The Natural Family Planning Methods

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on September 13, 2023
3 min read

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

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

Usually, the ovaries release an egg 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.

Fertility happens 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.

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 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. Ask your doctor how best to use the rhythm method.

The rhythm method doesn’t work for all couples. People who have regular menstrual cycles and who are very careful about when they have sex usually find it effective. If that’s not you, this isn’t going to be the best approach to birth control.

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 of what's going on in your body.

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 people who use natural family planning will get pregnant.

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

Natural family planning is free. There are 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.

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’re 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.

In addition, the rhythm method and other forms of natural family planning don’t protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The male condom provides the best protection from most STDs.