Fertility awareness or natural family planning is a method of contraception where a woman learns how to identify her fertile days (fertile window) using fertility indicators such as waking temperature, cervical fluid and cycle length - and then avoids sex or uses condoms during that window, to prevent pregnancy.
What is in the Fertility awareness methods (FAM)?
Fertility awareness methods is an umbrella term for a method of contraception that works by being able to identify when in the menstrual cycle you are fertile through a range of factors.
What are the different types of natural family planning methods?
There’s loads of them – Natural Cycles, Sensiplan, Fertility UK, Standard Days, Marquette, Billings, Justisse. The umbrella name for all the different methods is 'fertility awareness' of ‘fertility awareness based methods’. They all involve using knowledge of your menstrual cycle and a pick 'n' mix of fertility indicators – cycle day, waking temperature, cervical fluid, ovulation tests and cervix checks, to avoid pregnancy. You choose the level of detail that suits you. Some approaches are more complicated than others.
What is the best fertility awareness method?
Like all methods of contraception, the best one is the one that you use consistently. You need to be prepared to use condoms or other precautions for at least 11 days a cycle, and to keep track of a certain amount of data – possibly not as much as you think. If you keep forgetting to track, or find it difficult to interpret your data, then it will be less effective. For maximum effectiveness, which is up to 99%, use a combination of indicators and get support from a fertility awareness practitioner. The NHS website recommends you use a Fertility UK practitioner - you can find one on the Fertility UK practitioners site here.
When are natural family planning safe days?
Safe days are the days in your menstrual cycle when you are at very low risk of getting pregnant. The exact days vary from woman to woman. There are usually a few at the beginning of your cycle and more at the end, once you have confirmed that ovulation has been and gone and your egg (or eggs) have dissolved.
What are the disadvantages of natural family planning?
This is not the method for you if you can't use condoms or other precautions for at least 11 days a cycle – more while you're learning. It’s also not for you if your periods have stopped for any reason.
The record keeping can also be a disadvantage – you need to track day one of your period and a fair amount of other data, including waking temperature, though maybe not as much as you think.
It’s also worth knowing that illness, stress or travel might delay or stop ovulation which means more days when you need to use condoms. If you have sex without protection when you are fertile you might need to use emergency contraception, which can change your cycle and mean more condom days.
How do you do natural family planning while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding can affect ovulation which means your usual fertility indicators, like waking temperature, don’t work so well. If you are exclusively breastfeeding (from your breasts not a bottle), your periods have not returned and your baby is less than six months old, you might be able to use LAM - the lactational amenorrhea method of contraception. If not, the easiest approach is probably to use condoms or other precautions until ovulation returns and you can get back to your usual fertility awareness routine.
How the Fertility awareness methods (FAM) works:
Fertility awareness methods work by calculating your 'fertile window' and avoiding sex or using barrier methods such as condoms during this time. This is done by identifying and recording the signs and symptoms of ovulation (such as the presence of cervical mucus and raised body temperature) and tracking your periods. It’s important to remember that it's not an exact science and can take several months to learn effectively.
How to use the Fertility awareness methods (FAM):
If you're interested in trying fertility awareness methods, make sure you're taught by a qualified fertility awareness teacher. Some areas provide free support on the NHS. Find a fertility awareness practitioner in your area. Your fertility awareness practitioner will help you learn how to identify your fertile days using your waking temperature, cycle length and cervical fluid or ovulation tests.
How safe is the Fertility awareness methods (FAM):
There are no medical risks when using fertility awareness methods. The only thing that can go wrong is that it leads to an unexpected pregnancy. Lots of factors (illness, lifestyle, stress or travel) may make fertility indicators harder to interpret meaning you may not accurately predict your fertile window. You may also have sex accidentally without protection when you are fertile and that could lead to pregnancy. When not using condoms you are also not protected from STIs.