For this post, I would like to introduce my readers to my awesome new staff writer, Ashley, who has researched and written this info for you! Be sure to check out her bio below and watch for more posts from her!
Fertility Awareness & Natural Birth Control
by Ashley Charpentier
For those who want to live naturally, birth control is a very touchy subject. There are many people who avoid toxins and chemicals in every area of their life, yet many are slow to give up conventional methods of birth control. Hormonal birth control and IUDs severely disrupt the way that God created our bodies to work. These forms of birth control can lead to serious complications. For more information, check out HFFG’s article on The Dark Side of Birth Control.
I have spent many hours researching methods of birth control wanting to do what is best for my husband and me. While we want kids, we do not want to have them until my husband’s military contract is up so he will be there to raise our kids. This being said, I also wanted to ensure that I am not disrupting the natural balance and processes that God crafted.
There are several methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) that allow us to avoid/achieve pregnancy without toying with the way our bodies work.
Once I read and learned about Fertility Awareness, I became unsure of why it’s not more commonly used. The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is a method used to avoid or achieve pregnancy based on a woman’s fertility signs. If a woman knows when she is fertile and about to ovulate, she can avoid having sex on those days or use barrier methods of birth control if trying to avoid pregnancy, or use those days to try and conceive if trying to achieve pregnancy.
Late in elementary school when all the girls get together and have “the talk,” we were taught about our cycle. However, it seemed then that the biggest question of our cycle was to use tampons or pads, as menstruation seemed to be the focus, not ovulation. What we weren't taught is how our bodies give many signs around ovulation and how to recognize those signs. It is vital that we learn to recognize the signs, as they tell us many things about our body (beyond just the time of ovulation) and we are able to gain a much greater understanding of our bodies.
Why Use FAM?
- Fertility awareness is completely natural and eliminates the need for using hormones and other methods of birth control.
- FAM allows us to become more “in-tune” with our bodies and allows us to greater understand the way our bodies work.
- This method takes no more than a couple minutes each morning and easily becomes a habit.
FAM generally encompasses two methods: calendar based and symptoms based.
Calendar based is not a very accurate method due to variation in a woman's cycle. The belief that a woman's cycle is 28 days long and ovulation occurs on day 14 is simply a myth. It is normal for a woman's cycle to range anywhere from 24 to 36 days and ovulation does not always occur at day 14. Also, each woman's "normal" easily varies. A woman may often have 26 day cycles, but it is likely that in any given month her cycle may be a few days longer. These reasons are why the calendar method should not be relied on and why one should learn to recognize the symptoms of fertility.
Symptom Based Fertility Awareness
Symptom based fertility awareness is the most common and most effective form of truly natural birth control.
A woman’s body gives three main signs when she is about to ovulate:
- Basal body temperature: A woman’s body temperature can help indicate ovulation. Prior to ovulation, a woman’s basal (or waking) body temperature is lower due to heightened estrogen levels. Once ovulation occurs, progesterone is released by the corpus luteum which heightens body temperature. To measure BBT, one should take their body temperature immediately upon waking, as body temperature begins to rise once we wake up. BBT cannot be solely relied upon because the increase in body temperature does not occur until the day after ovulation has already occurred.
- Cervical mucus (also referred to as cervical fluid): Our bodies create cervical fluid, as cervical fluid allows sperm to survive longer and more easily, increasing the likelihood of pregnancy. Tracking changes in cervical mucus is a very accurate way to determine when ovulation is approaching and when ovulation occurs. As a woman approaches ovulation, cervical fluid becomes much more prevalent. In the days leading up to ovulation, cervical fluid is often a white/cream color and becomes more moist and “stretchy” (where it would stretch between one’s fingers without breaking as easily). The closer to ovulation, the more opaque and stretchy it gets. Cervical fluid the day of ovulation is often compared to egg whites in appearance and consistency. The last day of this type of cervical fluid is referred to as a woman’s “peak day” and is likely the day of ovulation. The day after ovulation, a woman will experience little to no cervical mucus.
- Cervical position: Not all women track cervical position, as cervical mucus is the most important to track, but it is a telling sign that takes very little time to note. Typically, the cervix is low in position and firm (often said to feel like the tip of your nose). In the days leading up to ovulation, the cervix becomes higher, softer, and more open. The day of ovulation is when it is highest, softest, and most open. Around the time of ovulation, the cervix will feel more like your lips than it does your nose.
Our bodies are amazing creations and give us many signs leading up to ovulation if we are willing to listen to our bodies and learn to identify the signs. The three main signs are observed and charted, making it easy to interpret on paper. Many women notice other symptoms that indicate the approach of ovulation. Some of these other signs may include: breast tenderness, mid-cycle spotting, increased sex drive, side cramping or pain (called mittelschmerz) on the side which the egg breaks through the follicle, and bloating. There are other symptoms that some women may observe approaching/during ovulation once they learn to listen to their bodies.
It is best to use at least two, if not all three, of the main fertility signs to best understand your cycle, especially to accurately avoid or achieve pregnancy.
While a woman ovulates only one day each cycle, sperm are able to survive in a woman’s body for up to five days, especially when she has fertile cervical fluid prior to ovulation. This being said, the five days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation is when a couple has a decision to make. Some refrain from sex for those six days each cycle; others turn to barrier methods.
For more in depth information to learn about NFP and FAM, I have found the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler to be an amazing source for anyone who wants to begin using fertility awareness.
Safe barrier methods
The best way to use barrier methods is in accordance with FAM. When used with fertility awareness, barrier methods are only required for a six day window each cycle.
- Cervical cap: The cervical cap is a silicone cup that fits over a woman’s cervix to prevent sperm from travelling to the egg. Cervical caps are supposed to be used with a spermicidal cream to help stop the sperm from moving.
- Diaphragm: The diaphragm is a dome shaped ring or cup inserted deep into the vagina. It functions very similar to the cervical cap, in that is blocks sperm from moving into the uterus. These are also to be used will spermicidal gel/cream.
- Condoms: There are male and female condoms, male being most common (and much more affordable. However, many condoms have chemical lubricants or spermicides on them, but even still, the exposure is minimal and much safer than hormonal birth control. There are also a fair amount of condoms sold that are non-toxic (some brands that I have found are Sir Richards, Crown, Glyde, as well as lambskin condoms).
Notes on barrier methods:
- Most spermicides sold in the US contain nonoxynol-9, a harsh and highly toxic chemical. There are alternatives however that do not contain harsh chemicals.
- Cervical caps bought in the US require a prescription and fitting from a doctor.
In all the research I have done, the following website is my favorite for the most natural barrier methods. They ship from the UK, and sell Contragel, a natural, nontoxic spermicide, cervical caps that don’t require a prescription or fitting, as well as natural condoms and lubricants.
Ecological breastfeeding is one method of NFP used to naturally space children apart. It is healthy to space children apart for the health of mom and baby, since many women may experience nutrient deficiencies following birth (read HFFG's article on Maternal Depletion for more information). There are many benefits to ecological breastfeeding for many women. For more information, and to see if it's right for you, check out Ecological Breastfeeding- What It Is & Why It Doesn't Always Work.
There are many methods and ways to naturally prevent or achieve pregnancy that work perfectly with the way God created our bodies to work. Our bodies are truly amazing creations and God created them as He did for a reason. Amazing things happen when we begin to get in tune with our bodies. And as with anything in life, the best way to plan our families is trusting in God and His plan and doing so in submission and prayer to Him.
My name is Ashley, and I’m 19 years old. My wonderful husband and I are from Minnesota but currently living in California. I have always been pretty involved in politics and often was learning about our corrupt system, which is when I came across Monsanto. My dad had told me that he had read a study about GMOs, that are in most of American food, were tested by French scientists leading to them being banned in the country due to the affects they have on the body. This is what got me questioning and researching more about where food comes from. Ever since, I have worked towards having the most natural life I can. Currently we live in San Diego, but our dream is to get a nice plot of land on which we can build our own little house where we can raise our kids in a natural, simple lifestyle. Until then, my husband’s years left in the Navy have us travelling, growing our relationship with each other and with God, and living as naturally as we are able in the city. I continue to learn more each day about the amazing tools God gave us in nature, and intend to get my certification as a Nutrition Consultant after which I will continue my education in holistic health. God bless!