Good day! So my new friend Chanelle was at my house the other day for tea, and we got to talking, and I was astonished by her knowledge on this somewhat confusing topic. I personally don’t use birth control, but was surprised that what works for my husband and I actually fits into one of the NFP methods! I asked Chanelle to write this article for you, our snap mom audience, and boy am I ever impressed with what is below. Chanelle is not only a magnificent wife and momma, but she is a stirring writer! Enjoy!
Fertility Awareness/Natural Family Planning: Not your Grandma’s Rhythm Method
By Chanelle Henderson
Hey Snap Mamas! Chanelle here. Sick and tired of the Pill making you sick and tired? Condoms just not “getting the job done?” This article provides a little insight into a method of birth planning that—get this—is totally free. Free of side effects. Free of chemicals. Free of any cost to you and your family! It’s called Natural Family Planning, or NFP, and it is an awesome way to stay tuned in to your partner and yourself while still keeping those Irish Twins from coming along (http://www.urbandictionary.
So get ready to have your mind BLOWN by how awesome your body is!
What is Natural Family Planning?
Natural Family Planning (NFP) or fertility awareness refers to a collection of practices that observe a woman’s naturally occurring cycle signs to identify which days she is most likely to get pregnant. Depending on the chosen method, NFP combines “charting” according to a woman’s menstrual calendar, observing the basal (resting) temperature and cervical mucus as it relates to fertility. Western Medicine recognizes the accuracy and benefit of such methods for helping women overcome infertility. However, many couples choose to use such methods to prevent pregnancy by abstaining from sex or using alternative methods during the most fertile times. By observing the natural signs of fertility, couples can prevent pregnancy with accuracy upwards of 90%. 1
So What are these VooDoo “signs” you speak of?
In the same way an animal gives signs about being in “heat”, women have certain signs about when they are fertile and when they are not. Men “cycle” too (over a period of 3 days) where sperm is slightly more or less readily available. However, unlike women, men are ready to go all the time. (am I right ladies?! ) So, when a woman’s cycle “peaks,” then (and only then) can she be impregnated. This concept is illustrated below:
In this example, you can see that a woman can only make babies about 1/3 of the month, while a man (regardless of his ‘cycle’) can meet the woman where she is. Evolutionarily speaking, this increases the chance for the species to proliferate; if the man is ready and willing, he can respond to his ‘mate’ as soon as she is fertile.
In today’s terms, these signs of fertility can be readily observed with the right training and attention. (In fact, many cultures refer to the “white cycle” for fertility and the “red cycle” for menstruation!)
Here are the major signs that coincide with ovulation:
1. Time of the month: most women cycle between 26-32 days. This period is broken into 2 sections: pre-ovulation (phase 1) and post-ovulation (luteal phase). A perfect Barbie period looks as so: 7 days of Aunt Susie’s visit (your PERIOD. Better?), 3-5 days leading up to ovulation, 1 day ovulation, 3 days “potential fertility” (since your egg can live 3 days before it dies), then 14 days of sheer uninterrupted bliss until Aunt Susie shows up, expectedly, perfectly, on day 1 of your next cycle. Many MANY factors mess with that (as we all know) so relying ONLY on the calendar for looking at fertility would amount to what my husband calls “baby roulette”.
2. Increase in BASAL temperature: This is only accurate after 4 hours undisturbed sleep (6 to be sure). Borrowing from a pretty good site, “if you record it every day, you will see that prior to ovulation your temperature is rather consistent. As you get closer to ovulation, you may have a slight decline, but it will be followed by a sharp increase after ovulation. The increase in temperature is the sign that ovulation has just occurred. Because the increase happens after you have ovulated, this method is best used by those who have time to track and study their charts for a couple months, to ensure the best chances of conception. Illness, lack of sleep, and alcohol or drug use can affect your temperature and make it difficult to establish an accurate reading.”
3. Cervical Mucus turning to “egg-white stretchy”: throughout the month, you should be able to observe your cervical mucus by wiping periodically throughout the day and observing what is absent or present on the tissue. (**DO NOT rely what is..eh ehm.. “left behind” in your panties. NOT accurate.) If there’s mucus, you’re potentially fertile. If there’s a LOT of mucus that stretches 4 cm between your fingers, you are READY TO OVULATE! OH BABY! Right after ovulation, dry as a bone until you enter your window.
4. You get all frisky-feelin’: self explanatory. Cue old school Barry Manalow tracks.
5. Pain on one side or another where your ovary is: although not all women experience this, it is quite helpful. Called the “mittelschmertz sign,” some women experience this as the egg is released during ovulation. I asked Dr. Google. He found a few good sites if you want more info.
6. Etc. Etc.: boob tenderness, cervix softening, rise in cervix position (low=close to period) and others.
OK, I get it. There are “signs” that tell me if I’m a baby-makin’ machine. How can I use this to be a responsible parent?
There are many variations of NFP that also vary in effectiveness. They all use 3 major classifications of signs to help a woman figure out her fertile time: time of the month, temperature, and cervical mucus.
1. Calendar Method: I am putting this here because a lot of people think of this when they think of NFP. IT IS NOT NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING! YOU WILL GET PREGNANT! DO NOT JUST COUNT YOUR DAYS ALONE!!! This is only an estimate and a framework for starting to pay attention to *about* when you may or may not ovulate, and serves the purpose of raising your awareness to your body. It always must accompany another sign observation to be effective.
2. Creighton or Billings Method: This method relies on calendar tracking along with observing cervical mucus. I like this description:
“ The consistency of your cervical mucus changes during the menstrual cycle. In the average cycle, there are 3 to 4 dry days following a 5 day menstrual flow.
The mucus wetness increases daily, lasting approximately 9 days until the wettest day. Your mucus is easily recognized at this point. It should be abundant, slippery, clear, and very stretchy. It has been described as egg whites.
Ovulation occurs when you have your peak day of stretchy mucus (within two days). In order to use the cervical mucus method to identify your ovulation follow the few steps noted below:
Step 1: Collect the mucus from the vaginal opening with your fingers by wiping them from front to back.
Step 2: Record it daily on your fertility calendar by making note of the color (yellow, white, clear or cloudy), the consistency (thick, sticky, or stretchy) and the feel (dry, wet, sticky, slippery, stretchy).
Step 3: Ovulation is recorded on the day that your mucus is clearest, slippery and most stretchy.”
4. Sympto-Thermal Method: This method combines all three. Again, thank you americanpregnancy.org for a good description:
Your basal body temperature measures a change in the temperature that occurs after ovulation and remains elevated until your next period. By looking at charting from a few cycles, the temperatures can reveal a pattern from which ovulation can be anticipated. The steps below can help you as you begin to track your temperature and identify when you are ovulating.
Step 1: Take your temperature orally each morning before you become active.
Step 2: Use a basal thermometer which recognizes small changes in your temperature. Your body temperature will only rise between 0.4and 1 degree farenheit when you ovulate
Step 3: Record you temperature every day on your fertility tracking calendar.
So does this Lady Parts Witchcraft really WORK?!
Do you mean does your body know when and how to make a baby without a pill? Or IUD? Or condoms? OF COURSE! Your body will tell you when it is ready or not ready for conception every month, every cycle, without fail.
That being said, WE can fail in our observation skills. It is VERY IMPORTANT to be consistent and detail-oriented with any observations we make. ALWAYS back it up with another “sign” from the 3 big-hitters (calendar, mucus, temperature). ALWAYS play it safe and give a large window (i.e. 8-10 days) surrounding ovulation to prevent pregnancy (whether that means an alternative method such as condoms or abstinence). Remember, with perfect use this method can be from 90-99% effective. However, with sloppy use it drops to about 75% effectiveness (about the same as “pulling out”). If you are committed to tracking and recording your fertility, make sure that you do it every SINGLE day, without fail.
Wow. My head is spinning. There are several methods, and there are so many things to know! How do I pick the one that’s right for my family?
I cannot answer that in this little article. Many people lean on NFP methods for different reasons. I can say that whatever method you and your partner choose, make sure that you know the method INSIDE AND OUT before you use it. Many churches and community centers offer classes at a nominal cost to train couples on how to use it effectively.
For my little family, we chose to use Creighton Method. We meet with a Registered Nurse from time to time to oversee our charts and make sure we are accurate with our methods. It works for us since we still breastfeed and are waking up a couple times a night (there goes basal temperature!) and I can always look at my mucus (eww.) I agree with many moms who find the sympto-thermal (while accurate) very difficult to use post-partum. The great thing about using a Mucus method is that it can be adapted for irregular cycles, including breastfeeding moms. Click here for the chart.
I asked some of my girlfriends about their experiences using NFP to provide a real-life pros and cons view. Here are some of their comments:
Benefits: 100% natural method, keeps you in tune with your fertility and the way your body works, provides a charted history of your cycle, promotes healthy communication between you and spouse on your fertility, family planning and sex, if you are practicing periods of abstinence during fertile times, it can be really exciting once you get the green light again!
Drawbacks: Difficult to use postpartum. I found Sympto-thermal method virtually impossible to use accurately. Creighton was a little more helpful but still leaves few windows of opportunity if you are trying to avoid fertile times. This is by far the biggest draw back so far, especially for nursing moms who have to pump some. Also, I kind of hate most NFP education programs out there! I wish there was more honest and straight forward literature out there on the basics of the method. I feel like a lot of NFP materials misrepresent the real difficulties of using nfp. Also, I noticed that a lot of NFP materials still seem a little bit puritan in their dealing with sex i.e. “Don’t have too much fun or you may be doing something wrong” type of attitude. Creighton classes also involve a lot of “advice” on non-essentials like, what type of tampons you should use and how often lol. Also they want to counsel every couple on how to maintain a healthy physical relationship during periods of abstinence. Good stuff if you are looking for counseling but kind of annoying when you aren’t and are sitting through an hour and a half meeting with a squirming baby! Just give me the basics!!
Benefits: I love Creighton. We have never tried Sympto-Thermal method, but we were not supposed to be able to get pregnant due to various different health factors (endometriosis, uterine polyps, ovarian cysts, etc) that also can make charting difficult at times, but after learning the method so well, I was able to navigate the signs that my body was giving me so well that we have been able to conceive twice now by using Creighton. I found charting postpartum while nursing to be fairly simple, but I had a great practitioner.
Drawbacks: The drawbacks with Creighton are definitely what Alicia said about the presentations and approaches to sex being archaic and overly cautious. Other than that, there have been very few drawbacks for us aside from the abstinent periods they just tend to get into your business a little too much outside of the actual charting. When I was studying to become a practitioner, we were practically taught to force the “SPICE” thing and talk about all of the couple’s issues which is one reason I decided not to complete my training. I’d rather focus on the method and the good of helping us to achieve when we want to achieve and avoid when we want to avoid. I also wish they would come into the 21st century and have an app rather than a chart that we have to write everything on. I am especially bad about it when we go out of town and I forget my chart!
Wow, Chanelle. You and your friends are NFP gurus. Everything that you write for this article comes out as rainbows and chocolate fudge. I am totally sold on NFP and want to learn more!
Oh, thank you figment-of-my-imagination-friend-who’s-flattery-is-unceasing! If you want to learn a bit more, check out these books! I also included a few examples of some products you can use to help you with learning any NFP method. Now excuse me while I find a babysitter. It’s a “green-light” day, if you know what I mean! (**wink wink**)
Below are the books/products that we would suggest! Take a look!
Click here to purchase
Click here to purchase Taking Charge of Your Fertility
Click here to purchase Honoring Our Cycles
Click here to purchase Cycle Beads
Click here to purchase basal thermometer
Click here to read Journey Through Infertility
- http://women.webmd.com/guide/mittelschmerz-pain; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mittelschmerz/DS00507