Natural Family Planning

Natural family planning (NFP) is a form of pregnancy planning. It does not involve medicine or devices. NFP helps people know when to have sexual intercourse. It can be used if you are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy. It involves keeping track of a woman’s bodily changes throughout her menstrual cycle. Most people who choose NFP do so for religious or personal reasons.

Path to improved health

Pregnancy can occur if sexual intercourse takes place right before or after ovulation. Ovulation is when a woman’s ovaries release an egg. It usually happens at around the same time each month. The egg moves toward the uterus through the fallopian tubes. This is where conception takes place. An unfertilized egg may live for up to 12 hours. Your body will shed it during the menstrual period if it isn't fertilized.

Three methods of natural family planning currently are practiced. The first is the mucus or ovulation method. A woman checks and tracks her cervical mucus. During ovulation, your cervical mucus is stretchy, clear, and slick. It looks and feels like an uncooked egg white. You will write down your mucus' consistency each day.

The second is the symptothermal method. A woman takes her daily basal body temperature (BBT) using a BBT-specific thermometer. You can take it in your mouth, vagina, or rectum. A regular BBT is between 97° and 98°F. At the time of ovulation, your BBT will rise between .5 and 1 degree. You should take your BBT in the morning before you have moved or get out of bed. Ideally, it should be the same time of day. You should use the thermometer the same way each day to get accurate results.

A third approach is the rhythm method. It is based on the calendar dates of a woman’s previous menstrual cycles. This method can be more difficult and is not as reliable. It doesn't allow for changes in the menstrual cycle, which are common. A normal menstrual cycle is between 28 to 32 days. The day a woman starts her period is considered to be cycle day 1. Ovulation often occurs around day 14 of your cycle.

Sometimes, people combine the approaches. In all 3 methods, you must use a calendar or chart to track the data and changes. This predicts when you ovulate, so you can partake in or abstain from sex. You may notice other symptoms you can track. These include bloating, backache, tender breasts, or pain in your ovaries.

Things to consider

You may choose to find someone who teaches NFP methods. You can ask your doctor or gynecologist for a recommendation. When you follow NFP methods to prevent pregnancy, the success rate is about 90%. When you follow NFP methods to conceive, on average, 2 out of 3 couples who don’t have fertility problems become pregnant. If you do not follow instructions completely, NFP will be less effective.

There are benefits and risks of NFP. It is free, or cheap compared to the use of birth control or condoms, which can be expensive. NFP doesn’t have side effects. It meets certain religious guidelines. You can stop NFP at any time and it won’t affect your menstrual cycle. On the other hand, NFP requires you keep a constant schedule. If you veer from it or aren’t careful, you may not be successful. You may need to use back-up contraceptives. NFP can be hard if you have abnormal menstrual cycles or are breastfeeding.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Are there any health conditions that may prevent me from using natural family planning?
  • What should my cervical mucus look and feel like when I’m not ovulating compared to when I am?
  • How long should it take for me to rely on NFP?
  • Do you recommend working with an NFP teacher?

Resources

American Pregnancy Association, Fertility Awareness