Having children is one of the most beautiful and rewarding parts of life. Yes, children can be messy, noisy, and a lot of responsibility, but they’re also precious treasures that you will guard with your life.
As exciting as it can be to have a baby, not every couple would be ecstatic to find out they’re pregnant at this point in their lives.
Maybe you’re not ready to settle down yet or you want to improve your financial situation before bringing a new life into the picture.
Whatever the reason may be, birth control is typically the go-to method to prevent pregnancy without giving up intimacy altogether.
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However, birth control is not for everyone. For those attracted to natural alternatives, there are a few options for you.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an alternative to conventional birth control methods, and it can be used for planned pregnancy and prevented pregnancy.
Babies are life-changing, so I don’t blame you for wanting to plan that rite of passage when you feel the most prepared.
To get the most out of NFP, here’s what you need to know:
- How fertility works and why it’s important
- Natural methods to encourage or prevent pregnancy
- NFP effectiveness, pros and cons, and resources
If you want to see if NFP is right for you, keep reading.
What is Natural Family Planning (NFP)?
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a natural alternative to contraception, birth control, and other family planning services.
It’s used to control the number of children in a family as well as the time between pregnancies.
Essentially, NFP can be used to increase or decrease the chances of becoming pregnant.
Another way to look at NFP is how it relates to fertility. Some experts even refer to NFP as Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM).
This is because NFP relies heavily on a woman’s fertile window, which consists of the days of the month she is most likely to get pregnant.
How NFP Works?
There are several different methods used in NFP. All of them require basic knowledge of women’s fertility and how fertility contributes to the likeliness of becoming pregnant.
Using different fertility tracking methods, you can determine the days that you’re most fertile.
It can take several months to collect reliable data. Using this data, you will adjust your sex life accordingly.
For example, let’s say you wanted to increase your chances of pregnancy. Fertile days are your friend.
On these days, you can engage in unprotected sex with your partner in hopes of conceiving a baby.
On the other hand, you can still use these methods if you don’t want to become pregnant right now.
In that case, you will either abstain from sex or use other forms of birth control, such as condoms, on fertile days.
Either way, you can still be intimate as normal on days where you’re not fertile and therefore less likely to become pregnant.
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What You Need to Know About Fertility
Fertility can be confusing and intimidating, but it’s really not that complicated.
The word “fertility” refers to a population’s rate of reproduction. It can also refer to an individual.
Each woman’s fertility indicates the likeliness that she will become pregnant if she has unprotected sex. In order to predict this, you must be in tune with your menstrual cycle and overall fertility.
Each woman has a menstrual cycle (a.k.a. a period) that runs on a monthly basis. Though we experience this every four weeks on average, many of us don’t know what’s actually happening to our bodies.
Essentially, your period happens because your body has prepared for pregnancy, but a baby was not conceived.
In that case, your body proceeds to discard the lining of your uterus or womb that built up during the month.
This results in the bleeding that we’re all too familiar with.
So, why is this important to NFP?
The days you are most fertile align with the days of your menstrual cycle.
When you keep track of these days, you can better predict when you are most likely to get pregnant if you have sex.
The first day of your period is Day 1 of the cycle. Most experts agree that women are the most fertile near the cycle’s halfway point.
This is because an egg is released during this time.
Ovulation is when the ovary releases an egg, and that egg will stay in the reproductive system for 12-24 hours.
Pregnancy is more likely if sex occurs during the days leading up to ovulation because sperm can stick around for 3-5 days.
...And we all know what happens when a sperm cell meets up with an egg.
You can use this knowledge to plan or prevent pregnancy according to your personal goals.
Who is Natural Family Planning For?
NFP is suitable for women with regular periods. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but every woman’s cycle can differ.
As long as your cycle is around the same number of days, you have what’s considered a regular cycle.
To calculate the days of your cycle, count the days between the first day of your last period and the first day of your most recent period.
These natural methods are also for women who need or prefer a hormone-free form of contraception.
If you’ve experienced negative side effects from other forms of birth control, NFP may be a safer option since it’s all-natural and free of health risks.
Some people also turn to NFP because of latex allergies. Most condoms are made with latex, which is unfortunate for people who are allergic to this material.
If you or your partner have a latex allergy, NFP may be an alternative to condoms.
Who is Natural Family Planning NOT for?
Women with irregular periods should avoid NFP because the data may not be reliable. If your cycle is unpredictable, then your fertility window is also unpredictable.
NFP is also not for people who aren’t willing to consistently track their menstrual cycles and fertility.
This form of family planning requires daily dedication. Forgetting to monitor or losing count of your days may cause unwanted results.
4 Natural Family Planning Methods
There are three main methods as well as a fourth method which is a combination of the other three.
These methods are the core of NFP.
The Calendar Method (a.k.a. The Rhythm Method)
This first method is easy, free, and old-fashioned. You track your menstrual cycle using a calendar.
A physical calendar works fine, but there are several apps to make this easier.
The basis of this method relies on the rule that women are at peak fertility during a specific window of days.
This fertile window is generally halfway through the cycle or during the days leading up to ovulation, but different sources suggest a different window.
Many sources pinpoint the fertile window between days 8-19.
Other sources suggest that the average woman is fertile for six specific days, including the five days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation.
During this fertile window, you should abstain from intercourse if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy.
Some people simply use another form of contraception during this time (hello, condoms).
If you’re trying to encourage pregnancy, do the opposite of abstinence—plan your intercourse around this fertile window.
The Temperature Method
This method requires you to check and record your temperature each and every morning.
Do this right when you wake up. To maintain consistency, use the same thermometer and take your temperature at the same time.
Log your daily temperatures on a fertility awareness chart. You can get one from your doctor or download one online.
Your baseline temperature is most likely between 96-98 degrees Fahrenheit.
These are normal figures to read when you’re not ovulating and therefore not at peak fertility. After ovulation, the range increases to 97-99 degrees Fahrenheit.
These changes in temperature are slight, so a basal thermometer will be most accurate.
Over time, you’ll notice patterns and be able to predict when you’re most fertile.
This method will help you determine which days to have or avoid unprotected sex depending on your NFP goals.
It can also help detect pregnancy: If a temperature increase lasts for 2-3 weeks after ovulation, it may be an early sign of pregnancy.
The Cervical Mucus Method (a.k.a. The Billings Method)
This next method requires you to get up close and personal with your body.
Throughout your menstrual cycle, the mucus patterns of your cervix are different. Basically, the environment of your cervix changes.
Before ovulation, this environment adjusts to make it easier for sperm to reach the egg.
Here’s how it works:
Like the temperature method, you’ll track your cervical mucus patterns daily and record your findings on a chart.
The mucus I’m referring to is simply vaginal discharge. To do this, you can take note of the discharge in your underwear.
You can also use clean fingers to extract mucus for observation.
You’ll then log details about the color, texture, and amount on your fertility chart. Here are the patterns to take note of:
- During your period, you won’t notice any mucus because of the blood flow. Avoid intercourse on these days.
- You’ll typically experience “dry days” after your period. These are safe days to have unprotected sex if you’re avoiding pregnancy.
- As you get closer to ovulation (usually the middle of your cycle), you’ll produce more mucus. The texture is usually sticky, and the color may be cloudy.
- A few days before ovulation, you’ll most likely reach maximum levels. These are called “slippery days” and you’re most likely to get pregnant.
- The cycle will repeat itself and your body will naturally alternate between slippery and dry days.
The Symptothermal Method
If you take all three methods mentioned above, you get the Symptothermal Method.
In this final method, you will track every stage of the menstrual cycle and any patterns, symptoms, and irregularities you may experience.
This is considered the most reliable method because each method individually has its advantages and disadvantages. When combined, those disadvantages are minimized.
If you want to increase the effectiveness of NFP, use more than one method.
Are Natural Family Planning Methods Effective?
The short answer is...most of the time, but not all of the time.
Like other forms of contraception, NFP methods aren’t 100% effective. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness, but here’s what health organizations say:
According to Planned Parenthood, NFP is up to 88% effective. They believe effectiveness increases when multiple methods are used in conjunction.
Even when these methods are used perfectly, Planned Parenthood acknowledges that an unplanned pregnancy may still occur.
They also acknowledge that these methods are more difficult to use than other types of birth control, so they’re less effective.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates a lower rate of approximately 75% effective. Out of 100 women, they estimate that up to 25 may become pregnant.
Like Planned Parenthood, HHS encourages women to use more than one NFP method to increase effectiveness.
One study suggests that NFP methods can be just as effective as contraceptive pills when used correctly.
How do these figures compare to other types of contraception?
Pros & Cons
Still unsure if going the natural route is for you? Take a look at this breakdown of pros and cons to help you decide.
The main advantage of NFP is that it’s all-natural and hormone-free. Many women experience uncomfortable and long-lasting side effects of hormonal birth control, such as the pill and the shot.
This is a much safer alternative, and it allows women to better understand their bodies and fertility.
The greatest disadvantage of this birth control alternative is the lower rate of effectiveness. If avoiding pregnancy is a high-priority to you, this method isn’t as reliable as other forms of contraception.
- No medication or chemicals are needed
- Less expensive than other methods
- No side effects
- No health risks
- People of all faiths and cultures can participate
- Become more in tune with your body
- Increases knowledge of your fertility
- Many resources are available to make NFP easier
- Not as effective as conventional birth control
- Not suitable for women with irregular periods
- Requires dedication and daily tracking
- Can be tough to learn at first
- All responsibility is on the female partner
- You may have to abstain from sex on fertile days
Natural Family Planning Tips and Resources
The amount of women who use NFP over conventional birth control is low. An estimated 1-3% of women report using natural birth control methods.
You’re not alone, though. There are many resources available to you to learn more and start practicing these methods.
Let’s go over some tips and resources to make NFP even easier.
Learn your signs of fertility and ovulation
No one knows your body better than you. Throughout this process, you’re going to notice things about your body that you never noticed before.
Pay close attention to these signs and learn what they mean.
The best way to do this is to keep a diligent record of your unique patterns and symptoms. You can use calendars, journals, charts, apps, etc.
Then, you can research your findings or go over them with a health professional.
NFP methods are significantly more effective when they’re executed correctly, and they rely on your knowledge of your own menstrual cycle and fertility.
The more you know, the more effective NFP will be for you.
Don’t worry—NFP is like learning how to ride a bike or drive a car. It’s challenging at first, but soon it will be second nature.
Use NFP resources
One of the best ways to implement NFP methods is to use the resources available to you.
Start by researching more online or check out fertility books at your library. I recommend “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler.
It goes over fertility, natural birth control, pregnancy, and reproductive health in-depth.
There are also devices you can use to make the methods easier. A popular device is the Daysy Fertility Tracker.
This tool is an intelligent thermometer that displays a red light for fertile days and a green light for not fertile days.
Other resources include:
Have a health professional help you get started
The saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I’m also a believer that we learn by doing.
A sure-fire way to implement these methods correctly is having a health professional assist you and show you the correct procedures.
You can ask your family doctor for help, or you can visit a family planning clinic. There are even fertility specialists that can answer all of your questions.
Once you’ve been implementing NFP methods for a couple of months, consult with a professional to ensure you’re on the right path.
Don’t stop your other birth control methods immediately
A rule of thumb is to have a back-up plan. NFP isn’t as effective as other birth control options and humans are prone to make mistakes.
If you’re using NFP to avoid pregnancy, having a back-up plan is even more crucial.
Another rule of thumb is to implement NFP methods for several months before stopping other forms of birth control.
This allows you time to gather reliable data and get the hang of the procedures.
I recommend starting NFP as soon as possible and practicing it for three months before using it as your exclusive form of contraception.
Involve your partner
Finally, include your significant other in the fun. NFP may seem one-sided, and this is true biologically speaking.
However, NFP can bring you closer to your partner as you both learn about the female body and how fertility works.
Studies even show that NFP improves couple relationships. Both emotional and sexual intimacy can definitely thrive if you’re using NFP to encourage pregnancy.
Final Thoughts on Natural Family Planning
There are so many forms of birth control out there, each one with its own pros and cons. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is another option, but many people don’t know enough about it to put it to use.
If you’re willing to put in the consistency, NFP is a painless alternative that’s free of side effects.
Just be sure to take all the necessary precautions to increase its effectiveness.
Whether you’re trying to grow your family now or hold off until the future, NFP can help you with those goals.
If you use all the methods, tips, and resources laid out in this article, the odds may be in your favor.
Are you thinking of switching to natural birth control? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
1 Weird Tip to Reverse Infertility & Get Pregnant Naturally!
Lacey is a professional writer who specializes in health and wellness topics, including vitamins and supplements, the benefits of a plant-based diet, maintaining overall wellness, and more. She’s also obsessed with her two fur babies.