Fertility Awareness: The Natural Birth Control Option

Young family in pregnancy planning concept with ovulation calendar

Natural methods of birth control, or natural family planning, are a type of birth control that relies on observations about the woman’s body and menstrual cycle. Natural methods of birth control include fertility awareness methods (FAM). Examples of natural birth control methods include the calendar rhythm method, basal body temperature method, and cervical mucus examination.

How Does the Fertility Awareness Method Work?

You’re most likely to be fertile and get pregnant if you have contraception-free sex a few days before or during ovulation. Ovulation happens when your ovaries release an egg. It occurs approximately monthly, about 12 to 16 days after menstruation. The specific day you ovulate depends on your cycle length, which is largely controlled by Fluctuations in your sex hormone levels.

Once an egg is released from your ovaries, its life span is very short. Conception can only occur if the egg is fertilized 12 to 24 hours after the time of actual ovulation. However, sperm can remain alive and viable in the body up to 5 days after ejaculation. So, it’s possible to have intercourse up to 5 days before ovulating and getting pregnant. You’re less likely to get pregnant if you’ve accurately identified your fertile period and avoid contraception-free sex on those days each month.

How Can You Track Your Menstrual Cycle?

Menstrual cycles are unique from person to person. To use FAM effectively, it’s important to pinpoint when you’re ovulating. There are several ways to track your ovulation cycle and fertility.

These are some common methods incorporated into fertility awareness:

Temperature Method

Here, you track your basal body temperature (BBT) for several cycles using a very sensitive basal thermometer to take your temperature before you leave bed each morning. Due to hormonal surges, your BBT goes up 3 to 4 days after ovulation. BBT should not be used to predict ovulation in real-time. It’s a retrospective tool to help someone determine whether they ovulated that cycle.

Calendar Rhythm Method

This method uses past menstrual cycles to estimate your ovulation time. When used on its own, this is the least reliable method of birth control. It should be avoided if your menstrual cycles are shorter than 26 days or longer than 32 days.

Cervical Mucus Method

This method tracks your cervical mucus’s color, thickness, and texture to monitor your fertility. Your cervical mucus becomes thinner, slippery, and stretchy when you ovulate. Tracking your cervical mucus will require some practice.

The symptothermal method, in which you use all three of the above methods, makes FAM most effective. You should track at least 6 to 12 menstrual cycles before you begin to rely on FAM for contraception.

What Are the Benefits of FAM?

  • It’s safe to use
  • Requires no medication
  • Produces no side effects
  • It can be stopped easily and immediately if you decide you want to get pregnant

What Are the Disadvantages of FAM?

  • It does not protect you from STIs
  • You need to consistently track your menstrual cycles for at least 6 months before the method can be considered reliable.
  • You need to abstain from sex or use backup contraception during your fertile days.
  • Both members of the couple must be involved in the process

It’s best to talk with your doctor or take a course on fertility awareness before deciding if FAM is right for you. Educate yourself about your body and its cycles. FAM requires a significant and consistent investment of time and effort. It has a higher failure rate than many other birth control forms, such as condoms, diaphragms, and birth control pills, patches, or injections, but if used correctly, it can be just as effective.

At South Avenue Women’s Services, we are a board-certified, full-service well-woman, and family-planning OBGYN clinic. Our trained medical staff has the experience needed to help women understand every birth control option and choose the right one for their body and lifestyle. 

Contact us today at (585)271-3850 to schedule an appointment and learn more about your birth control options!