If only there was a magic pill that prevented pregnancy.
I know what you're thinking, there already is - it's called birth control! But for those of us who refuse to put that poisonous pill in our bodies, we've longed for a natural alternative.
I've never been on hormonal birth control, as you may remember from this post. So, the decision for me to try out the Fertility Awareness Method - a form natural birth control - seemed like a no brainer. I had nothing to lose and really everything to gain. Goodbye, condoms! Hello, extra enjoyable sex with my hubs.
I've been following Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) to avoid pregnancy for seven cycles now and have been successful. The first thing you need to know is that it's NOT the same as the rhythm method, which is not effective.
FAM is pretty effective - 99.6% to be exact. Even my very western minded OB/GYN agreed that it is effective when practiced correctly.
Before practicing FAM, it never occurred to me to think about my fertility because I wasn't trying to get pregnant. I didn't realize that knowing when I was fertile and when I wasn't was the key to a healthy, fulfilling sex life, without the risk of pregnancy and without ingesting hormones.
Knowing when I'm fertile and when I'm not empowers me to know when it's safe to have unprotected sex without the risk of getting pregnant. Knowing the body's fertility signals teaches you how to have a baby, yes - but it also teaches you how to prevent making a baby.
After sharing my post about the dangers of hormonal birth control, many of you asked how exactly to do the Fertility Awareness Method and what it involves. Let's be clear for a minute, though. This method is not for everyone. There is a decent amount of responsibility that comes along with it.
So, here we go.
The mission, should you choose to a accept it, is simple - you learn to interpret your body's signals as to whether you are fertile or you're not. There are really only about six days in each cycle when it is possible to get pregnant. Although, if using this method to avoid pregnancy, it's best to be cautious and give a little extra padding to either side of that 6 day fertile window. So, let's say there are 8 days when it's risky to have sex (if you don't want to get pregnant).
Assuming you have a standard 28 day cycle, what about the other 20 days? Free game, my friends! Assuming that you are in a monogamous, safe relationship with someone you are comfortable engaging in unprotected sex with, of course.
If you don't have a regular cycle, you can still use this method. In fact, it may be really helpful to do this and then bring your charts back to your medical professional to help get to the root cause of any hormonal issues.
Basically, you decide when you are comfortable having unprotected sex (your non-fertile days) and when you need to use a barrier method (your fertile days). This method doesn't suddenly make you stop ovulating, or decrease your fertility like hormonal birth control, because the female body is designed to conceive a child. If and when you are ready to get pregnant, this method will also teach you when you are the most fertile in order to conceive faster and easier.
There are a few ways to go about the tracking and interpreting the fertility signals.
1. Track Your Basal Body Temperatures.
Your basal body temperature is the lowest temperature your body reaches at rest. You measure this when you first wake up - before getting out of bed or drinking a sip of water - using a Basal Body Thermometer (BBT).
A BBT is an extra sensitive thermometer that can detect the slightest changes in body temperature and goes to 2 decimal places. Instead of your typical thermometer which reads say 97.7, a BBT would read 97.72. The basic models will do and are usually about $10, although the Kindara WINK (which I just received three days ago) doesn't beep and syncs to the app, so that's nice.
In short, you take your basal temp every morning and track it on paper or in an app. I use the Kindara app to track my fertility, but there a number out there that do the same thing.
To put it really simply, your basal body temps will be lower the first half of your cycle from the first day of your period until ovulation. After ovulation your basal body temperature will jump a bit and remain higher for the rest of your cycle. This is the only real way to know when you have ovulated, but you won't know that you have ovulated until the event is over.
Note: Some women do not like to track temps, as they can occasionally be unreliable. Factors like lack of sleep, drinking alcohol the night before and being sick may give a reading that would be abnormal for your pattern.
2. Chart your cervical fluid / cervial mucus.
The two terms are interchangeable. Typically after your period, your cervix won't produce any fluid for a few days - you will feel dry and won't see any fluid.
Over the course of the next several days, your cervix typically produces thinner and wetter fluid.
To track how fertile the fluid is, you will need to feel it. Basically, when you go to the bathroom, you take a clean square of toilet paper and place it around your lady bits, and bear down a little like if you really had to pee. Touch the fluid that is on the square of toilet paper to determine the texture.
The cervical mucus will go from sticky -> creamy -> egg white -> watery and then taper back -> creamy -> sticky -> dry. In short, the wetter the mucus, the more fertile you are. Determining the type of cervical fluid you are experiencing is actually a little trickier than it sounds, especially because we are all different. I refer to this blog post to help me.
Egg white cervical mucus is thought to be the most fertile type of mucus. You'll know that you are having egg white cervical mucus when the fluid looks like egg whites, but also stretches nearly two inches between your fingers without breaking.
So, you could just avoid the days when it feels wetter down there, right? Well, keep in mind sperm can live in your lady bits for up to 5 days, especially when there is fertile fluid present. That's why it's important to keep a buffer around your fertile days. Especially since you won't know that you've ovulated until after it has happen. You also won't know if you've ovulated unless you track your basal body temps as well as cervical fluid.
3. Choose one or do both.
Some people only track basal body temps and some people only track cervical fluid. I only tracked cervical fluid for 7 cycles before tracking temps in addition to cervical fluid.
You will have the best success with this method if you track both. Whatever you choose, consistency is key. Make sure to track your temps and/or cervical fluid every day.
4. Track The Position Of Your Cervix
Yeah, that's right. Did you know that your cervix actually moves during your cycle? When you are more fertile your cervix is higher and softer. When you're less fertile your cervix is positioned lower and it is harder to the touch.
This is an extra step that some women use and some do not. I personally don't.
5. Ditch The Interpreting and Invest In Tech.
If interpreting your fertility signs is overwhelming, you can ditch the interpreting all together and invest in fertility tech. Fertility monitors like the Lady-Comp or the Daysy are basically BBTs with built in technology that use an algorithm to predict your fertile and non-fertile days.
Each morning after taking your temperature, the monitor will give you either a green, yellow or red light. Green means GO - you're not fertile. Yellow means be cautious or hey, risk it if you want. Red means you're super fertile and avoid having unprotected sex. You can also use this if you decide that you do want to get pregnant. The difference here is that you would want to make sure that you're doing the baby dance on the red light days.
Each of these devices will take about three months to get to know your body so they can predict your fertile days with accuracy (99.3%!), so for the first several weeks you will get a lot of yellow lights.
I do not have either of these devices and I consider buying them about every other month. They aren't cheap and I feel like I've been doing just fine without them, so I keep holding off.
6. Learn to interpret
Considering I am not a medical doctor or a fertility expert, and have only been practicing the method for seven months - let's take a look at some additional resources.
One is the e-course Debunking Ovulation. This was my first step into learning about the Fertility Awareness Method. I actually took this course because many of you asked me to to do video about birth control and I remembered Dr. Nat Kringoudis had made an e-course about this very topic. I took the course and loved it so much I decided to try it for myself.
This course is inexpensive, is only about an hour long and teaches you the easiest way to tell when you are fertile and when you're not. It also will only cover tracking your cervical mucus in the most simplistic way. It talks about what your period should look like, what a healthy cycle looks like and how ovulation is more than just about making babies.
The text book that just about every woman who practices FAM has read - and all women with a uterus really should read- is called Taking Charge of Your Fertility. This book is big and it isn't a light read. It covers everything - I mean everything about fertility. You will get in depth information about how to track your temps, your cervical fluid and why you're having trouble getting pregnant if you're doing everything right.
Lastly, the Kindara Blog has several helpful articles. This one about the facts and reasons why FAM is so great is awesome. They also have articles showing example charts so that you know what you should be looking for as you interpret your own. There is a community feature within the app, too. If you have any questions on your chart, members of the community are more than happy to help you out.
What do you think of natural birth control? The best discussions happen in our Create Your Green, Gorgeous Life Facebook Group - so don't forget to join in over there.