What is natural family planning?
While some people use birth control and ovulation testing, others turn to timed intercourse to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Natural family planning (also called NFP or fertility awareness) works by monitoring and recording symptoms throughout the month to pinpoint when you are likely to become pregnant. Natural family planning is used both to avoid pregnancy, and to achieve it.
When using fertility awareness as your primary method of birth control or when trying to get pregnant, the first step is getting to know your menstrual cycle…intimately. This means charting out different stages of your cycle so that you can recognize patterns over time. Every women’s menstrual cycle is different, which is why it’s so important to recognize your own patterns. The methods used in natural family planning involve an ovulation calendar (also known as period tracking), a thermometer to measure your basal body temperature, and recognizing changes in your cervical mucus. It can take time to properly understand your cycle, which is why it’s important to plan on it taking a couple of months of diligent tracking.
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How to get started with Natural Family Planning?
After you’ve tracked your cycles for several months, assume that day 1 is the first day your period begins. Select your longest and shortest cycles from your log and subtract 18 days from the length of your shortest cycle month. This will help you determine the first day of your fertility window. From there, select your longest logged cycle and subtract 11 from the length of your longest cycle to establish the last day of fertility. This gives you a window during which your body may be most pregnant. While achieving pregnancy does not automatically occur by having sex during this period, it does provide a window to time intercourse. Regularly having sex during this period gives your body the best chance of getting pregnant. Conversely, avoiding intercourse during this period gives your body the best chance of avoiding pregnancy.
In addition to tracking your cycles, you can also measure changes in your basal body temperature. By taking your temperature daily in the morning, you can establish a baseline to compare deviations to. When ovulation has just occurred, you’ll notice a slight change in your body temperature.
Finally, cervical mucus changes are sometimes recorded to predict ovulation. Throughout your cycle, you might notice that the amount of cervical mucus you are producing increases. When you notice the peak amount of stretchy, white mucus, it is a sign that ovulation will occur in the next day or so.
Marquette method of NFP
Another form of natural family planning involves using at-home hormone testing to determine your levels of several key biomarkers related to fertility. Many people use this method in addition to other methods of family planning, described above. While the Marquette method is used to get pregnant, it is also used by people who have unpredictable cycles, women who are breastfeeding, avoid pregnancy, and for general health monitoring.
At-home fertility testing measures the concentration of several hormones including estrogen, LH, and progesterone in your urine. Using these tests is as easy as urinating on the device and recording the results. Different devices track different hormones, so it is important to understand which hormones you are interested in tracking. A study of the effectiveness of the Marquette method for avoiding pregnancy found that the 12-month, correct use pregnancy rate was 0.6% (99.4% effective for avoiding pregnancy), and the typical use was 10.6% (89.4% effective for avoiding pregnancy). As you can tell – carefully following the method dictates how successful it will be for you.
In addition to hormone testing to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy, there are several other conditions related to your menstrual cycle. Some people use the Marquette method of natural family planning to identify these conditions and give data to their healthcare provider. These conditions include endometriosis, PCOS, and PMDD.
What are the risks of the Marquette method?
The biggest risk of the Marquette method is improper use/tracking. While this method can be highly effective, the effectiveness depends on how diligent you are with measuring your hormones and tracking your results. Picking an at-home fertility test that has been proven highly accurate is a big part of this. Always check what the tested effectiveness of any device before you get started.