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Natural Birth Control: What is the Fertility Awareness Method?

Introduction to The Fertility Awareness Method

Have you ever wondered which birth control has the least side effects or considered using ‘natural birth control?’ For most hormonal birth control methods, the list of side effects seems to be about a mile long. It’s no wonder many uterus-owners turn to natural family planning methods, such as the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). But, like any method of birth control, there are important limitations to consider alongside the benefits.

This article was reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Kirti Patel, MD, MHL a board-certified gynecologist at UMass Memorial Healthcare and the Chief Medical Officer of The POV.

The "Spark Notes"

  • The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) or 'natural birth control' is a system of carefully monitoring your body to detect ovulation and avoid pregnancy
  • You must monitor your ovulation for 6 months before FAM can begin to be effective
  • Few women and uterus-owners are able to implement FAM perfectly, in which case up to 24 out of 100 users will become pregnant in a given year

What is the Fertility Awareness Method?

The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), sometimes called natural family planning or natural birth control, is a form of birth control based on closely monitoring your body. It involves detecting ovulation by tracking your menstrual cycle, cervical mucus, and temperature.  

When preventing pregnancy via The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), you must abstain from sex during your most fertile days. Alternatively, you can use barrier contraceptives during your fertile window.

The effectiveness of The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) varies on how diligently you track and analyze signs of fertility.

How Effective is The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)?

The effectiveness of The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) depends on:

  • How fertility is tracked
  • How regular your periods are
  • How reliably you track your fertility signs
  • How long you abstain from sex during ovulation

The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) can be effective for folks that use it diligently. In reality, few users will achieve perfect use of this method. Among women and uterus-owners who use The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) inconsistently or incorrectly, up to 24 out of 100 will become pregnant each year.

How Does The Fertility Awareness Method Work?

The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) relies on your ability to identify when you’re ovulating. There are several ways to track your ovulation cycle and fertility, and using a combination of the methods improves effectiveness.

Here are some of the most common methods incorporated into natural family planning:

  • Temperature Tracking: Track your basal body temperature (BBT) each morning before getting out of bed using a special basal thermometer. BBT increases slightly after ovulation.

  • Calendar Tracking: Track the dates of menstruation to estimate when you are most likely to be ovulating. This method is especially ineffective if your cycles vary in length every month.

  • Cervical Mucus Tracking: You can use the color and texture of your cervical mucus to track your fertility. Your cervical mucus becomes thinner, slippery, and stretchy when you ovulate. It can take a few cycles to learn your personal cervical mucus patterns.

  • The Symptothermal Method: Using all three of the methods above makes The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) most effective. It is recommended that you track at least 6–12 menstrual cycles before you begin to rely on only The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) to prevent pregnancy.

What Are The Benefits of The Fertility Awareness Method?

Natural birth control and family planning has several advantages. For example, it:

  • Costs little to nothing
  • Is safe for all bodies
  • Does not require medication
  • Does not produce side effects
  • Can be stopped easily and immediately if you decide you want to get pregnant

Practicing natural family planning will also help you become more in tune with your body and learn about fertility. This may be helpful should you choose to become pregnant in the future.

What Are The Disadvantages of The Fertility Awareness Method?

The primary disadvantages are the relatively low effectiveness and difficulty to implement and maintain.

  • You need to consistently track your menstrual cycles for at least six months before the method can be considered reliable.
  • You need to abstain from sex or use backup contraception during your fertile days.
  • Both members of the couple must be involved in and educated on the process.
  • Natural birth control has a higher failure rate compared to many other forms of birth control, such as condoms, diaphragms, and birth control pills, patches, or injections.

How Do I Decide if The Fertility Awareness Method is Right For Me?

If you're thinking about implementing FAM, here are a few things to ask yourself?

  • Am I the kind of person who can diligently track my temperature and cervical mucus every morning, with no exceptions?
  • Am I willing to wait 6 months for FAM to become effective?
  • Am I willing to abstain from sex or use a back-up method of contraception (i.e., condoms) during my ovulation window?
  • Do I trust my partner (or partners) to consistently comply with these methods?
  • Am I comfortable taking on the increased risk of unplanned pregnancy?

How Can I Make Natural Birth Control Easier?

There are various apps and tools on the marketplace that can assist you in using natural birth control. The cost, level of involvement, and method varies significantly. Some examples of options are:

  • Fertility tracking apps: Apps such as Natural Cycles allow you to track your basal body temperature, discharge, and other symptoms all in one place. You can also set notifications to remind you to record information or when you are ovulating.

  • Fertility devices: Devices, such as Kegg, are inserted directly into the vagina daily (for ~2 minutes) and automatically analyze cervical mucus for signs of fertility.

Pro Tip: Many fertility apps allow you to share data with a partner, allowing you to both play a role in planning intimate time

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