What is it?
Natural family planning or ‘fertility awareness’ involves being able to identify your body’s different natural signs or ‘fertility indicators’ on each day of your menstrual cycle. The main fertility indicators include, body temperature, cervical mucous and menstrual cycle length to predict your most fertile time of the month which is when you are most likely to become pregnant. Once you have identified your most fertile time, you then avoid sex or use a barrier method of contraception (condoms) during that time to prevent pregnancy.
This method does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so you may need to use a condom as well to help protect you against most STIs.
How does it work?
For natural family planning to work for you, you will need to be organised and willing to spend some time planning ahead with your diary, monitoring and writing down your body's different natural signs on each day of your cycle, plotting the times of the month (menstrual cycle) when you’re fertile and when you’re not.
The main indicators you will need to keep track of are:
Cervical mucus (discharge)
Calculating how long your period lasts
This method is more effective when more than one fertility signal (as above) is monitored. The fertile time lasts for around 8–9 days of each menstrual cycle. This is because the egg lives for up to 24 hours. Occasionally, more than one egg is released at ovulation (within 24 hours of the first egg being released) and sperm can live inside a woman's body for up to seven days. This means that if you have sex as much as seven days before ovulation you may still get pregnant.
It’s important to note that you can’t learn natural family planning from a book. You will need to speak to your GP or nurse, or pop down to your local Family Planning Clinic to seek advice from a specialist.
For more information you can head over to FPA.
How effective is it?
Effectiveness depends on:
How often you have sex
Whether you follow the instructions exactly
If used correctly, the natural family planning method is up to 99% effective, so make sure you are happy with how this method works before your start using it. Remember, you can pop down to your local GP, nurse or family planning clinic to make sure you are clear on how to plan.
What are the benefits?
There aren't any known side-effects
It is completely natural and does not involve taking synthetic hormones
Some people choose to combine their fertility planning with condoms to increase the effectiveness. However, the 'fertility awareness' method is not usually recommended as most women will occasionally have irregular cycles and it can be difficult to predict when the egg will be released (ovulation).
If you have irregular periods or no periods at all, then it is difficult to predict when ovulation is likely, making the natural method less effective.
Who may not be able to / may not want to use it?
When deciding on whether the natural method could work for you, you might want to think about whether you:
Don't want to wait three to six cycles (periods) to learn the process effectively
Don't want to keep daily records
Don't constantly want to be monitoring factors that impact on fertility such as illness, lifestyle, stress, or travel
Don't want to avoid sex or use male or female condoms during fertile time
There aren't any known side-effects.
Can anyone use the natural family planning method?
Most women can use fertility awareness as long as you have a good teacher to learn how to log all the information correctly. Remember, if you don’t have periods or have very irregular periods, the natural method may not be suitable, as you won’t be sure when you are at your most/least fertile.
Remember: Contact your doctor or nurse if you have any concerns or are worried / unsure about anything to do with your contraception.
Have you decided which might be the right contraception for you? If not check out the other choices, if you have, jump to Step3: How do I change?