The Truth About Using Natural Family Planning For Birth Control

Eight years of marriage and four children later, I think it's safe to say that my secret is out:

I have never been, nor do I ever plan to be, on hormonal birth control. My reasoning for eschewing hormones isn't based in religion, but more from the plain and simple fact that I don't want to be on hormones of any kind. The idea of artificially changing my body's most primal and overreaching system (because really, our hormones control everything), freaks me the heck out and I just don't want to go there. 

So instead, I use a method of family planning called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). Unlike some of the old misconceptions about using a “rhythm” method or counting days you think you're ovulating or anything crazy-cakes like that, FAM is based on actual science and teaches women and couples how to tell when a woman is fertile and when she is not–and make decisions about sex after that. 

{ MORE: No, Pregnancy Will Not Ruin You "Down There" }

More and more women are using FAM these days, either frustrated with the unpleasant side effects of hormonal birth control or simply desiring a more natural option for birth control. “I wish people knew that FAM is actually scientifically based, and that knowing more about your fertility and how things like hormonal birth control, foods we eat, and our habits (like sleep, caffeine consumption, stress, etc) affect our cycles,” notes FAM user Lauren Halcik, who blogs at Monogrammed Mischief

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Image via Chaunie Brusie

There are three basic signs that you can learn to use FAM for birth control:

  1. Daily basal (resting) temperature–you take this first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed.
  2. Cervical discharge–if you've ever noticed how your discharge changes a bit at certain times of the month, then you are essentially doing FAM. It's just paying attention to how your discharge looks different when you're fertile (it's thicker and more like egg-whites when you're fertile).
  3. Cervical position–some women also check their own cervixes (not as hard as it sounds), as it changes slightly in position and feel based on timing in the monthly cycle.

“I would love for more women to know there is another way that's as effective and as easy as the Pill,” says Holly Grigg-Spaul, author of Sweetening The Pill, How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control. The numbers behind FAM are impressive with an up to 99% effectiveness rate

The problem, of course, with FAM is that it can be hard, it takes time to learn, and in theory, knowing you're fertile doesn't really solve the problem if you still want to have sex with your husband, unless you use a barrier method and even then, you may still wonder, what if … ?

Practicing FAM, for me, has also been tricky, especially in the midst of the baby years. I personally use the Daysy fertility monitor  (that's me in the picture and also – full disclosure – I got that Daysy about a year ago in a blogger review program), which takes the guesswork out of the whole process by using computer software to literally give me a green light or a red light when I'm fertile. The only problem I've run into with it, however, and it's a big one, is that I forget to take my temperature in the morning or I don't get enough solid sleep to use it (you need at least a 4 hour block of sleep to register a basal temperature, and I can count on one hand how many times that's happened in the last few months, if that tells you how awesome my life is right now). 

But in the grand scheme of things, choosing an option that helps me learn my body and makes my husband an active, involved partner (it's his job to set an alarm and hand me the thermometer every morning now, since I always seem to forget, a tip I picked up in Holly's book. Why should women be the only ones responsible for birth control, huh?) is a far better option for me, than hormonal birth control that I would just not feel comfortable on. It's not the best or right choice for all women, of course, but knowing how easily I get pregnant, I just know that I would be one of those women who gets pregnant despite having an IUD or being on the Pill. This way, I feel a little  more in control of the process and I like knowing exactly when I'm fertile instead of artificially putting stuff in my body that I hope will make it infertile. 

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So in my mind, no form of birth control comes without pesky side effects, and I would rather mine be things I can control, instead of the other way around. 

Would you ever use the FAM for birth control? 

What do you think?

The Truth About Using Natural Family Planning For Birth Control

Chaunie Brusie is a coffee mug addict, a labor and delivery nurse turned freelance writer, and a young(ish) mom of four. She is the author of "Tiny Blue Lines: Preparing For Your Baby, Moving Forward In Faith, & Reclaiming Your Life In An Unplanned Pregnancy" and "The Moments That Made You A Mother". She also runs Passion Meets Practicality, a community of tips + inspiration for work-at-home mothers. ... More

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4 comments

  1. Profile photo of Jenna Jenna says:

    I think I would like to learn more about this and try it. However, I’m wary because I get pregnant so easily (did with condoms and birth control even). I really hate birth control–it makes me nuts. But I am done after this baby (#7, and truth be told, I was done after the last one but this was an oops! with a condom), and I really don’t want to have my tubes tied or make my husband (he won’t) get a vasectomy. I’d almost rather just not have sex again until I hit menopause in a few years (it’s baby #7, I’m older, okay). But that is not doable for my husband, which I totally understand. While it’s something I could live without, he could not. Anyway, I just want to find something that works for us but so far we haven’t found that. We haven’t tried this, but I’m not sure it would work.

  2. Profile photo of Brittany Brittany says:

    We used natural family planning for 2 years after we got married to postpone pregnancy (student loans don’t pay themselves) and then when we felt the timing was right we used nfp to get pregnant, almost instantly. In addition to not dealing with the array of negative side affects accompanying hormonal contraceptives, we found nfp to really enhance our marriage (communication, commitment to a common goal– I could go on for days). We use the symptom- thermal method and highly recommend it. It’s really not difficult to learn and implement and the benefit of knowing your own body and fertility are quite empowering. The Couple to Couple league has a great home study program

  3. Profile photo of Rochelle Rochelle says:

    I am about to hit my 1 year mark on using NFP and no hormonal birth control, with no babies. The basal temperature does not work for me for the reasons you mentioned. When I would try to get my temp consistently it did not change when expected based on the other signs. Counting days actually does work for me in combination with monitoring the other signs mentioned. It really is amazing to watch the cycle our bodies go through.

  4. Profile photo of Necol Necol says:

    Nope. There are too many variables that can cause unstable readings; caffeine intake, sleep deprivation, depression, and the list goes on. On birth control, you can just pop a pill, or use a condom if you missed a pill or two. It’s 99.8% effective if taken daily. Most working women don’t have time to take a basal temperature in the morning, IF you got 4 hours block of sleep, and checking for consistency of mucus discharge in your panties–‘which is gross by the way! Nope. Just get up, pop a pill and get my day started with alarms, breakfast, COFFEE, lunches, daycare/school, work, who’s picking up what child, and ……………..

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