What is natural family planning?
Natural family planning is a term used for methods of birth control that do not involve the use of any drugs or devices. To prevent pregnancy, these methods require not having sexual intercourse during the fertile days of a woman's menstrual cycle. They depend on accurately recording information about a woman's menstrual cycle and calculating safe or unsafe days for intercourse. Natural family planning requires strong commitment, cooperation, and motivation from both partners.
What is the method of natural family planning?
The most reliable method of natural family planning is the symptothermal method (also called the mucothermal method). It is a combination of two methods: the temperature method and the cervical-mucus method. If you want to use the symptothermal method of birth control, you must observe the appearance of your cervical mucus and record your daily morning temperature. You will use this information to determine the days when you are fertile. You should not have sex during these fertile days if you don't want to get pregnant. When you use this method, you will find that you should not have sex about 8 to 11 days every month.
How do I follow my temperature?
You must measure your basal body temperature every morning before any physical activity, including smoking, drinking, or eating. It is best to do it while you are still in bed. You need to use a special basal body thermometer that can detect small changes in temperature. You can buy one of these thermometers at a drug store. Your body temperature will rise about 0.5 to 1 degree F (0.5 degree C) just after ovulation. It will stay elevated until your next period starts. Write down your temperature every day on a calendar.
How does the cervical mucus change?
You should also check the appearance and consistency of the mucus in the cervix (opening to the uterus). When the mucus appears thin, elastic, clear, and watery (like egg white), ovulation will occur within 4 days (these are called wet days). You should avoid intercourse from the time the wet mucus appears until 4 days after the mucus becomes drier, thicker in consistency, and smaller in amount.
How is the symptothermal method used?
Observing both your temperature and cervical mucus will help you pinpoint the time of ovulation. Once you have learned how your body temperature and cervical mucus change during each menstrual cycle, you can estimate when you will be fertile each month. As a rule you can have sex from day 1 of your cycle (the day your menstrual bleeding starts) until you first notice "wet" mucus. Do not have sex again until you observe 4 days of thick, dry mucus or until your temperature has been up for 3 full days.
The length of the menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman and can vary from month to month. You should carefully observe and record your body temperature and cervical mucus for about 3 months before you use natural family planning as your only method of birth control. If you want to have sexual intercourse during this 3-month period, use condoms or a diaphragm; these methods of birth control will not affect your measurements. If you have very irregular periods you should not use natural family planning to prevent pregnancy.
What are the benefits?
The advantages of natural family planning are:
- ability to control when you have children without using drugs or devices
- enjoyment of sex without the interruption or discomfort of barrier methods of birth control
- avoidance of the medical risks associated with methods such as birth control pills and the IUD
- no expense.
What are the disadvantages?
Natural family planning has a variety of disadvantages, which include:
- 20% to 30% failure rate
- not having intercourse during the 3 months of initial observation of the menstrual cycle
- not having intercourse for up to 2 weeks every month
- unsuitability for women who have irregular periods
- difficulty in determining fertile periods
- no protection against sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.