Recently, hormonal birth control has been stirring up a lot of attention in the news and on social media because of it’s negative affects on women’s bodies and their fertility. Fertility issues are higher than ever, and it might not be a coincidence that the majority of women of child-bearing age in 2023 are among the first generations to have been on hormonal birth control for decades.
If you are reading these reports and considering ditching your contraceptives but also want to plan and manage conception, what can you do? It might take some relearning and some research, but Natural Family Planning is a wonderful way for a women to understand her fertility so she can avoid pregnancy or conceive more quickly once she is ready!
Natural Family Planning (NFP), also known as Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABMs), involves tracking and understanding your body’s natural cycle and fertility signs. From these signs, you can predict fertile and non-fertile windows in order to manage or avoid conception. Despite what you might have been raised to believe, there is only a small window of days each cycle in which a woman can get pregnant.
Here’s a simple overview of how NFP works and how to start tracking your fertility using this method:
1. Understanding the Menstrual Cycle: The menstrual cycle is divided into different phases. Understanding and identifying these phases is key to charting your fertility.
- Menstruation: The first day of menstrual bleeding is considered the start of the cycle. This can last for three to seven days. The lining of your uterus is shedding and it would be impossible to get pregnant in this phase.
- Follicular Phase: After menstruation, follicles in the ovaries develop and mature, and the lining of your uterus begins to regrow and thicken. This phase is usually days six through fourteen of your cycle but may vary depending on your cycle length. Sex during this phase may result in pregnancy as sperm can live in the female reproductive tract for up to five days. This is when to start using barriers or abstaining if you want to avoid pregnancy.
- Ovulation: In the middle of the menstrual cycle, around day fourteen, a mature egg is released from the ovary and is available for fertilization. Eggs typically live for twelve to twenty-four hours without being fertilized. That is the window of conception. Sperm that has been introduced to the female reproductive tract during the Follicular phase and are still alive may result in a pregnancy when the egg is released. This is your most fertile window.
- Luteal Phase: This phase is what women who are trying to conceive will refer to as “The two-week wait” as it may take two weeks for your hCG levels to be detectable by a pregnancy test. It is also about two weeks before your next period should be expected. You are no longer fertile during this phase. In the average twenty-eight-day cycle, this is days fifteen through twenty-eight.
2. Tracking Fertility Signs: NFP involves more than just counting on a calendar because cycle days and fertile windows may vary from women to women and even cycle to cycle. There are other fertility signs that should be observed and recorded to verify these cycle phases.
- Basal Body Temperature (BBT): This is the body’s resting temperature. It typically rises slightly after ovulation due to increased progesterone levels. If you keep a graph, such as one inside of a fertility tracking app, you can see the rise. You are no longer fertile twenty-four hours after the rise occurs. You will need to take your temperature at the same time every morning before getting out of bed for an accurate reading.
- Cervical Mucus: The consistency and amount of cervical mucus change throughout the cycle. If the mucus is dry, thick, or sticky, it will not allow sperm to easily pass into the reproductive tract and is not associated with a fertile window. Around ovulation, mucus becomes clear, slippery, and stretchy, resembling egg whites.
- Cervical Position: The position and feel of the cervix change during the menstrual cycle. If it is hard and dry, you are most likely not in a fertile window. Closer to and during ovulation, your cervix will be higher and it will feel soft and wet.
3. Determining Fertile and Non-Fertile Phases: Based on the observed fertility signs and a calendar tracking method, a woman can identify and even predict her fertile window. Remember that the days to conceive are only about six out of the whole cycle but may vary. To avoid pregnancy, barrier methods or abstinence from intercourse can be used during the fertile window. If you are trying to conceive, having intercourse before and during ovulation will give you the best chances.
4. Learning from Patterns: Over time, these signs will emerge, allowing a woman to better predict her fertile and non-fertile phases. This takes accurate and consistent tracking and understanding. There are many apps and devices on the market that can help you record and make sense of your signs. Learning more about your body and taking charge of your fertility might seem scary, but the more you understand, the more you will feel empowered through connecting with your own body.