Deciding to start or grow your family is a big decision that will have a significant impact on your life. Many families choose to use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy until they are ready for the commitment that raising children takes. When it comes to choosing your method of birth control, there are so many choices out there to talk with your OBGYN about, including:
In this blog, we’ll explore the fertility awareness method and why some women choose this as their go-to family planning option.
Clearly, there are a lot of options. Most of the choices above are hormone-based, which means they alter your body’s hormones and change how your reproductive system functions to prevent fertilization. The options for non-hormonal pregnancy prevention are barrier methods, abstinence, copper IUD, or the fertility awareness method.
Even though the barrier methods don’t alter your hormones, some still introduce chemicals like spermicide that can affect your health. If you’re looking for a completely natural way of family planning without foregoing sex, you might want to consider the fertility awareness-based (FAB) method. This method is also used by couples who are trying to conceive, but instead of avoiding sex on the most fertile days, they do the opposite.
The FAB method, also sometimes abbreviated FAM (Fertility Awareness Method), is when you use your body’s natural menstrual cycle to look for signs of ovulation. A woman’s body ovulates, or releases an egg, once per month and awaits fertilization. There are about nine days in each month that a woman is fertile and can become pregnant if her cycles are regular (21 to 35-day cycles are considered regular, with 28 days being the average).
The fertility awareness method aims to identify which days you are most fertile and which days you are not. There are many signs when your body is fertile if you are looking for them. Paying attention to these signs is how this method can be effective at preventing fertilization. The exact effectiveness varies based on many factors, from how regular your body’s cycles are to how many layered methods you use; current effectiveness ranges from 77 to 98%.
There are three main components to calculating your window of fertility (the week or so that you should avoid sex or use alternative contraception) with the fertility awareness-based method. Some women choose to follow only one, while others may choose to observe all three. Likely, the accuracy increases when using multiple methods in a layered approach. Here are the three methods to calculate your most fertile days:
The calendar method can give you a starting point to approximate your fertile days. This works by carefully tracking the first day of your period each month. The day you start your period is considered day one. Ovulation generally occurs about two weeks later. Since sperm can live up to 36 hours inside a woman’s reproductive system, be sure to widen your window of fertility to include at least three or four days before the calculated day of ovulation.
The basal body temperature method works by monitoring your body’s daily temperature. After ovulation, your temperature will be slightly higher than the rest of the month. Checking your body temperature as soon as you awaken with a special basal body thermometer (available at your pharmacy for a reasonable cost) will help you detect the change which is usually about a half-degree around the time of ovulation. You can use this information to establish a pattern of when your body usually releases the egg, typically two or three days before your peak basal body temperature.
Finally, the last method to nail down your ovulation window is the cervical mucus method. With this, you’ll observe changes in your vaginal discharge throughout the month. Here’s what to look for:
During sticky and wet days, you’ll want to avoid sex or use alternative protection to prevent pregnancy.
If you decide it’s time to give the fertility awareness-based method a try, be sure that you are consistent with your tracking. While you can use a standard calendar to mark your daily vitals including temperature, bleeding, and mucus, there are apps designed specifically for this purpose. If your menstrual cycles are outside of the standard range, some apps can help you determine your window of ovulation more accurately.
Working with your body’s natural cycles and signs can be an effective method of family planning when tracked consistently. Whether you’re tracking ovulation because you want to avoid traditional contraceptive medication or for other reasons, we can help you understand how your reproductive system functions. If you have questions about using the fertility awareness-based method, reach out to your online OBGYN for answers today.