Natural birth control and family planning have been around for, well, as long as history has been a thing. Calendar based contraceptive methods, like the rhythm method, have been in use since the 4th Century, that we know of anyway. However, there is a huge difference between the fertility awareness method and the rhythm method. The rhythm method is based on the concept that every woman's menstrual cycle is a set period of time. Whereas the fertility awareness method (FAM) is based on personal observation and analysis. If FAM is a game of scrabble, then the rhythm method is baby roulette.
There are plenty of reasons to use natural methods of contraception and/or family planning, maybe you've had a reaction to the pill, perhaps the use of prophylactics goes against your religious beliefs, whatever the case, it's always good to have a better understanding of your own body.
Fun Fact: In a year of perfect use fertility awareness methods are 95-98% effective and in one year of typical use are 76% effective.
BUT the effectiveness method does depend on your age. The thing is, in order for FAM to work, you will have had to have regular cycles for a while, and by a while, we mean at least five years. Yes, five years might seem like a long time, but that's how long it takes for menstrual and fertility cycles to regulate. You'll also need to chart and document your fertility signals each and every day, and if you are in a relationship, your partner needs to be on the same page as you, making sure that they are also practicing the method correctly.
As women we are naturally programmed into thinking that we all have a perfect 28-day cycle, well that is certainly not the case. Surprisingly enough on day 14, the conveyor belt of eggs that is your uterus does not magically pop out an ovum.
The point is, you need to pay attention to what is happening today, not last month.
So grab your smartphone, planner or journal and start paying attention. Today we'll teach you what you need to know. Basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position are the three major signs of fertility that you should be paying attention to.
Understanding Your Basal Body Temperature
Everyone's favorite hormone estrogen is what keeps the basal body temperature nice and low from menstruation to ovulation. Then after ovulation, the progesterone hike that follows forces the temperature to rise. This basal body temperature is one of the more efficient ways to establish the fact that ovulation has taken place.
How to check your basal body temperature.
· Get your hands on a decent digital thermometer, you'll need it.
· Take your temperature when you wake up, at the same time every day.
· This has to be the first thing you do, before eating, drinking or emptying your bladder.
· You need to get at least five hours of sleep, otherwise the temp won't be accurate.
· If you are late in checking, or your sleep has been disturbed, make sure to note it.
Generally, a woman's basal body temperature has a pattern of a group of at least six low temperatures, which precede a bunch of high temperatures. These high temperatures should last for three days in a row. The temperature shift should also be one to two-tenths of a degree above what the highest temperature was for those previous six days.
Standard BBT Chart
The three days in a row is important, reason being that there are a number of factors which can cause a random fluctuation in temperature, including waking up at a different time, drinking alcohol and being sick or ill. The actual day that the thermal shift from low to high happens is the day that you ovulate.
The post-ovulatory phase (try saying that ten times fast) consists of twelve to sixteen days of the term of ovulation to menstruation. If you're taking your notes right and you can see that this time is eleven days or less, then pencil in your new info. This makes it much easier to predict your menstrual time.
Usually on the first or second day of your period the basal body temperature drops, however, if the temp stays up for eighteen or more consecutive days then it's highly likely that you are pregnant!
Remember, if you are trying for a baby, don't dilly-dally waiting around for your temperature rise to do the no pants dance, because by then it's too late and you're ovulation window has closed. Basal body temperature is great for telling you when you were fertile, but for predictions, it's better to check out the cervical mucus.
Cervical mucus is pretty neat stuff, yes it might seem a bit weird at first, but come on, we all know that you look in the tissue after you sneezed. You probably recognize mucus from those stains in your dark underwear. Depending on whereabouts you are on your menstrual cycle your mucus can be tacky like old glue, thick like, well, PVA glue, thin like an egg white, or non-existent.
There are several ways to observe the cervical mucus. Wiping the vagina with a clean piece of toilet paper is one, sticking two fingers into the vagina to grab a bit of mucus is another, and finally getting right up in there and swiping some from the cervix. No matter what method you use, it needs to be consistent, as different ways produce different results and skew your data. The best way, however, is the ink blot toilet paper method.
How to check your cervical mucus
· Wash your hands, you don't want dirty digits near your nether regions.
· Do it before you pee, otherwise it can obscure the mucus.
· Check it at least three times a day
· Fold a piece of toilet paper and wipe from front to back
· Check the color, consistency, and amount
· Make a note in your FAM chart on the biggest, wettest sample that day.
Color - Is it yellow, white or clear?
Consistency - Is it thick, stretchy, slippery, dry or gloopy?
Amount - Is there a little or a lot there?
What you need to remember is, if you see any mucus at all, you are fertile for that day and three days afterward.
Any sign of mucus means that you are going to be fertile for at least four days, however, it's always good to be able to read the fluid, like tea leaves but for your vagina. All mucus gets split into two types, peak, and non-peak. Peak fluid looks like an egg white and appears when you are most fertile and non-peak is creamy and pasty.
Peak Cervical Fluid
Non-peak Cervical Fluid
So if you are trying to conceive, get your groove on any day that there is mucus, but especially when there is peak quality cervical fluid. If you're trying to avoid conception, then maybe use a barrier, engage in other activities that don't involve the penis going anywhere near the vulva, or you can just abstain.
At Your Cervix Ma'am
Throughout your cycle the cervix will alter position, shape, and feel. It is affected by hormones, estrogen softens and raises the cervix, while progesterone lowers and hardens it. So at the beginning of your period the cervix is firm and gets progressively softer in the lead up to ovulation.
The os (the opening of the cervix) opens up in preparation for ovulation, a teeny tiny gate for the sperm to pass through. Then after ovulation, the os closes again. If you do ever birth a child, the os stretches amazingly wide for the birth!
Unless you've got a speculum and a mirror handy, or a miniature periscope, then you're just going to have to get right up in there and check out your cervix.
How to check your cervix:
· First things first, you wash those hands, you don't know where they've been!
· Get into the optimum position and either squat, put a leg up, or sit on the toilet.
· Insert one or two fingers into your vagina. This should be painless.
· Feel around for the cervix. It should feel smooth and round with a little dimple.
· How does it feel? Is it firm like a chin or soft like your tongue?
· Where is it, high or low?
· Check at different parts your cycle to get a better understanding of it.
You don't need to check your cervix every day, but it is really useful for confirming what is going on, especially if you're not quite sure about the other fertile signs. However, making a note of all of the signs together can give you a much greater understanding of your cycle.
There you have the basics of the Fertility Awareness Methods. Are you thinking about or currently using the FAM? Do you use it in conjunction with any other contraceptives? Let us know in the comments down below, we'd love to know!