The Natural Family Planning Methods

Natural family planning is a form of birth control that doesn't involve pills or devices. As a result, you don't have side effects.

With these methods, you track your fertility, which is when you are most likely to get pregnant.

How It Works

Usually, a woman releases an egg from her ovaries at about the same time each month. That’s called ovulation. The egg moves through the fallopian tubes toward the uterus. An unfertilized egg can live up to 24 hours.

Most women are fertile for about 6 days each month -- 5 before ovulation and the day of ovulation. Natural family planning uses different methods to pinpoint those fertility days.

Types

You can use natural family planning to control pregnancy in several ways:

Rhythm method. One of the oldest ways of natural family planning, this is based simply on the calendar. A woman's normal menstrual cycle lasts between 28 and 32 days. Ovulation usually happens around day 14. So you would avoid unprotected sex on days 8 through 19, since that’s when you’re most fertile.

Cervical mucus or ovulation method. Here, you track the mucus your cervix makes. When you're ovulating, your mucus is clear, stretchy, and wet, like raw egg whites. You write down what your mucus is like each day so you know when you're ovulating.

Basal body temperature (BBT) method. Your temperature can rise between 0.5 and 1 degree when you ovulate and stay there until your next period. With this method, you take your temperature before you get out of bed each morning, before you have anything to eat or drink. BBT by itself isn't a good way to prevent pregnancy because charting your temperature tells you when ovulation has already happened.

Symptothermal method. With this, you combine several methods, usually BBT and cervical mucus. Using more than one method can give you a better idea what's going on in your body

How Effective Is It?

Natural family planning isn't as effective as other methods of birth control. According to the CDC, the failure rate is 24%. That means about 1 in 4 women who use natural family planning will get pregnant.

You need to be careful, diligent, and have plenty of self-control to practice natural family planning. You have to follow instructions completely to be successful.

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Benefits

Natural family planning is free. There are also no side effects. You can stop anytime and it won't have an impact on your body. It also meets most religious guidelines.

Apps can help you track your fertility, which can make things easier.

Once you've learned a method, you don't have to keep going to a doctor for refills or follow-up appointments.

Risks

Natural family planning requires you to keep track of your body and stick to a schedule. It may not be for you if you have irregular periods or if you are breastfeeding.

Talk to your doctor or gynecologist if you have questions about these methods or to see if natural family planning might work for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on May 16, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

FamilyDoctor.org: "Natural Family Planning."

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Fertility Awareness-Based Methods of Family Planning.”

Kaiser Family Foundation: "Natural Family Planning as a Means of Preventing Pregnancy."

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness."

CDC: "Effective of Family Planning Methods."

Mayo Clinic: "Natural Family Planning."

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