 12 cycles, you would find the shortest cycle in your record and subtract 18 from the number of days in that cycle. With that number, count the number of days since the beginning of the 1st day of your current cycle and put a red X through the day you eventually land on. This represents the first day you are likely to be fertile.
Conduct the same exercise again, but this time, subtract 11 from the number of days in your longest cycle. With this number, count the number of days from the beginning of day one of your current cycle and mark the day you land on with an X. This represents the last day you are likely to be fertile.
Because this method uses averages and past information to predict future fertility, it can be risky to rely on for women who have cycles of inconsistent or irregular length. It is suggested that this method always be used with other methods of birth control.
The Standard Days Method
The Standard Days Method is a type of calendar method of tracking your fertility. It commonly involves tracking your cycle by moving a rubber ring around a special string of beads called Cyclebeads. This method is only useful for women who have regular cycles which never fall shorter than 26 days or extend longer than 32 days.
The Cyclebeads contain 33 beads of which there is one black bead followed by one red bead, followed by 6 brown beads, followed by 12 white beads followed by another 13 brown beads. Each bead except for the black bead represents one day.
The black ring is placed on the red bead on the first day of your period. From then on, the black ring is moved to the adjacent bead each day in the direction of the arrow printed on the black bead. Brown beads represent safe days, and white beads stand for unsafe days when a woman is more fertile.
Women who use or have just used hormonal contraception, IUDs, are breast feeding, or have been recently pregnant, may not be able to use the Standard day’s method effectively.
The Sympothermal Method
The Sympothermal Method is the method of combining multiple fertility awareness methods simultaneously. This is done to obtain greater accuracy and corroborate the results of one method or another. It is good for women who, above all else, are seeking peace of mind and don’t mind doing a fair amount of diligent menstrual cycle tracking to achieve that.
This normally involves conducting two of the following methods at the same time: temperature method, the cervical mucus method, or a calendar method.
This enables you to accurately track safe and fertile days when one method may fail. For instance, your temperature chart might be confused by an illness, in which case, you can rely on the cervical mucus method to maintain accuracy.
Tips for Using
Switching to a fertility awareness based method is not advisable if you have recently been on hormonal birth control (including emergency contraception) as this can make it difficult to accurately track your menstrual cycle.
Should you decide to use a fertility based method, it is advised that you seek the help of a medical professional who can guide and consult you on how to properly employ these techniques. This page is not meant as a substitute for medical advice.
Many of the implements needed to conduct fertility awareness based methods can be obtained for free from women’s health centers or medical professionals.